Friday, January 31, 2014

Little known Bible fact

Pauls' three missionary journeys were by train, underground and linking ferry ...

With thanks to where the original may be found here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Conservative Anglicans Lack Consistency Over Nigeria and Uganda?

GLAD UPDATE: In the light of the original post below, I am very glad to now see this statement from ++Stanley of Uganda.


Here is a thought. Conservative Christians, including conservative Anglicans are united in their admiration of the German church leaders who made the Barmen Declaration in 1934. Courageously they took a stand against the cultural captivity of the German churches who joined in the "German Christian" movement which saw in Nazism some kind of divine embrace of German culture. Out of this opposition to the German Christian movement was spawned the Confessing Church, a kind of schismatic movement in which Christians in Germany sought to distance themselves from those parts of the German churches which were now walking hand in hand with Hitler and his thugs. Among the courageous leaders were Barth, Bonhoeffer and Niemoller. All 20th century heroes of the faith.

Ever since the story of the Confessing Church has become known around the world, it is invoked as a model for gospel engagement with and opposition to the church being taken captive by the surrounding culture. The keynote of the Barmen Declaration is Christ's lordship of the church which has no other master.

Fast forward to the unfolding situation in Nigeria and Uganda in which draconian laws against homosexuals are being considered by their respective legislatures, if not approved (see here and here). Stories are emerging in which Anglican leadership appears unable to distinguish between the cultural situation in each place (which favours the legislation) and a gospel response (which favours or should favour an approach of grace and mercy towards sexual sinners). Then there is the question of conservative Christian support from around the globe for these legislative moves. Some of which support is by way of silence - the silence in which those who ally themselves with the stances towards the Anglican Communion being taken by Nigerian and Ugandan bishops refuse to speak against their friends. Yes, ADU had been silent, so the following question I ask of myself as much as of anyone else.

Where are the Ugandan and Nigerian Barths, Bonhoeffers and Niemollers who are willing to speak out for the lordship of Christ over their churches and against the cultural captivity of their churches to prevailing preferences for draconian legislation?

UPDATE: Just after publishing the above, I see that the Archbishops of England have issued a communique to "all Primates" and to the "Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda" gently reminding the addressees of the importance of care and not condemnation of homosexuals.

THEN we might also read this statement pertaining to India.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sanity overcomes English bishops

UPDATE: Ian Paul is worth a read on these matters. AND GAFCON replies to the bishops' sanity.


Possibly the sanest news item ever published on the matter of Anglican churches and homosexuality has this heading,

Church of England bishops: we agree on one thing - that we can't agree on homosexuality

Within the item are we seeing the introduction of a new Anglican phrase, "good disagreement"?

For myself I am prompted to wonder if (when all is said and done) we are (though we are scarcely aware of it) engaged with a true novelty in the life of the church:

1. a matter on which we disagree so severely that schism always lurks as a possible outcome (and, indeed, has become an outcome in some places) yet not a matter on which any rational, compassionate Christian (in the abstract position of peaceful reflection*) would wish to divide the church for fear that doing so made a scapegoat of a tiny minority;

2. a matter on which the catholicity of our church/Communion is under an unprecedented 'strain' (as we try to reconcile the universality of the church implying inclusivity with the universality of the church implying commitment to common doctrine).

Do we need a very English cup of tea?

*I include the words in parentheses because I happily acknowledge that where schism has occurred, particularly in North America, many factors apply other than simple disagreement over homosexuality, including factors of stress driven by some dominating episcopal leadership difficult to understand in Anglican places more used to (shall we say) an English-style of episcopacy.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Only one John can be correct!

A searching challenge to my last post was made in this comment which I reproduce in full:

"Dear Peter

Disagreements on this site exemplify the problem with your reduction to Scripture as the supreme, final authority on matters of faith and practice. Such reduction is little more than wishful thinking – how you might like to organise things if you were God.

