Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Is the Spirit of truth liberal or conservative? (1)

ADDENDUM: Wonderful Corpus Christi note here. I hope to publish Part 2 of below tomorrow (1 June), and Part 3 on Tuesday 4 June.

BEGINNING of original post:
"I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you." (John 16:12-14, NRSV)
One current theme in Anglican theology, at least in the august corridors of ADU, is that the Spirit is speaking new things into the life of the church. Intriguingly, even where these new things might disagree with what we thought the Spirit has spoken to us through Scripture, invocation is made of Scripture. Specifically, John 16 is invoked, "I still have many things to say to you ... the Spirit ... will guide you into all truth."

What do these words mean?

In one way it is a little bit ludicrous to think that, say, Jesus really wanted to give the disciples the low down on the iniquity of slavery, but that had to wait to a future time when they could 'bear' that truth.

In another way, we can see that Jesus is making no great claim for the future of general knowledge and his disciples. Jesus is not here a schoolmaster with pupils thirsty to learn facts and figure. He is the Only Son of God who has come from the Father's heart to make the Father known (1:18). 'All the truth', especially when it relates to what the Spirit hears from the Father and the Son, is the truth of God. To be guided by the Spirit into all truth is to be guided deeper into the heart of God. Intimate knowledge of God is unbearable and we need a gentle, understanding guide. The Spirit of truth who is also in Johannine terms the Paraclete/Helper/Counsellor/Advocate/Comforter is that guide.

But what does it mean for disciples to be drawn ever more deeply into the truth of God? In Johannine terms, thinking in terms of 1 John as well as the Fourth Gospel, the truth of God is that God is love (1 John 4:7).

At this point in our exegesis we need to take great care. Such great care that I am going to make this part one of a series and come back after further thought to the matter! The care needed is how we understand the love of God and the God who is Love.

We have a way of talking about the love of God which goes something like this: God loves you. You do not quite understand this, so let me say it again, God loves you. It is the love you need, the love you may never have received as fully as you would like from family and friends. It is - when truly understood - utterly irresistible, this divine love.

But is the love of God like that? If it is, then our churches, surely, would be full of people giving thanks for that love? More to a Johannine point, if that is the love of God, how does that square with the divisiveness of Jesus' ministry? In John's Gospel disciples keep falling away from Jesus because his teaching is too tough for them. In 1 John the Christian community of love is torn apart through sectarian division.

No. We need to think a little about the love of God, the truth of which we cannot bear now but the Holy Spirit can guide us into it gently. What is the Spirit of truth telling us about the love of God?

Back soon (ish - some non-blogging deadlines to meet this week)

Friday, May 24, 2013

The one rule liberal Anglicans always follow

Mention the Diocese of South Carolina or ACNA and a stock standard liberal response here at ADU if not elsewhere is that they are not Anglicans as they do not belong to the Anglican Communion. It strikes me that for all the noise liberals make about rules not defining and binding us as Christians there is one rule which liberal Anglicans always follow: to be an Anglican you must belong to a church which belongs to the Anglican Communion.

This is, of course, a very useful rule because it means that it doesn't matter what happens in The Episcopal Church, even the most egregious exegesis by its Presiding Bishop, everything is Anglican because it has taken place within or been uttered by the chief leader of an 'official' Anglican church, one that belongs to the Anglican Communion.

But the serious issue here is what makes an Anglican an Anglican. Is belonging to the Anglican Communion the sine qua non of being a proper Anglican? Is it allegiance to the prayer book as in the BCP (which one?) or its local successor? (Some discussion along these lines occurs at Liturgy) Then there is the important corporate dimension of Anglicanism. What makes a diocese and a province 'Anglican'? Three recent essays at Living Church tackle this question, with specific reference to the current and future status of the Diocese of South Carolina which, shall we say, has stepped aside from TEC for the time being.

Jesse Zink, "Why Provinces Matter?" astutely observes:

"Hierarchy in the church is a bedeviling issue. The Episcopal Church itself has not provided persuasive reasons why hierarchy is necessary on a provincial level but unnecessary on a Communion-wide level. Surely for a church that defines its existence in terms of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, hierarchy cannot stop at the water’s edge?"

He then strikes a challenging note on Anglican ecclesiology:

"As in Scripture, so also in ecclesiology: the pernicious hermeneutic of self-justification remains a constant temptation. This is regrettable. Ecclesiology is not a minor administrative matter that can be casually tossed aside. It is part of the core good news Christians have to proclaim. In a globalizing world that is dominated by discord and fracture, the Church makes the counter-cultural claim that in baptism we come to belong to the body of Christ. No other entity is shaped by a common willingness to die daily with Christ and be raised with him who is the author of true and abundant life. We believe we belong, and that this is good news. Anglicans work out the implications of this radical claim in the constellation of parishes, dioceses, provinces, networks, and institutions that comprise our global Communion.

The dispute in South Carolina could provide an opportunity — yet unrealized — to think seriously about the ecclesiological and theological convictions underlying Anglican churches."

William Witt weighs in with further angles on the subtle issues at stake in the ecclesiology evolving out of current disputes. His diplomatic language barely disguises a ruthless demolition - emboldened by me - of TEC's pretension to being one, holy, catholic and apostolic church:

"The issue that is little addressed in such discussions is the theological nature of episcopacy. What does it mean to be a bishop? Standard Church histories make clear that the office of bishop is about continuity, specifically continuity between the apostolic Church and the catholic Church of the second century. To be a bishop is to recognize and submit oneself to the canonical authority of the Old and New Testaments as the faithful witness of prophets and apostles to the triune God revealed in the history of Israel, the saving work of Jesus Christ, and the Church as summarized in the Rule of Faith.

Whether bishops of the Episcopal Church have acted in continuity with this apostolic Church in proceeding to approve of same-sex unions is precisely the issue that is splitting the Anglican Communion. There are, of course, issues of universality involved as well. A bishop is a bishop not just for a local diocese but for the whole Church. In the long run, an extra-provincial diocese accountable only to itself is problematic. But then again, a national church that refuses to be accountable to an international communion has brought the Anglican Communion to its current crisis, even as a bishop who does not understand his chief role to keep intact the apostolic witness has rather missed the point of being a bishop."

Then Colin Podmore, "Beyond Provincialism," offers astute observations about recent Anglican history when the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao divided itself into four dioceses in order to become a province, precisely so as not to continue association with a larger but conservative province. A way forward for South Carolina? With this parting shot at TEC at the end of the essay,

"the most important question facing the Anglican Communion is not whether dioceses can exist other than temporarily without being subject to provincial or other metropolitical jurisdiction (in catholic and Anglican ecclesiology they cannot), but whether provinces should not in turn defer to the councils of the wider Church."

There is much to ponder here. I offer two further observations.

(1) I do not have to belong to an Anglican church to be an Anglican, provided I have commitment and intention to belong to an Anglican church. Let me explain. I would not challenge for a second a person who said to me, "I am an Anglican but I worship in a Methodist church. I was brought up Anglican, I remain Anglican in my heart and mind, but ever since I married I have belonged with my wife to her Methodist church. If I were widowed I know I would go back to worshiping in an Anglican church."*

Analogously, I suggest that the Diocese of South Carolina remains Anglican although it has stepped apart from TEC. It has the intention and commitment to belong to the Anglican Communion (that is, formally belong; I understand the Diocese to collectively believe that informally it does belong). That is, just as in the individual example above, the Anglican husband has a plausible reason for not currently belonging formally to an Anglican church, so the Diocese of South Carolina has a plausible reason for not currently belonging to TEC. That is the Diocese disputes the fact that TEC remains, pace Witt, "in continuity with [the] apostolic Church". It is noteworthy that in making such dispute South Carolina is not an idiosycratic diocese but is supported by many Anglican provinces to say nothing of many individual Anglicans, such as myself, in provinces which otherwise maintain goodwill relationship with TEC.

