Thursday, January 29, 2015

Are women bishops a collusion with culture or development of Galatians 3:28?

"A great read, an encouraging read, about a contemporary theologian who realized the moral bankruptcy and theological impoverishment of liberal Christianity and who also teaches the merits of a broad consensus Christianity which is preferably to narrow and sectarian varieties."

Those words come from a quick review by Michael Bird of Thomas C. Oden's autobiography A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014).

I am looking forward to reading the book - on order for the Theology House library - and appreciate the brief review Michael Bird provides. The review highlights, I suggest, one of the great issues in the life of the church today. This issue is present when (say) we visit a church and find that 80% of the congregation are aged over 70 years, or we shake our heads and wonder at the future of theological education and ministry training when we find that yet another seminary somewhere in the Western Anglican Communion is closing down or just reconfiguring, or, as this week, we see that Libby Lane has become the first woman bishop in the C of E.

I guess the issue could be described in various ways such as how we interpret the Bible or working out tradition in modern contexts but, working from Bird's review of Oden's memoirs, I describe it as the church discerning the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Oden, it seems, spent a number of years pursuing that discernment along a pathway which promised much and delivered little. At that point Oden rediscovered the pathways charted by the ancient Fathers, including the Super Highway charted by Athanasius Augustine and Aquinas. In part this is about resisting the temptation to love heresy more than orthodoxy (remembering that heresy is not the opposite of orthodoxy but an attractive deviation from it) and in another part this appears to be about the ongoing matter of God's truth in human contexts or the relationship between revelation and culture.

When we worry about church attendance declining or participation in church life reducing to one or two senior generations rather than the all generations, or argue over whether women may or may not be discerned for presbyteral or episcopal ministry, we are engaging, directly or indirectly, in reflection of God's truth in human contexts. What is the Word of God for today? How do we answer that question honouring the Word of God in its fullness and precision while living in a world which did not exist when the Word of God was revealed to us in the form we read as our Scripture?

If, taking one issue, we have no young people in our churches, what has happened to the Word of God which the remnant elderly generations once heard as a clarion call to follow Jesus? Taking another issue, in a world sensitive to full participation of women in human community, what does the Word of God mean for the life of the church when it announces that male and female are one in Christ and declares that humanity is made in the image of God?

That in some parts of the church we might (as in 'just might, let's pause and think about this very carefully') be misunderstanding God's Word as we seek to discern its full meaning for life is highlighted when we find absurd applications being pursued. In that part of the church led by the Bishop of Rome, we find some oddities around persisting with segregation of men and women in leadership so that not only may women not be priests but some think girls may not be altar servers either (here). But that is perhaps nothing much in oddity terms compared with the extraordinary compromise the CofE has carefully and seemingly secretly worked on which prevents the Archbishop of York from laying hands on Philip North at his ordination.

Back to Oden. His approach to theology has a very interesting parallel with that of Jaroslav Pelikan, as we read about the latter in First Things. My question of both theologians as they followed the ancient ways of orthodoxy is whether they picked and chose what they consider to be orthodoxy! Oden remained a Methodist which suggests he did not agree with everything he read in Augustine and Aquinas (for the combined logic of both, if agreed with, must lead to membership of the church of Rome). Pelikan eventually eschewed Lutheranism in favour of Eastern Orthodoxy which highlights a choice to no long subscribe to the creed of Western Orthodoxy!

All theology involves choice as we seek to fully discern the Word of God written for us in Scripture. Notwithstanding the impressive scholarship of Oden and Pelikan and the power of their arguments that in modernity theologians have made some bad choices, neither offers an infallible method for maintaining, let alone developing orthodoxy. To wit, the creedal differences between East and West remain; Rome has not reversed its teaching on the assumption of Mary; Aquinas has not proved to be the last word on the mystery of the sacraments.

On a specific contemporary question, doubly highlighted by the ordination of Libby Lane this week in England and by the extraordinary manner in which his archbishop and other bishops will be 'absent' at Philip North's ordination next week, it is easy to charge the church of God as colluding with culture by ordaining a woman to the episcopate and to invoke the spectre of failure to maintain the orthodox faith of the church of God. It is harder to explain how orthodoxy with its conundrums highlighted by the differing examples of Oden and Pelikan guarantees that in 2015 we may KNOW that woman may not be bishops.

Actually, almost hidden in the review of Oden's memoirs, is a clue we could reflect on concerning knowledge of God's revelation in its full depth and breadth. The great strength of orthodoxy has been its consensus, the sensus fidelium in which the people of God agree together on what is and is not God's truth:

"Oden treasures “consensus Christian” which is a lot like C.S. Lewis’ “mere Christianity.” Oden says, “The clergy did not create this consent; it was achieved by an act of the worshiping community confirmed by the laity in song, prayer and Scripture” (p. 176)."

In the end the question of whether women bishops represent the church colluding with culture or are a proper application of our discernment of Galatians 3:28 will not be sorted on this blog, but by the reception of the people of God in the ages to come ...

But I could be wrong!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sacred and Spiritual Links - Monday 26 January 2015

From a UK colleague ...

I hope all is well and prayers for you during the coming week.

#1 Great talk by Archie Coates on not hiding lights under bushels and that is pretty much the theme of this email; #2 Bishop Kuan on obedience and relationship with God; #3 Hugh Palmer on the joy of giving; Much persecution everywhere.