Christians using the Bible as their final authority are in disagreement about everything except that the Bible is the supreme, final authority on matters of faith and practice! They disagree on basics like who to baptise and how, who leads communion and what it means, what in the Bible is historical and what is metaphorical, and how to apply teachings concretely in areas of money, sex, politics, economics, war,… In short, there is no thing where Christians agree on what the Bible teaches. Far from being a positive argument, yours is the strongest argument against the Protestant approach (Shawn’s attempt to make all others into his own image notwithstanding). 

You have just powerfully demonstrated the inadequacy of Protestantism. And worse, if your equation can be read in both directions, you have just powerfully demonstrated the inadequacy of your God.



Excellent responses have been made by MichaelA. Here I have my own go ...

I am going to set aside this statement, "there is no thing where Christians agree on what the Bible teaches." which strikes me as a heat of the comment assertion which is obviously false. There is plenty Christians agree on which is taught in the Bible.

The serious charge within the comment is whether 'my' view which by implication is a or even the 'Protestant' view is nonsense: "such reduction is little more than wishful thinking"; worse "how you might like to organise things if you were God"; worst "you have just powerfully demonstrated the inadequacy of your God".

Further, with "everything" substituted with the phrase "many things", the following is a quite fair description of Protestant reality: "Christians using the Bible as their final authority are in disagreement about [many things] except that the Bible is the supreme, final authority on matters of faith and practice!"

My response

Wishful thinking?

Is it wishful thinking to take John 1:18 as a cue for thinking about Scripture? I suggest the debate over John 1:18 is whether it is a true statement or not; then, if it is a true statement, what are the implications of the statement.

As best I can tell, Christians are agreed that John 1:18 is a true statement. My question is then to ask whether Christians (Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox) have then pursued the implication of the statement for our understanding of the texts we have agreed are Scripture.

Indeed, that question is the great Protestant question to other Christians, but particularly to the Roman Catholic church with its claims of two revelations from God, 'Scripture' and 'Tradition' (noting an observation made to the post below in a comment by Alison). Turning John's question in a Roman direction, Is there a basis, an authority from God for making the Roman claim about Tradition as a separate revelation? Is this also 'wishful thinking' on the part of Roman theology?

At best the basis for such claim itself lies in Scripture, with its words about Petrine authority and apostolic authority, about the Holy Spirit's role in teaching the church. A Protestant point about Scripture as supreme, final authority is that even when Christians disavow such a claim, it is hidden within the theology of the disavowers!

Importantly, for my argument in the post below, and overlooked (it seems to me) by commenter John is that John 1:18 implies the final authority of Scripture on matters of faith and practice as those matters of faith and practice respond to Jesus Christ as the full revelation of God. Far from 'wishful thinking' I am simply trying to follow the logical implications of John 1:18.

If my logic is wrong, it is wrong. But the matter (as I have posted it) has nothing to do with wishful thinking. Other 'Protestant' arguments about Scripture may involve wishful thinking. Mine involves logic. Is my logic wrong?

Nevertheless, commenter John makes a good point (in my words): suppose the logic of Peter's argument re John 1:18 and scripture is accepted, it has not led to mutually agreed submission to the authority of Scripture, just to debates and divisions over the meaning of Scripture, so what is God up to by proceeding in the way he apparently has?

Inadequacy of God?

At first sight this seems like quite a compelling objection, particularly if we omit discussion of alternatives. Here is why I do not find it compelling.

1. My focus, on Scripture as the revelation of God in and through Jesus Christ, ties Scripture to Jesus Christ. If we think of Jesus as an outcome of the 'organisation' of God then how did that work out when Jesus lived and taught on earth?

Not too well! What he said was misunderstood (even by his disciples), opposed (by religious leaders he considered should have known better) and capable of diversity in the remembering (four gospels).

That is, if Scripture and the divisions which ensue among its readers imply that in Scripture God has offered a flawed way of speaking to the church of God and that this reflects badly on God, is the situation any the worse for the plan of God to speak to us through Jesus of Nazareth?