(2) We should take care to not place too much emphasis on the character of Anglicanism being determined by the rules of Anglicans. The true innermost character of Anglican churches is that we are Christian churches, faithful to Christ, in continuity with the one, holy, apostolic and catholic church which Christ founded. The BCP or any Anglican prayer book is nothing save for the fact that it gives expression to this character. Bishops, priests and deacons are nobodies save for the fact that we are faithful to the 'doctrine of Christ' as expressed in our prayer books, articles and constitutions. The Anglican Communion is a fantasy (or a lie!) if it is not a Communion with the Christ who founded the one, holy, apostolic and catholic church. If the rules of Anglicans define Anglicanism in such a way as to exclude Christians determined to be Anglican in the character of their mission and ministry then the rules need reform.

As Bryden Black lamented here recently, the Anglican Covenant is much missed at this point. Its precise contribution to present Anglican difficulties, if we would adopt it, is to renew our understanding of what being Anglican means in respect of common theology. By avoiding adoption we are left with Anglicanism defined by rules which are now out of date.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I am an exorcist but no demon needs to tremble in my presence

I was going to post about what makes an Anglican an Anglican but checking in to Stuff I see we have a priest here who has held the office of Diocesan Exorcist while not believing in demons.So let's hold what makes an Anglican until tomorrow (hint: South Carolina is Anglican) and consider this wonderful illustration of what may be wrong with our church: saying one thing and believing another.

The background to the local news item is the global item about the Pope performing an exorcism (or did he?) on a man in a wheelchair. Natch our local press goes to a go-to-guy to get comment and who better than a former diocesan exorcist who does not believe in demons.

Actually our Catholic Archbishop does not come out too well in this item. Though required by canon law to have a diocesan exorcist, he does not have one!

For the record, I am with Michael Hewat, also quoted in the article. I do not have a lot of experience in this area, but I believe that beyond the realm we call psychosis and neurosis, the devil and his minions can gain and retain a foothold on lives and houses. When we discern that, we should pray for deliverance.

For local Christchurch readers with long memories, one of the most memorable experiences of my curacy was being part of an exorcism performed in a house where the manifestation was the sound of a ticking clock. The then Diocesan Exorcist was Archdeacon Peter Witty. It was definitely a case of watch, listen, learn and never forget.

Back to our present day colleague who does not believe in demons. I see his comments as illustrative of something which is a problem in our church today: saying one thing openly with our lips and believing another privately in our hearts.

Here are a few other examples:

What we say: "We are proud of being a three tikanga church."

What we believe: Our church is not working. There are many problems as a result of being a three tikanga church which we are not addressing.

What we say: "We think gay people in same sex partnerships should be able to be ordained."

What we believe: Our parish needs a married vicar who has a young family to help regrow the Sunday School.

What we say: "Our prayer book is an amazing taonga of which we are very proud, especially when we hear how popular it is in North America."

What we believe: For next Sunday's service I can make whatever changes to the prayer book I want in order to make it relevant to 2013.

What we say: "We think its great that we are the kind of church which can make radical decisions such as electing the bare-footed, dreadlocked Justin Duckworth to be Bishop of Wellington."

What we believe: Apart from one or two bold decisions like that, we haven't got many clues on how to turn our aging, declining church around.

You may be able to supply more!

PS A few days ago I posted two links to a series of three Living Church essays. The third essay, Beyond Provincialism by Colin Podmore is now posted.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Free radicals: thoughts on vagrant dioceses

Not all bishops are anchored into geographical locations and such bishops may be what is known as episcopi vagantes, wandering bishops. The vagantes concept could also be invoked where whole dioceses secede from one province of the Communion, stake a claim to continue to belong to the Communion while not legally tied into a relationship with another province or network with provincial links or directly to the oversight of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Such a diocese wanders, we could say, canonically free. Currently such a diocese is the Diocese of South Carolina. It is a free radical diocese, pursuing without fear or favour where its Anglican roots might be replanted.

The Living Church has a useful and fascinating series of reflections on this situation.

Why Provinces Matter by Jesse Zink

Don't Cheat the Prophet by William G. Witt

A third essay is coming. AND IS NOW HERE Beyond Provincialism by Colin Podmore

The whole series has the title Sic et Non which plays on Abelard's mediaeval work trying to reconcile contradictions!

What do you think?

Or, do the real vagantes dioceses exist where a wandering occurs from one fad to another with bishops at the helm who chart a course according to the prevailing winds of society?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Brewing the Perfect Storm in our Church (3)


If I lived in one of those great castles built on a cliff beside the sea I don't think a perfect storm would worry me too much. But what if I lived in a sandcastle on the sea shore? Jesus got there before me and told the story. The house built on the rock will stand.

Rather than prognosticate on how strong I think our church is to withstand controversy, let me ask readers these questions.

If we engage in a perfect storm over the next few years, will there be an Anglican church in these islands in twenty years time? 
Do we have the strength to survive the storm and rebuild after it passes through? 
Where the Anglican church has exhibited a progressive agenda in these islands, can we measure the impact of that agenda in terms of congregational growth?


In an important comment to the previous post in this series Bosco Peters makes the case that there need not be a perfect storm over the matter of the blessing of same sex partnerships (especially here). His supporting analogy is that on the question of divorce and remarriage where we have made decisions and pursued practice which is not biblical, nevertheless we have remained together as a church. I agree that there need not be a storm. I think that all those for whom 'biblical' is an important criterion for judging what we should and should not do would do well to ponder the following: what things in our church are practised which we think are unbiblical, and why do we accommodate them by staying rather than leaving?

In other words, in terms of disagreements in our church, as outlined in previous posts (e.g. approaches, attitudes, authority), we have experience of sharp disagreements being overcome and of disagreements being maintained in tension without spilling over into schism. The present brewing storm need not lead to division.


Nevertheless, I suggest there are possible decisions our church could make which would contribute to a perfect storm engulfing us. Here are three.

(1) If we changed our canon on marriage (and text of our marriage liturgies) in order to extend our ecclesial definition of marriage to include two people of the same gender.

As I listen in our church I hear voices which are open (some much more open than others) to our church doing something re 'blessing' same sex partnerships but draw the line at change to our understanding of marriage as being about a man and a woman. In other words some pragmatic recognition of same sex partnerships which does not revise what we already have written down about marriage in our formularies and canons may avoid the perfect storm developing.

A different voice, though getting at the same idea, that marriage between a man and a woman is sui generis, is expressed by Bryden Black, in various comments over time on this blog, but especially here.

In my words, at least two views of marriage are at work in the Western world (in one marriage is an estate ordained by God for the conjugation of a man and a woman with potential for fruitful procreation and capacity to both image the diversity-in-unity of the Triune God and of Christ and the church, and in the other marriage is a legally and morally acceptable arrangement in which two people express their committed love for one another).