2. The comment made by John could (in my reading) be the comment of an atheist (i.e. highlighting general weaknesses in the Christian case for God, "Look! How inadequate your God is, because ...") or it could be the comment of a fellow Christian with an alternative commitment to authority in the church (e.g. as a Roman Catholic or as an Eastern Orthodox) and thus the comment focuses on an apparently Protestant set of weaknesses: "Look! How inadequate the Protestant view of God is ... (with some implied superiority of another or other view(s) of God)". Here I am going to assume the latter and not the former. That is, I am going to ask in response: are alternative views of Scripture and the God of Scripture better than a Protestant 'full, supreme authority' view, measured by the criterion of division?

(Since writing the above paragraph I have realised a very long answer is possible, indeed necessary, so, causa brevitatis, the next few sentences are an outline not an essay).

1. Other approaches to authority in respect of belief have not saved the church from division: Rome and Constantinople split in 1054.

2. Other approaches to authority/belief can obscure hidden division: e.g. many Roman Catholics simply do not follow Rome's teaching on contraception. No division as in 'schism' has occurred; but the practice of daily life is divided from the abstraction of Humanae Vitae. A virtue of Protestantism is that schisms reveal actuality of belief and practice rather than obscuring it.

3. Other approaches to authority/belief can cover over corruption in leadership: for several hundred years Rome has had non-corrupt Popes (good!) but that should not obscure the historical fact that commitment to papacy as a model of authority to ensure good leadership has not guaranteed sound leadership. The Reformation was triggered by a deep theological corruption which tied the selling of indulgences to the costs of building a splendid church in Rome. If we head East we note that the great virtues of Eastern Orthodoxy concerning unchanging doctrine, guarded by bishops and patriarchs has not saved Orthodox churches from arrogant, high-handed episcopal leadership.

4. More importantly for the approach I am taking, vesting the authority of Scripture in the authority of Christ, the question before us is less about whose or which authority and much more about where is the true source of revelation from God for the church today. On this matter all roads lead back to Scripture. For the claim, for example, that Tradition is a second source of revelation, the backing or basis of it lies within Scripture and its testimony to the authority Christ gave the apostles re binding and loosing. The debate between the two Christian streams which place most weight on Tradition, Rome and Constantinople, is most sharply divided over the procession of the Holy Spirit. In the end, this is a debate about what Scripture says and not what Tradition says.

But in which church or set of churches lies the greatest freedom to explore what truth is? Here the risk factor of Protestant division needs to be weighed alongside the freedom of Christians to think publicly about difficult matters. Again, we can easily forget as we admire Rome's doctrinal unity (and, by the way, I do admire it) that Rome has flip-flopped through the centuries on important matters of truth. One day Galileo is consigned to doctrinal outer darkness, the next he is hailed as a true scientist. Almost in living memory Rome proscribed against 'critical biblical scholarship' (at the beginning of the 20th century) and a few decades later reversed the interdict. Key theologians at Vatican 2 just a few years previously had had their teaching licences suspended.

Disagreement among Christians?

There is a lot of disagreement among Protestant Christians, including those invoking the authority of Scripture: agreed, accepted, acknowledged. But there is also a lot of agreement. The experience of many Protestants working together in gospel mission is that what we agree on (Jesus is Lord and Saviour, God is gracious, believers together constitute the body of Christ, etc) outweighs what we disagree on. Together we (say) study at a non-denominational theological college, acclaim the works of international scholars (or dispute them from shared presuppositions), cherish saints and heroes of the faith, and, most importantly, say the Nicene Creed together.

Only one John, commenter or gospel writer, can be correct. What do you think?

Tuesday a.m.: am publishing what is written to date ... may revise as time allows.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Why doesn't ++George tell us what he really thinks?

I think the reason why people don't like ++George Carey is that he prevaricates and pussyfoots around with what he really thinks. A typical example is here, on ecumenical relationships with Rome.

If only he could be frank with us and tell us what he really thinks. It is just so like his successor to leave us confused by the ambiguity of his descriptions of states of affairs. If he thinks the money invested in ecumenical relationships is like paying a huge transfer fee for a striker who never scores, he should say so. And, incidentally, wouldn't it be a good idea for Archbishops of Canterbury to find brilliant analogies like that which connect with the not-so-academic, non-chattering classes of English people?


PS I continue to work on John's Gospel and am focused at the moment on a post which responds to John's comment to my post on Saturday.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

John on Scripture as the supreme, final authority on matters of faith and practice

If we take John's Gospel seriously then can we ever stop unpacking the implications of 1:18?

'No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known" (NIV 2011).

One implication of this verse is that we need to read Scripture carefully, regularly and obediently. How dare we claim to know God? Because Jesus has revealed God to us. Where do we find this revelation of God? Since the ascension of the Son to the Father, we only find this revelation in Scripture. We come to Scripture because this side of glory it is the closest we get to true, reliable knowledge of God.

Within this claim, of course, lies an understanding that the New Testament is the collection of documents which offers the fullest and most authoritative expression of Jesus' life and teaching, and its meaning for the world. To an extent we could 'get by' if, say, we had only the Gospel of John. But John's Gospel is better understood for knowledge of the other gospels and the epistles. The Old Testament's importance lies in the contribution it makes to understanding the New Testament. The latter completes the former with its hope for a better future and a fuller revelation of God; the latter cannot be completely understood without knowledge of the former.

I suggest we can go a little further re Scripture in the light of John 1:18.

If the fullest revelation of God is made known through Jesus Christ then the supreme authority over our faith - the content of what we believe - is that which makes Jesus known to us: Scripture.

Similarly, if our practice is the things we do to honour God, to make a right and fitting response to the God revealed through Jesus Christ, then such practice is subject to our knowledge of that God (and not some other god), and thus Scripture is the supreme authority over our practice.

Now, it is true that Christians at this point have divided. Some have taken Scripture's authority over practice to mean that we only do what Scripture enjoins and never what Scripture does not prohibit. Others (including Anglicans) have understood that we are free in Christ to do things which are no expressly forbidden. Yet others (including some but not all Anglicans) have felt that on the matter of practice we might also take guidance from the ancient practice of the church going back to the apostles themselves. Many an interesting debate then ensues as we debate whether (say) practice X really is forbidden by Scripture or practice Y goes back to the second century rather than to the apostles or practice Z is a fair innovation in the light of our knowledge of both Scripture and tradition.

Nevertheless it would be a brave Christian who sought to do something and claim it was God's will in the face of a majority Christian teaching that this 'something' was, in fact, forbidden by Scripture. Or, alternatively, there is a similar bravery (and foolishness) in continuing to avoid a practice which Scripture conveys a command about.

For myself, trying to be a good Anglican, while also attempting to subject my Anglicaness to the judgment of Scripture, John 1:18 challenges me in respect of practice: does my practice as a Christian, as an Anglican minister and priest assist communication of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Does my practice enhance our understanding of that revelation? Or does it get in the way of understanding?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Finding true love via true revelation of the true Son

Excitable debate flowed from my previous post. Truth or love or both? It is difficult to see in the Bible where truth is ever pitted against love, least of all in John's Gospel. Nevertheless I think we all wish to avoid a kind of 'truth v. love' battle in which my doctrinally superior knowledge taught with a cold heart is pitted against your deeply compassionate love (which proudly proclaims its ignorance of 'theology').

What is at stake is the nature of true love.

Here (perhaps) is one way to think about what is at stake: a Muslim and a Christian are debating the virtues of each one's religion, in the presence of an agnostic mutual friend. The Muslim speaks eloquently of the mercy and compassion involved in the way of peace. The Christian talks warmly of grace and forgiveness characterising the path of discipleship. Each advances the argument that on the day of judgement a (or even the) significant issue will be the love one has shown for others.