Our allegiances within the church to one model over the other represent a cleavage between an understanding of the church as a body governed by a theology disclosed by God through revelation and as a body governed by theology built from the ground upwards where the ground is human reflection on experience. At some point in the history of the church in the 21st century this cleavage will result in conflict rather than conciliation. This may be that moment.

(2) If we made general willingness to conduct blessings of same sex partnerships determinative of selection for ordination or appointment to licensed ministry.

We likely will make a decision which in principle means that ministers are equally free to offer such blessings or to refuse to give them. After all, currently ministers are free to accept or to refuse to conduct a wedding. But that is not where controversy lies. Where controversy lies is in the processes of discernment for ordination and for appointment to licensed ministries. In that process questions can (and should) be put about attitudes to things. Examples include wearing robes, using the prayer book, following certain customs, approach to collaborative ministry. Sometimes these questions are put to yield a kind of profile of the interviewee with no one question being a "killer" question in which the wrong answer could mean a refusal to proceed to ordination/appointment. Sometimes one question is a killer. I will be upfront and say, I can imagine in some dioceses that an expression of refusal to offer blessings for same sex partnerships will determine the outcome of interviews.

(3) If we so approved whatever it is that we might approve by way of change that licensed ministers and officers of the church felt they could no longer sign with good conscience that they will abide by the authority of the General Synod.

On this matter I am speaking about a specific concern voiced by colleagues whose integrity is such that they would leave their current ministries by handing in their licences if a decision of General Synod meant they could not remain committed to the authority of General Synod. In reporting this concern I have no specific example to give of how GS might word a decision so that the concern is met and all is well. Put another way, while there is the obvious example that a change to our marriage canon (see 1) above would trigger this concern, it is not clear to me what might count as a change instituted by General Synod which either does not trigger the concern or is at least ambiguous enough for hesitancy to occur as to whether the trigger is pulled or not. But I will observe this: for General Synod to offer the possibility that each bishop may determine whether or not blessings of same sex partnerships may occur within their episcopal jurisdiction may be a step too far.

For now, that is the end of this series. Comments are welcome. They may yet trigger some further thoughts.

PS I am offering reflection on the possibility of a perfect storm arising if our church proceeds in certain directions. It is also possible (though may be not equally possible) that if our church does not proceed in certain directions there will be a perfect storm.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Apropos of things American

A bit of a fuss is being made about an interview Rob Bell has given in the UK. The Ugley Vicar calls it a 'train wreck'. Head there to click into the interview. I have not seen the whole interview so am not commenting directly upon it. Could it be turned into a Nooma video on the word Obfuscation?

Noted in comments below is a sermon which Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has preached in Curacao in the Diocese of Venezuela. [Thanks for correction to original wording in a comment below]. This is also being made a bit of a fuss about. It involves the most extraordinary wrongheaded, or just plain wrong interpretation of a passage in Acts. It is "beyond" commenting on! It would be insulting to liberals to call this an example of liberalism. It is beyond that. It is sui generis, in a class of its own as an example of just plain wrong interpretation! (Later: do not just take my word for it. Note the plethora of negative comments about the sermon which the ENS publishes in the link about). A word to the wise preacher: it is not necessarily a smart idea to publish sermons.

PS in proper deference to the Presiding Bishop I will only accept comments about this which either discuss the "exegesis" without naming the preacher or which name her properly e.g. the name with title used above, or ++Jefferts Schori. I think Rob Bell can be called "Rob" or "Bell". As far as I know he is not holding any church office other than "free lance speaker and writer."

PPS It is not the case that wrong exegesis of Scripture is confined to Anglican bishops. A very interesting, unusual and sad-for-Christians everywhere case is unfolding in Singapore. It concerns the misuse of funds donated to a mega church, a misuse which has led to a trial. In following progress on this situation (via my colleague Gerard Jacobs' blog) I noticed this description of wrong exegesis at this church:

"One of his examples is as follows: In the gospel account of the feeding of the 5000, when Jesus asked the disciples to feed the crowds, the disciples responded by saying that it was difficult to get food because of the lateness of the day where most places would be closed. Kong Hee alluded to this response as being an indication that Jesus and the disciples had the money to feed the crowds, but could not do so because of the places to purchase food were closed due to the lateness of the hour. Therefore proving that Jesus was wealthy and had the financial means to feed the multitudes. This interpretation of that scripture is completely out of line with the derived meaning scholars and theologians accept; it’s out of line with the rest of scripture!"

PS For a voice within TEC concerned at "delusional exegesis", read here.

PPS And for another, read here.

Apropos of things Sydney

In the run up to the election of a new Archbishop of Sydney, you may like to read this long but informative review of Michael Jensen's book Sydney Anglicans. The review is by Kevin Giles.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Brewing the Perfect Storm in our Church (2)

The ideal Anglican church is one in which everyone agrees about everything. For those who think such a church would be terrible, let me point out a resounding attractive feature of it: no committees would be required. :)

The next best Anglican church is the one to which most Anglicans belong most of the time. That is the Anglican church in which terrible disagreements take place but we continue to exist together in a form of coalition. We are able to do this, I venture to suggest, because in this Anglican church we find we are able to pursue different visions for how the church should be, what gospel should be preached and what missional activity is consistent with that preaching.

This is and has been the life of my church, ACANZP ever since the time when Bishop Selwyn arrived and promptly forged a coalition between his high church for settlers and CMS's low church for Maori and (later) evangelical settlers. Albeit with many bits bolted on so that we could also talk of our church as a coalition of progressive liberals, moderates, and conservative evangelicals, of three tikanga, and of those desperate for the church to break out into fresh expressions and those not at all desperate about changing anything.

Coalitions generally withstand ordinary storms of controversy, as our church has done. But can we withstand a perfect storm of controversy?

The brewing storm, previously suggested here in part 1, arises from divisions among us which are not proving easy to reconcile. It is this, should some final failure to reconcile be reached, which sets this current controversy apart from previous ones.

As a church we have managed to propose and receive a new prayer book acceptable to the whole coalition, revise our 1857 constitution to form a new three tikanga coalition, and introduce the ordination of women to all three orders without significant breakage to the coalition. We have also, to pick up a pertinent example, been a coalition which has absorbed change to the way we respond to divorce and remarriage after divorce.  But this time things are not turning out so straightforwardly. We are struggling to find common ground.

When one group argues for the acceptance of gay marriage because it is just and another group argues against it because it is unsupported in Scripture, there is not just a difference in the ends of the argument but also in the means to the end!

But the perfect storm brewing is not solely because we have difficulty with arguments. Potentially we could work a lot harder on these but even if we did there are other elements in the storm. (And to those who say, "Haven't we already done a lot of work on the arguments?" I say, "Yes, we have done a lot of work, but it has not been hard work." We have not, for instance, taken a dozen of our best theologians, locked them in a room and told them to not come out until resolution of the arguments has been achieved!)

The storm is also brewing because we have division in attitudes. In my first part I noted that in our church there is a gulf between those who accept our relatively lax approach to sexual discipline and those who do not. Can we have agreement on new sexual ethics for our church if we are not agreed on taking sexual ethics seriously?

Then there is also a contribution because of differences in our understanding of authority in the life of the church. The key legal and theological phrase we are concerned with is "the right ordering of sexual relationships." Order is something which is determined by someone. If we are to determine a new "right ordering", whose orders will we follow? How will we determine whether that person/group has the authority to give the orders?

On the specific matter of homosexuality and the right ordering of sexual relationships, I suggest that we have a problem we are not facing, and that is the problem of authority. May General Synod order sexual relationships? May the bishops? Is it up to individuals? Or individual parishes or dioceses? Somehow that doesn't sound right! Does not General Synod (and all lesser bodies of the church) have to live according to the doctrine of Christ, that is, teach what Christ teaches? Thus we need to know how Christ orders sexual relationships. As many people have pointed out, on the direct matter of same sex partnerships, Christ never said anything! (If, as a church, we wish to say that we have disregarded Christ on the matter of divorce and remarriage, surely we are not to take our disobedience to Christ as a reason to make a determination about what is the 'right ordering' of same sex sexual relationships?)

In short, on what authoritative basis would we as a church institute a "right ordering" of sexual relationships different to what we have inherited from Scripture and tradition?

Part of our storm is that some of us think there is no such basis, some of us do not care whether that basis is secured or not, and some think they have found it but struggle to explain it in theological terms distinct from modern Western social democratic policy.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ad Hominem With Style

If one is going to make ad hominem remarks then one could do worse than learn from the master!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Brewing the perfect storm in our church (1)

The past week's Human Rights Tribunal hearing into the case of a gay man thwarted from entering the discernment for ordination process in the Diocese of Auckland on account of his honest profession that he is in a marriage like arrangement with another man is part of a 'perfect storm' brewing for our church.

The brewing storm is going to occur over what we decide in the future as a way forward to avoid going to court, whether that court is our civil Human Rights Tribunal or a church tribunal to which a bishop is taken for not observing the standard of chasteness when ordaining someone or making an appointment of an ordained person.

There was quite a lot of chatter last week in and around elements in the case. I cite but two examples of what I have observed on websites, Facebook and Twitter:

This comment made on Taonga, for instance:

"If the canon says they cannot permit people entering into ordination into the priesthood because they are living in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. Well that accounts for half of the Anglican Clergy in Aotearoa NZ with all 3 tikanga. I know of many clergy living in sexual relationships outside of marriage."

If true this is outrageous. If not true this is either daft (on a generous reading) or libelous against the vast majority of clergy not living in sexual relationships outside of marriage. 

Or consider Brian Dawson (a senior priest in our church, Vicar of St Peter's Willis St, Wellington) in a 6 May 2013 essay:

"The real problem for the bishop will be consistency. There are canons / rules within the Church that are ignored on a daily basis, so what makes this one different? It would also be naiive in the extreme to imagine every unmarried candidate for ordination, whether gay or straight, is celibate. There are many, many, many situations where this hasn’t been the case, and many where it still isn’t. Any student at St John’s Theological College in Auckland (our national seminary) knows that the single students apartments aren’t always occupied by just one person and more than one vicarage has been the scene of pre, post and extra marital sex. People in sexually active relationships outside of marriage have been involved in all stages of the ordination process, so any bishop who says “it just can’t happen” is likely to be faced with numerous examples of where it has. But then, who cares?"

Again, let's be blunt: if what Brian says here is true, then this is outrageous. We are, according to this summary report, perceived to be a church with lax sexual discipline in which bishops either avoid imposing discipline or feel powerless to impose it. 

Whether or not perception equates to or even approximates to reality - in my view we are a much better church than the comments above suggest - the fact is that such chatter reminds us that there are several matters of significant division between us in the brewing of a perfect storm.

(1) We are a church in which there is a large gaping division between those who view lax sexual discipline as a matter about which little can be done and those who view lax sexual discipline as a matter which we ought to do something about.

(2) We are a church in which some are attempting to make the argument against changing our current 'working' definition of chasteness (in sum: no sex outside of marriage) with serious engagement in biblical hermeneutics while others are attempting to make the argument for changing that definition on the basis that sex outside of marriage is already a common feature of our church's life.

(3) On the specific matter of chasteness being the 'right ordering of sexual relationships' (D we are a church which includes those who feel bound to determine that right ordering with respect to Scripture and tradition and those who feel bound to determine that right ordering with respect to reason and experience.

Here is the thing about Anglican divisions in general terms. They do not necessarily spell the end of the church as we know it. They may be elements only in brewing a storm or two not the perfect storm. We are a church which has been for a long time now a kind of coalition in which different divided parties have managed to live with divisions while continuing to pursue different visions for how the church should be, what gospel should be preached and what missional activity is consistent with that preaching.

But I am proposing that we are brewing the perfect storm through the kind of week we had last week, along with the gathering phalanx of commissions looking into this or that aspect of blessings of same sex partnerships, marriage and related matters.

I am not sure when I can get back to this topic with part (2). An unusual and potentially over busy week lies before me ...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The New New New Perspective on Paul?

Thanks to Prodigal Kiwi we are alerted to a significance new publication on 1 November 2013, the fourth part in N.T. Wright's magnum opus of a series about Christian Origins and the Question of God. This two volume extension of the series is entitled, Paul and the Faithfulness of God.

N. T. (= Bishop Tom) Wright is at the forefront of reviewing and revising our understanding of Paul (i.e. perspective on Paul), he and others claiming that the dominant understanding since the days of Martin Luther is not actually faithful to Paul's writings. Hence the New Perspective and, perhaps tongue in cheek, variations on that as the New New Perspective. My title wonders if Wright's final prognostications will deserve being the New New New Perspective.

Certainly the phrase 'the faithfulness of God' in the title suggests a certain creativity at work as debates re the Old v New Perspective often pit 'faith in Christ' versus 'the faithfulness of Christ'. So here, the angle brought by the 'faithfulness of God' looks inviting for some summer reading on a beach near you.

That last thought is obviously a Down Under perspective not share by northern hemisphere readers :)

ADDENDUM: also in New Testament studies news this week, Geza Vermes has died. An illuminating obituary is here. It is illuminating for me, in at least one way, in respect of the way myth may grow. In my mind, picking up bits and pieces of information, Vermes was a Jew who developed an unusual and sympathetic interest in the Jesus of Christianity and on that subject wrote several important works. Now I learn that Vermes' life story was much more complicated. He was a Jew but one brought up as a Roman Catholic, who was ordained a priest and for many years lived the life of a monastic scholar. Later he renounced both priesthood (and married another man's wife) and Christian belief.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The major anxiety of their people in their time

Kicker of a report here about the installation of Philip Richardson as our new pakeha archbishop.

Judge Sarah Reeves preached a provocative sermon.

(From the report)

"“The economist John Kenneth Galbraith said all great leaders have one characteristic in common: They are willing to confront the major anxiety of their people in their time.
“Our church is painfully and publically grappling with the issue of blessings for same-sex couples and ordination of people in same sex relationships
“So, Archbishop Philip, you have your work cut out.”
She then a brief, but broad hint at how she feels about the same sex debate:
“I can’t help thinking: Is this really the defining issue of our time?
“Will we really tear ourselves apart over this?
Surely,  this is but a sub-set of building a just and life-giving community for all?
“Society at large has taken measure, and moved on.
“Why can’t we?”"

It is pretty clear where this perspective starts from and sees the end. It is a good example of the framing of the situation of our church from this perspective. God's wisdom has been declared by 'society at large' and we should follow it. Heaven forbid that we should 'tear ourselves apart' through some demurring that there is another wisdom, the wisdom which God has declared, without consulting society. (And 'society' might be wrong, as Charles Moore muses).