At this point, the agnostic pipes up and says, 'If it boils down to loving one another, does it matter whether one believes in Allah, that Mohammed is his prophet and Jesus was not Allah's son or believes in God the Father Son and Holy Spirit?'

This question is somewhat self-interested: if it doesn't matter, then the agnostic may as well remain an agnostic!

Of course as soon as the Christian says it does matter in Whom one believes, then truth is as important as love! (The Muslim will definitely say it matters. It is not guaranteed that every Christian will say it matters ...).

What then, might be the relationship between truth and love?

I suggest that Paul and John in differing ways offer the same answer: our love for one another is perfected when we live in union with Christ. Love for one another is possible to a degree when we are not united in Christ, but true love for the other comes when we have died to self and accepted Christ's life indwelling our lives.

There is another agreement between John and Paul, I suggest. That is, that our union with Christ is completed through believing in the true Christ and not in another, false version of Christ. An important part of the motivation for writing the Johannine writings and the Pauline writings is the refutation of error about Christ.

In the end 'theology' or 'doctrine' (which far too readily has become a formal teaching of a vast number of topics and sub-topics which can be taught cold-heartedly or, as many students have found, boringly) is the vital matter of continuing the biblical writers task of presenting the truth about Jesus Christ as the fullness of God's revelation and refuting errors about the same.

Our true love for one another is inseparable from our union with the true Christ.

Speaking of truth ...

Australasian Anglican Down Under Promotion of Theological Landmark Volume

I am about to order Michael Bird's Evangelical Theology. Michael teaches at Ridley College, Melbourne. Here is an appreciative review by Michael Jensen of the work (which I know at least one theological college in NZ is adopting as its standard one volume systematic theology).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Is the key to Anglican futures, love or truth?

It would be quite a good undergraduate theology class essay topic to ask "Is truth or love more important in the Johannine writings?"

From a correspondent this morning comes a contribution to that essay in respect of truth. It is by Rod Dreher - a sharp thinker - and found here.

Truth or love?


If 'both', how are we Anglicans going to re-establish the importance of truth (where it has been neglected) and love (where it has been undernourished)?

Monday, January 20, 2014

John holds the key

Christianity in the West is in a bit of trouble, as Christina Odone opines. While on my blog holiday I have done a bit of thinking. Nothing remarkable, but definitely seasonal: Epiphany is the time for thinking about the scope of the gospel. For the whole world, for Gentiles and Jews, for everyone. Today's (as I write, Sunday 19 January) Isaiah reading, 49:1-7, talks of the servnt, aka Jesus, being a light for the Gentiles and salvation being for the world, all of it, even the marginal, edgy regions such as New Zealand. (OK, New Zealand isn't actually mentioned, but it is implied).

So, back to basics: what is the gospel and how are we going to communicate it? These questions are the big questions for Anglicans in 2014, not you know what issue or who is really an Anglican (see previous post). Our life is way more urgent than that!

Having just read a superb book Mawson and the Ice Men of the Heroic Age: Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen by Peter Fitzsimons, a possible analogy is this. In a restaurant offering a choice between dog meat and more familiar chicken, beef or lamb, a diner might take some time to contemplate the possibilities, including working out what a civilised (i.e. Anglican) person would choose. Circa 1912, in the midst of an Antarctic blizzard, miles from the next food depot, with no food left on the sledge, there is only one question to ask, and that is the urgent question. Which is the weakest dog? The answer to the question is shot. And eaten.

Our Anglican problem (at least in these islands but I sense elsewhere as well) is that we act as though we are in the restaurant when the reality is a post-Christendom blizzard in which we have few options if we are to survive.

Now it would be rather grand and unattractively ego-centric to proffer 'my' answer to the situation. But I wonder if it might be acceptable to encourage a new look at John's Gospel and humbly suggest, as many Christians have done through the centuries, that John offers some exceptional gospel theology in his theological gospel, by which we might profit?