Actually, as I am going to attempt to explain soon here at ADU, there will be no tearing apart. But there may be a quiet walking in different ways, as Anglicans seek to follow Jesus according to their understanding of what Jesus revealed.

If Archbishop Philip were to read this, I would encourage him to consider the Galbraith quote very carefully. I think Galbraith is right. But I do not think Judge Reeves is right about the major anxiety of our church at this time. That anxiety is whether we will remain in existence in twenty years time. I very much hope ++Philip will help us to confront that anxiety!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Learning and relearning the gospel, all the time

Sometimes I am mistaken for a fellow clergyman, Peter Collier. I sincerely hope that he is never mistaken for me as I get the better end of the deal :) Anyway I have just noticed a very good and very interesting post Peter has made on kiwifruit blog.

Of course if you want to engage directly re what Peter has written, you should do so there.But here I point you to what he has written because disciples should be learners and relearners, all the time. And what Peter tells us he has been learning may help us with our learning. He certainly helps me here.Thanks Peter!

The apostles didn't preach PSA and neither should we

Between posts here and posts on Liturgy about 'wrath of God was satisfied' a very interesting and erudite discussion on questions of atonement has emerged, including the doctrine* known as the penal substitutionary theory of atonement (PSA). There have been some painful moments in the discussion, but setting those aside, I have enjoyed the gold which has shone through the dross.

As it happens I dipped during this week into one of the (IMO) great books of modern biblical scholarship, Francois Bovon's Luke The Theologian (Second Revised Edition, Baylor Press). If I went to a publisher and said, "Look, I have read everything there is to read on Luke and Acts and I would like to give a report on that reading," I suppose the publisher would show me the door. But Bovon manages to do just that with brilliant energy which takes the reader on a journey into hidden nooks and crannies in the journey which is Luke the theologian using history as a vehicle to set out christology, missiology, soteriology, ecclesiology and pneumatology.

Relating to PSA, something I learned this week is an insight of Charles Moule about preaching in Acts. Bovon's whole paragraph is this:
"Finally, if the expiatory virtue of the death of Jesus does not appear except in Acts 20 it is because of the literary genre of Luke's texts and the editor's theological reticence. It was not usual in early Christianity to underscore the salvific power of the cross in the sermon. Rather, this was done in the catechism. This is why the hyper emon [i.e. Christ died for our sins] appears in the Epistles, reflecting a catechism, and in the sole speech in Acts addressed to Christians (Acts 20:28 [...the church ... which he obtained with his own blood])." [p. 175]
Sometimes scholars worry about the differences between Luke's theology and Paul's theology, precisely because if Paul is the great hero in Acts then that begs the question how Luke could get Paul so wrong. A particular difference is the seeming lack of a theology of the cross - the centre of Pauline theology - in Luke's writings, especially in Acts.

I understand Moule (via Bovon) as saying that an explanation for the difference is that Paul's writings are catechetical - instructional for Christians - whereas most sermons in Acts are evangelistic with a non-Christian audience.

In relation to the atonement as a specific subject for preaching and teaching, Moule via Bovon is saying that it is missing in Acts where we would expect it to be missing, in the proclamation of the gospel, and present where we would expect it to be present, in instruction to Christians.

So, here is an intriguing possibility: the apostles did not proclaim atonement (let alone penal substitutionary atonement) in their preaching of the gospel, but they did teach atonement in their instruction of Christian disciples.

Should we follow their example?

*I acknowledge that some would say there is a 'doctrine of atonement' but not a 'doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement', rather within the doctrine of atonement PSA is a model or one understanding of 'how' atonement 'works'. I also acknowledge that although the case is made (particularly by evangelicals) that the ancient fathers taught atonement in such a way that PSA was front and centre of their understanding, we do not find the phrase' penal substitionary atonement' in their teaching (as far as I know) and thus a list of 'doctrines the ancient fathers taught' is unlikely to include 'the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.' However, in my view, PSA is a distinctive doctrine within the doctrines or teachings which evangelicals both wish to make the case for within Christian discourse and to acclaim as a distinctive doctrine relating to definition of the 'evangelical' movement within Christianity. Putting that another way, an evangelical is distinguished from those not wishing to so identify themselves by virtue of commitment to PSA.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Narratives for an election

I realise I am treading where some will not thank me for treading by doing some exploring of what is going on, may be going on, or could be going on in the archiepiscopal election in Sydney. Apart from being insatiably curious, there is a Kiwi angle to taking care to understand the Diocese of Sydney.

First, some of our clergy have trained there and some of our aspiring clergy wish to train there (i.e. at Moore College).

Secondly, there is a view around the traps of our church that "push comes to shove" if we divide because of, you know, that issue, then, for some, at least, Sydney will be the place to which to connect for episcopal oversight. This view, incidentally may or may not be held by some people who would avail themselves of the possibility, but it is definitely held by some who do not understand Anglican evangelicalism and consequently think such a link is a foregone conclusion.

Understanding Sydney then - from a Kiwi Anglican perspective - is both a matter of understanding what might have a considerable bearing on Anglican futures (plural, deliberate) in these islands as well as understanding why, were some kind of split to occur, it is likely that many Kiwi Anglicans in search of new Anglican arrangements might have nothing to do with Sydney at all.

Anyway, for some time now, I have held the view, though largely to myself, that there is something unhealthy at the heart of Sydney Anglicanism, which manifests itself in the way in which people feel intimidated from revealing what they are really thinking. A climate, that is, which does not encourage open debate about issues of the day for fear that to join such debate is typecast oneself as "not one of us".

I could be completely wrong. Though I think not. Partly because of some recent reading which highlights some interesting dynamics re the power of the prevailing orthodoxy in Sydney.

Fascinating reading, going into this period of election canvassing are these two posts (and the comments) by Andrew Katay: here and here.

Also interesting is this curious article by Tony Payne. Curious because it sets out to review the writings of the late John Chapman while also reviewing a recent book by Michael Jensen. Essentially it is Chapman = good; Jensen = bad, with the latter judgement arrived at by assessing that the book in question doesn't mention the work of the former. Curious indeed.

Here is the thing. I have been reading Tony Payne for years via The Briefing. I would describe him, in Katay terms, as a 'hard conservative'. In Katay terms I suggest his article paints Jensen as a 'soft conservative.

As best I can make out, returning to the peopling of the election narrative with a cast of characters, Rick Smith is the hard conservative candidate and +Glenn Davies is the soft conservative candidate.

Guess what? On the list of supporters for Glenn Davies we find the names of Andrew Katay and Michael Jensen!

Where I find Andrew Katay's analysis persuasive is when it focuses on the hard conservative fear of liberalism driving its activity forward to suppress soft conservatism because of the equivalence made between soft conservatism and liberalism, the former being deemed bound to become the latter. I have had a little experience of that myself!

So, in the end, my point in a recent post, that the election is basically over, is based on the deduction that the hard conservatism of the Sydney Diocese has enough energy and support to secure another archiepiscopal election.

From this side of the Ditch, I suggest it is precisely 'hard conservativism' which makes it unlikely that in any future split in our church, many, if any Anglicans will seek the sheltering support of Sydney. We are a bit soft!

Except on the rugby field :)

For an ABC post on the matter, read here.

Here is Rick on local church and diocese

If Rick Smith is to be the new ABS then it is good to know what he thinks about the local church and the diocese

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Glenn, I would withdraw now

Well, that didn't take long. A couple of moments ago I was reporting on the 'race' for the next Archbishop of Sydney, at that stage with a definite candidate, Bishop Glenn Davies and a likely candidate Rick Smith. But now it is all over. (But see Update below).

Thanks to my Oz correspondent I have been alerted to a website now set up to promote the confirmed candidacy of Rick Smith.

There is a video promoting Rick there. A bit slick for my taste! Still someone in Sydney knows how to video edit. (NB Rick is a great guy, he supports Rugby Union).

Anyway of great interest, partly through the video and mostly through this PDF letter of support from 'some members of Standing Committee' (22/47 able-to-express-an-opinion-of-56-in-total), we learn the following key facts about the 'establishment' of the Sydney Diocese and its commitment to Rick being the next ABS:

- a substantial bloc of the Standing Committee is publicly supporting Rick's candidacy in writing

- noting that some members of the Sydney Diocese are more important than others when it comes to influencing opinion, it is very important to recognise that the Very Rev. Philip Jensen (Dean, brother of current ABS, former candidate to be ABS) and the Rev. Dr. Mark Thompson (Principal-elect, Moore College) are among the list.

- (following up a note from a comment below) - also notable is the name of the Rev Gavin Poole, President of the Anglican Church League, which is a powerful lobbying force within the Sydney synod.

Is it conceivable that Sydney would elect an archbishop whom Philip Jensen and Mark Thompson and the ACL did not approve of?

The names signing the letter are given as follows:

Mr. Robert Bradfield..................Georges River
Rev. Canon Phillip Colgan....Georges River
Miss. Jenny Flower......................Northern
Rev. Nigel Fortescue..................Wollongong
Ven. Kara Gilbert.........................Western
Rev. Canon Sandy Grant.........Wollongong
Mr. Stephen Hodgkinson......Southern
Very Rev. Phillip Jensen.........Southern
Mr. Geoff Kyngdon......................Wollongong
Rev. Peter Lin..................................Georges River
Rev. Chris Moroney....................Southern
Mr. John Pascoe.............................Southern
Rev. Gavin Poole...........................Western
Rev. Craig Roberts......................Northern
Dr. Laurie Scandrett..................Southern
Rev. Stephen Semenchuk......Wollongong
Mr. Phillip Shirriff......................Northern
Dr. Claire Smith............................Northern
Rev. Dominic Steele...................Southern
Rev. Dr Mark Thompson.........Southern
Miss. Jane Tooher.........................Southern
Mr. Tony Willis...............................Wollongong

I would say the election is over, bar the formal speeches and the actual voting.

My advice to Bishop Glenn Davies is to withdraw now.









Away from the Jensen approach.

Fascinatingly, the ACL is going to be praying about the election ...

UPDATE: I had not quite realised how strong a web presence +Glenn Davies campaign has.

The home page is here.

A set of videos is here.

A list of supporters is here, including Dr Michael Jensen, John Dickson, and Andrew Katay (whose blog I have just begun linking to).

The impression forming in my mind is that the 'hard conservatives' of the Diocese are lining up behind Rick Smith and the 'soft conservatives' are lining up behind +Glenn Davies.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Without God's wrath, where would we be?

Bosco Peter's has another post on the wrath of God-song. I encourage you to vote in the poll there! If you want to discuss what Bosco writes, comment there.

My own comment there is this:

"Reflecting on where you are going with this, Bosco! 
If an outcome of your 'campaign' in this series of posts was the removal of the line (replacement with something 'more acceptable'), then where in song in the 21st century church would we give voice to a cornerstone of the gospel? 
That cornerstone is that God is judge, seeks justice, hates sin, determines to punish perpetrators of sin, reacts to humanity's inhumanity to one another, declares war on evil and determines that sin's power will be overcome by all means necessary (= 'God's wrath').  
Further, it is foundational to the gospel that 'all have sinned': the wrath of God is against us all as sinners. There is no world in which the wrath of God is rightly directed against Hitler, Stalin, and George W. Bush but a huge theological embarrassment for the rest of us nice people who vote social democrat, recycle, and give to Greenpeace.
I vote for keeping the lines as a salutary reminder to all singers that we are sinners, by nature the object of God's wrath, but by the grace of God now formerly that object as God in Christ has satisfied himself that justice has been achieved."

One trouble I have with the kind of talk which plays 'wrath' versus 'love' is that it fails to take account of a reality of life. Wrong happens. How are we to respond? Does 'love' mean we are never 'angry' about wrong-doing? Without 'anger' would we pursue justice, work hard to capture criminals, put energy in making changes to try to ensure that wrong-doing is constrained or even eliminated?

Recently in our city a young teenage girl was murdered by her mother's ex boy-friend. Then, after the trial was over, we learned that the man had previously been in jail in Australia for the killing (manslaughter, technically) of another teenager. We further learned that we have no system for ensuring that when a criminal such as this man is deported to NZ, his record follows him and is made available for relevant people. For we also learned that a few days before the murder here, the mother had talked to the police about her concerns about the man, but they felt constrained not to tell her about his previous record. (Why, I do not know as it is and was a matter of public record).

Is not human wrath in this situation the righteous response which determines that the crook will be caught, tried, punished, that the 'system' will be changed so that, as far as possible, there will be no repeats. In short, where would society be without human wrath against sin?

May we not ask why human wrath might be right in this kind of situation, and, if I may say so, an obvious reaction, but God's wrath must be subject to great scrutiny and only referred to in Christian speech such as a song with elaborate explanation accompanying it?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Redefinition has no logical stopping point?

Redefinition: will it improve marriage or destroy it ... or make no difference at all?

Is there a conspiracy at work in the West to completely change marriage, even to abolish it?

Or are we stumbling our way from one change to another, having little or no idea what the unintended consequences might be?

What is this article: alarmist, soberist, prophetic, or nonsense?

Let us know!

PS If the article above is a bit too 'tabloid' for you, then try this one.

And take a gander at this one.

All the details

"Mr Sisneros, a 38-year-old American who holds New Zealand residency, is an events coordinator for St Matthew in the City."

So the unfolding story about the Bishop of Auckland being taken to our Human Rights Tribunal is being reported in some detail.

The details are always interesting. Especially for aficionados of discernment processes.

 I shall remain an avid reader of the NZ Herald.

It is a peaceful religion with gentle intent

Reason for converting to Christianity #16: It could be dangerous to be an atheist.

It is not a race

David Ould has very kindly said here that he agrees with me. We have had our disagreements in the past. I think we might have in the present and future. For instance, I object to the search for the new Archbishop of Sydney being described in racing terms. Not least because Australians have a peculiar ability to make races the subjects of betting scandals!

However I am grateful to David for alerting readers to two candidates (one definite, one likely) thus far for the position, and I shall follow his thoughts on the matter of the forthcoming election.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Is the Kiwi state about to tell the NZ Anglican church whom to ordain?

Could be. We will follow this story.

Today's (6 May) NZ Herald report is here.

Monday morning comment (revised from first statement): the issue is chasteness and our definition of it.

- Expect huge pressure on our General Synod to change the definition of chasteness (whatever the outcome of this case).