Given that John has generated quite a few words through Christian history, I confine myself with supreme discipline to two brief observations here. More may follow in subsequent posts ...

(1) Whatever we make of why John makes his distinctive offering (internal division within the Johannine church(es), attempt to marry Jewish Christianity with true insights from Greek philosophy, dissatisfaction with other gospel presentations, etc), John is crystal clear - 20:30-31 - that he writes to lead people to belief in Jesus Christ. That is, John's Gospel models for every church wrestling with the challenges of some new situation the possibility of finding a new expression of the gospel which connects with that new situation.*

(2) John's gospel highlights the issue of God. In a world of competing claims about God, including the claim that there is no God, John makes the claim that in and through Jesus we can know truly (and truthfully) the unseeable God (1:18) - indeed we can know that God exists because Jesus' claims about God were validated. In the twenty-first century Western Christianity could die but, if so, it will not be replaced by atheism but by other religions making different claims about who God is. One future for, say, Western Anglicanism, is to work on Johnannine lines, steadily making the case that God is this and not that.

What do you think?

*One explanation of John's Gospel in relation to the Synoptics, which accounts for its similarities to and differences from them, is that with the similarities, John is saying, 'Look, my gospel is the same gospel about the same Jesus.' With the differences, John is saying, 'Think with me, penetrate deeply into the meaning of the familiar gospel, and, look, is this not what the gospel means?' (Another idea I am toying with is that John's Gospel is among the earliest commentaries on the Synoptic Gospels).

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Kiwi bishop appointed to senior role in Anglican Communion

A little ahead of schedule (re resuming posting on 20 January) but prompted by significant news, a Kiwi bishop has been appointed to a senior role within the Anglican Communion. Read all about it here.

ADDED FOOTNOTE: ++Justin Welby is offering interesting overtures of recognition to North American Anglicans not bound jurisdictionally to TEC or ACCanada by appointing Tory Baucum, a rector of an ACNA church, to be a 'Canterbury Preacher.' Read about it here. Perhaps ++Justin has been reading ADU over the years ... or maybe ADU is vindicated for its refusal to cast ACNA to one side ...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

New Year Resolutions

My first 'proper' post for 2014 is planned for 20 January when both annual leave and a house shift should be completed. However life continues to throw up stuff and I like to get the links sorted before they get harder to find on the net. I'll keep posting things on this one 'prelude' post which take my fancy, loosely packaged under the heading 'New Year Resolutions.'

(1) I definitely want to see Noah when it is in the cinema.And not just because there is a Kiwi in the title role ...

(2) I am going to be upbeat about NZ cricket and our chances in the 2015 World Cup, not least because of these two guys and their mighty deeds in posting the first and sixth fastest one day centuries yesterday.

(3) I am going to buy the two books on the 39A mentioned in this Oliver O'Donovan review article.

(4) I will continue thinking about 'sola scriptura', aided by thoughtful essays such as this one by James Ginther (my finding it prompted by a comment here re Grossteste, 12th century theologian and sola scriptura).

(5) I will attempt to read most of Wright's massive tomes on Paul and the Faithfulness of God while being very grateful for those who have slog-read before me, such as Doug Chaplin, and posted their summarising thoughts, as he has done here.

(6) I am going to learn heaps about Anglo-Catholic practice with the help of this newly discovered blog.

(7) I am going to resist stupidity and foolishness in the 'climate change' debate. As I write (6 January) news reports include both ships stuck in ice in the Antarctic, a massive and very, very cold Arctic storm bearing down on the US eastern seaboard, major sea storms crashing into the UK and news that 2013 was the warmest/hottest year on record in Australia. It was pretty warm in NZ too (thinking about a very mild winter). It is the height of folly to deny climate change. It may be the depth of folly to affirm it. What we need, surely, is some real science in our thinking, i.e. objectivity, not making-fun-of headlines on blogs.