- Expect keen interest from other churches. The Roman Catholic church will not be happy if the state attempts to tell it whom it may accept into its seminaries let alone ordain.

- On Twitter last night I (@petercarrell) pressed this question: what mechanism exists in our church to force a bishop to ordain a person they do not wish to ordain? I can think of no such mechanism.

I now add to the list of reporting/commenting on this unfolding story, Taonga's article.

Handily placed under it is a link to an important point our friend ++Rowan makes about contemplating departure.

Meanwhile in England the Episcopal Candidate Who Cannot Be Suppressed features again. (I have got behind the paywall for this Times article. I hope you can too.)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

GAFCON's Second Coming

With the Covenant pretty much a dead duck, with the recent ACC in Auckland doing little or nothing to foster cohesiveness in the Anglican Communion, it is of interest to read the official announcement of the second GAFCON (from here).

The Second Global Anglican Future Conference will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, 21st-26th October 2013. The focus will be on our shared Anglican future, as we engage with the missionary theme, ‘Making Disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.’
The first conference, GAFCON 2008, was held in Jerusalem. GAFCON gave birth to a movement, the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. The aims of the GFCA are to proclaim and defend the apostolic gospel within and beyond the Anglican Communion and to recognise and share fellowship with orthodox Anglicans globally, especially those who have been disaffiliated by false teaching and behaviour.
We continue to face the triple challenge of sceptical secularism, militant religion and compromised Christianity. GAFCON 2013 has been summoned so that GFCA can help both plan for and experience the future of the Communion of which we, with many others, are part.
The invited delegates, laity, clergy and bishops, are united by their commitment to the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement as well as the aims of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. They will assemble to listen to God, to pray, to deliberate, and to plan about the Anglican future, seeing it as a great spiritual and missionary fellowship, energised by the defence and proclamation of the gospel. 
The General Secretary of the GFCA, Archbishop Peter Jensen said, ‘God is establishing new churches creating new believers and transforming lives. Our hope for the future is in him. Our aim is to move forward confidently, to plan and experience in fellowship a future for Anglicans in which his Word is honoured and our witness is clear. We are looking forward with great expectation to seeing God at work as we meet in Nairobi.’
I like the confident sense of 'the Anglican future' and feel challenged by the announcement defining that as 'a great spiritual and missionary fellowship, energised by the defence and proclamation of the gospel.'
Every Anglican future needs to be similarly defined!

The wrath of anti-wrathians

I was slightly bemused yesterday to follow the course of debate on Bosco Peters' Liturgy site following his post on 'the wrath of God was satisfied', 69 comments to date as I write this. I was also very disappointed that no one was bothering to press Bosco to have me tried for heresy. What more can I do in order to appear before a Tribunal in our church?

I note that Mark Harris at Preludium has posted on the matter here.

Naturally I have been having a few more thoughts of my own, both in response to comments there, comments here, and some off-blog correspondence. In no particular order of priority ...

(1) A challenge for all theologically-minded Christians is to engage with the whole of Scripture. By all means let us debate 'Till on that cross as Jesus died / the wrath of God was satisfied' (=JDWG) as to its satisfactoriness or otherwise as a theological statement expressing aspects of Scripture. What is quite unsatisfactory is a dismissal of the statement because that leaves considerable chunks of Scripture hanging in the air. If Romans 1-5, for instance, is not summarised accurately by JDWG, what is an accurate summary of Paul's argument in those chapters?

(2) I accept that 'wrath' is a difficult word in current English usage today. It too readily lends itself to a thought sequence wrath / inchoate anger / sadistic punishment  and in soteriology generates Jesus dies / Son punished / divine cosmic child abuse. However just because it is a difficult word does not mean we drop it. Might we usefully re-empower the word as an appropriate word to express 'anger at injustice'. What are many newspaper headlines but an expression of wrath? Paul Krugman's NYT blogposts (linked to on my sidebar) are the wrath of an economist deeply dissatisfied at the peddling of lies and mistruths which have real time consequences making people's lives more miserable through 'austerity'. Talk-back sports radio on a Monday morning is often the wrath of the sporting public at the injustices of referees decisions ... no wait, sometimes those conversations are inchoate anger! Rereading the first chapters of Romans, I am reminded that the 'wrath' of God expounded there is God's rightful anger against wrong-doing, God's just reaction to injustice.

(3) Paradoxically, the JDWG line in the hymn strikes some potential singers as wrong, heretical, misleading. But there is no passive acceptance of the line and fatalistic singing as a consequence. No! This must be reacted to. The words must be changed. Or if not possible, the words must not be sung. What is that reaction but a form of wrath, of anger against wrong. So the JDWG debate in part is the wrath of the anti-wrathians at work!

(4) At the heart of debate about JDWG is this question: how seriously does God take our wrong-doing? What level of opposition does God bring to the inordinate capacity of humanity to participate in sin, act unjustly, and deny God's Godliness? If we are dissatisfied with JDWG, is our alternative at least as robust in its answers to these questions?

(5) God's grace is amazing. When I consider my own life, looking as deeply as I can into its dark recesses, acknowledging not just the amount of wrong-doing in it, but the depth and breadth of it, I find it impossible to think I could undo what I have done, let alone live the remainder of my life perfectly pleasing to God. There is no satisfying route before me to being counted righteous in God's sight. Except the route which Christ has taken on my behalf. On the cross, as Jesus died, everything was done which is needed for me to be forgiven, redeemed, ransomed, liberated, justified, washed, reconciled to God and declared righteous. Everything. That is very satisfying indeed! And God has done it for me, in and through Christ. Amazing Grace!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The cup of wrath

Is it possible to think of criticism of one's theology as a form of wrath? If so, that wrath is being poured all over me today! Bosco Peters, at Liturgy, has a go not only at the hymn In Christ Alone and its much controverted line, "The wrath of God was satisfied" but also with my contribution to the exegesis of Luke 22:42 in a recently published Lenten study booklet, The Praying Life: Through Lent with Luke (Theology House, 2013), written by Lynda Patterson and myself.

"Our diocesan synodical singing of these words comes on the heels of a diocesan-wide study through Lent of a booklet The Praying Life, written by two of the top and most influential theologians in our diocese, Peter Carrell and Lynda Patterson. In this they wrote:
‘This cup’ particularly points to the cross as the place on which the wrath of God against sin was borne by Jesus as the final and full sacrifice for the sin of the world.
And Peter reinforces Lynda’s and his point on his blog:
If Jesus were not raised then we would not know whether God’s wrath was satisfied. That Jesus was raised demonstrated that God’s wrath was satisfied. The cup had been drained by Jesus.
The wrath-of-God-satisfied approach has been canonised as our diocesan soteriology (understanding of how we are saved)."

Naturally I am overwhelmed by self-defensiveness at this point :)

A couple of observations about what Bosco Peters writes elsewhere in the post:

(1) Bosco observes in respect of the controversial lines in the hymn:

"The understanding is that God (The Father) was angry at us in our sinfulness. And that God took out this rage on Christ instead of on us. And that this now enables God (The Father) to love us.
This understanding is heresy."

That raises for me whether or not such "understanding" is in the minds of people singing the hymn, and in particular, is it the understanding in the minds of the good Anglicans of the Diocese of Christchurch?

In one way I do not know that answer to that question, that is, I have not surveyed people on the matter. But I would like to have a high estimation of people and their theological maturity! I do not share Bosco's confidence that the understanding he outlines is the understanding at work in the singing of the hymn, and thus I am not convinced that we have "canonised" such understanding as our diocesan soteriology.

(2) Bosco also writes,

"So here I am dealing with the God-has-anger-management-issues, straightforward understanding of “on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied”.
It is not in the Bible. Show me anywhere in the Bible that explicitly states Jesus’ death satisfies God’s wrath.
God is not divided. There is not some sort of internal battle within God – of His wrath versus His love.
Does God need Jesus’ death in order to love us?"

This raises significant questions about whether Bosco allows that language used in hymns may express doctrines? Doctrines, as I understand them, are teachings of the church which seek to encapsulate what the church believes, including beliefs which may have little support in Scripture, or whose support in Scripture is spread through various parts of Scripture rather than being explicitly expressed in at least one scriptural text.The doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, is a drawing together of many pieces of scriptural evidence for the co-eternity, co-equality, co-divinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit without any one text explicitly stating that God is Three-in-One.

Thus there is no requirement of the lines, "on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied," that they are justified by demonstrating that somewhere in the Bible there is an explicit statement that "Jesus' death satisfies God's wrath."

What is required is that these lines fairly express the doctrine of atonement, that is, orthodox teaching on what took place on the cross in respect of scriptural exposition about God's judgement on sin (e.g. Romans 1-5), about the wrath of God against sin (e.g. Romans 1, Ephesians 2, 1 Thessalonians 2, 2 Thessalonians 1, Revelation 14-20), about the effect of Jesus' dying on the cross as an expiation/propitiation/atoning sacrifice for sin (in particular Romans 3:25, 1 John 2:2), and as an action which in some way or another removed our sins from God's concern (e.g. because we are now deemed to have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, e.g. 1 Peter 1:19, 1 John 1:7, Revelation 1:5, 5:9, also the interconnection between John 1:29, 36 and the Johannine timing of the death of Christ as the same time as the passover lambs were slaughtered, John 19:14).

As I understand the conservative evangelical commitment to this understanding of the doctrine of atonement, we are agreed with Bosco when he writes, "God is not divided. There is not some sort of internal battle within God - of his wrath versus his love." As best I understand this lack of division within God, God's love is God's wrath: in God's love for us God cannot bear the imperfection of sin marring the image of God and so God's wrath is God working to eradicate that imperfection. God's wrath is satisfied when sin is dealt with and expunged. God's love is, indeed, magnified, when we understand that love to go to any length required in order to deal fully and completely with sin.

In response to Bosco's question, "Does God need Jesus death in order to love us?" the conservative evangelical answer is a question, What does this question actually ask? If, for instance, it is asking whether God needs Jesus to die first in order that God may then love us, then the answer is "No." I understand conservative evangelicalism to pose a different question in this context of discussion about God's love, God's wrath and the atoning work of Christ on the cross. This question I suggest is, "Could God have avoided Jesus dying as the innocent victim of injustice in order to deal with sin?" The answer (taking account of the whole biblical narrative as it relates to sacrifice, atonement, cleansing) is, "No."

A point to make here is not that a conservative evangelical understanding of atonement is sole bearer of the standard of orthodoxy, rather it is that historically theologians have engaged robustly with a variety of understandings of atonement so that orthodoxy rules in several understandings, including the understanding that on the cross Jesus died a substitutionary death for us and satisfied completely all requirements for God's judgement against us to be averted. It is one thing to suggest that "the wrath of God was satisfied" is either not the only possible understanding of the atoning work of Christ on the cross or only one of several understandings, it is another thing to say that this is either heretical or (the point I understand Bosco to be making) prone to heretical misunderstanding.

What then, getting back to the study booklet and the citation above about Luke 22:42? Briefly, I suggest that if the words there are wrong - that is, they offer a mistaken interpretation of Jesus' reference to 'cup' in the context of the cup representing something awful if not unbearable - then what is the alternative understanding of 'cup'? I can think of no other that makes sense in the light of the unbearableness of what Jesus faced and the use of cup imagery in scripture in relation to the wrath of God.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

New Puritanism and haunting fear


"The columnist H.L. Mencken defined American puritanism as the “haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.” Political correctness, as the new puritanism, harbors the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is holding a Christian thought."

The article from which this citation is taken is in the American Spectator and written  by George Neumayr.

Where is the way?

Being a Christian is a curious pathway to travel. We cherish the thought that it is an upward path ("onwards and upwards"), towards a goal (the mountain top?), but we are in constant tension between the path being a very narrow ridge (only the faithful few, of which I am glad to be one, will make it) and a very wide way (God loves and calls all people to belong to him, it is a comfort to be part of a popular movement).

For myself I am increasingly dubious about proposals for being Christian which define 'Christian' in narrow terms so that those who will reach the mountain top are predetermined to be (say) Calvinists, or Catholics or Pentecostalists  but not all of the above. Yet I am also crystal clear that what we believe matters, that (for instance) Mormonism is not able to be accommodated into the broadest understanding of Christian orthodoxy. Or, to go back to yesterday's post, I think it matters how we approach the Bible as the Holy Scripture of the church, and thus it is worth being Mark Thompson taking time and trouble to call out error within the church.

Within this tension of what it means to be a Christian, engaging with the width of the way, a worthwhile read, both the article and the ensuing comments is found on Fulcrum, where Gordon Kuhrt reviews Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones - the Life and Legacy of 'the Doctor'.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Bible Down Under, or, Wow Those Queenslanders Think Differently!

Excellent book review by Mark Thompson of a book of essays by Queenslanders on the Bible.

Read here

A commenter below points out this quote within the review which is Cranmer, writing in the Homily, "Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture,":

"And if you be afraid to fall into error by reading of Holy Scripture, I shall shew you how you may read it without danger of error. Read it humbly, with meek and lowly heart, to the intent that you may glorify God, and not yourself, with the knowledge of it: and read it not without daily praying to God, that he would direct your reading to good effect; and take upon you to expound it no further than you can plainly understand it: for, as St. Augustine saith, the knowledge of Holy Scripture is a great, large and high place; but the door is very low, so that the high and arrogant man cannot run in; but he must stoop low, and humble himself, that shall enter into it. Presumption and arrogancy is the mother of all error; and humility needeth fear no error. For humility will only search to know the truth: it will search and will bring together one place with another; and where it cannot find out the meaning, it will pray, it will ask of others that know, and will not presumptuously and rashly define any thing which it knoweth not. Therefore, the humble man may search any truth boldly in the Scripture, without any danger of error."

Hidden treasure in Scripture

ο αρτος δε ον εγω δωσω η σαρξ μου εστιν υπερ της του κοσμου ζωης John 6:51c

τουτο μου εστιν το σωμα το υπερ υμων τουτο 1 Corinthians 11:24

The bread which I will give is my flesh for the life of the world ( John 6:51c)

This is my body which is for you (1 Corinthins 11:24)

I am making my way through Joachim Jeremias' book The Eucharistic Words of Jesus and learned something new. Jeremias suggests that the words from John's Gospel cited above are John's version of Jesus' "word of interpretation over the bread." (SCM, 1966, p. 108).

Why we may miss this specific word with its close parallel to 1 Corinthians 11 is that we read the whole of John 6:53-58 as a "eucharistic homily" at the end of the bread of like discourse which dominates most of John 6.

What a perfect sermon on communion it is!