1. Kingdom Come: The City [Mark 5:14-16] - Archie Coates - St Peter's Brighton Audio

2. Adam And Eve - To Obey Or To Disobey [Genesis 3:1-13 & Matthew 4:1-11] - Bishop Kuan Kim Seng - St Andrew's Singapore Audio

3. First to Christ then to us - Hugh Palmer - All Souls Audio [2 Corinthians 8:1-7]

4. Security, Strength and Simplicity Mark 9:42 - 10:16] - Peter Walker - St Andrew's Mount Pleasant Vimeo

Commentary for Sunday 25th January
5. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

6. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

7. Reading Mark 11-16 - Read the New Testament in a year with Rev Andrew Goddard
[and follow the links on the drop down menu Reading NT for other resources]

8. The bells of St Nicholas, Leeds in Kent. - BBC Radio 4

9. Choral Evensong from Ripon Cathedral - BBC Radio 3

10. Sunday Holy Communion livestreamed from St Helena's Church, Beaufort, South Carolina at 10:15 am Eastern Time, 3:15 pm London Time

11. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

12. Choral services from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge

Please pray for the Ebola Crisis and for those working for a cure; for Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Syria and Iraq including refugees facing winter and hunger; for the persecuted church and in particular in Nigeria, Malaysia, Turkey and China; for peace in France, Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

13. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Nigeria: Report on Premier Christian Radio [mp3]
Wake up to religious cleansing - Release International
Malaysia: End of the road for Catholic Church as court dismisses ‘Allah’ review - Malaysia Insider
Turkey: Accused perpetrators released in Malatya murder trial – WWM
Turkey 'promises' first new church in 90 years – WWM
China: China's oldest priest dies at age 105 – UCA
South Carolina: Prayers from Lent and Beyond

14. Sunday Programme - with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

Food for thought
15.  Downton Abbey — What Are Americans Really Watching? - Albert Mohler
New threat to religious liberty and free speech in universities - Evangelical Alliance
Will marriage still be an issue at the general election? – EA
Questions about "First Century Mark" - Dr Peter Williams, Tyndale House
and Justin Taylor
Why can't the voice of Christians be heard? - Bishop Nazir-Ali
Reading the Bible Contextually: Eugene Peterson on the Antidote to Prooftexting

16. Think Friday: Freedom, Blasphemy and Charlie Hebdo – EA

17. What difference can Christians make in the workplace? – LICC

18. Stanford: Choral Music - Winchester College Chapel Choir – Convivium

19. Love Each Other - Graham Kendrick

God bless you

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Bishops' magic hands: once tainted, even disinfectant cannot clean them! (Updated)

Oh, dear, oh dear!

That's what we say Down Under about the dear old C of E when it gets its pantaloons in a knot.

Imagine discovering after a bishop has laid hands on you for confirmation or ordination that just before the service he had used the loo and forgotten to wash his hands afterwards. (Possible) Shiver down the spine stuff (some aren't fussy). "My hair is tainted. Pass the shampoo!"

But imagine discovering that a few days or weeks ago or even years ago the aforementioned bishop had had a moment of toiletry forgetfulness. "No problem, mate. Surely he has washed his hands more than a few times since. Why, he might even have had a shower or a bath since then."

Most taint is washed off. But not all. As you can read at Thinking Anglicans or on Anglo- Kiwi. Apparently if a male bishop touches a woman in an ordaining kinda way then no soap known to humankind, not even a powerful disinfectant can wash off the taint which lingers ... forever.

Now we are quite brainy down here Down Under and we can spot a compromise faster than David We-play-hard-but-fair Warner can spot some underhand play from the other side. (Underarm bowling is, of course, harder to spot.) So, dear old C of E, we do understand the 'dilemma' of how to keep everyone happy. We even engage in a bit of that compromise stuff in ACANZP.

But is there not a point where grown adults, living in the 21st century (i.e. able to critically read the Bible) ask simple questions such as, Does God require untainted hands for ordination to be ordination? Is apostolic succession about who has touched whom or about safeguarding the gospel?

And: what, just what are we saying about 50%+ of the human race when we say that their presence within the leadership of the church causes 'taint'?

And we wonder why people are not coming to church!?

- keep reading on Thinking Anglicans
- Bosco Peters makes an astute and needed point about 'Anglo-Donatism' here.
- the underlying theological issue, according to New Directions, is not 'taint' but 'theology and communion' or 'impaired communion' but that does not take us far from 'taint' because it is all about hands and who the hands have touched. 'Tainted communion', if you prefer!
- the question remains, Why should touching women impair communion as though there is something intrinsically problematic about women? This is the great challenge for catholicity (Anglican and Roman and Eastern) in the world today!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The most important questions of 2015

Readers here, the remnant of at least two who commented yesterday, will be pleased to know that I have returned from my holiday full of ideas for posts in the days and weeks to come. In no particular order of importance here is a sample:

- Could motels please offer greater uniformity of service? This is a very urgent question, especially in the holiday season. Most urgently is the service of providing some kind of bedside cabinet or table on both sides of the bed. It is a matter of grave injustice when only one of a couple can rest their morning cuppa on a surface roughly level with the top of the bed. Other needs for a motel 'Act of Uniformity' - this is a very Anglican problem - concern amounts of free Wifi on offer, number of TV channels available. Etc.

- Why are North Island roads better, on average, than South Island roads? Surely it could have nothing to do with the greater population in the northern island!

- Why had I never heard of Charlie Hebdo before 2015? This extremely important figure has hitherto been beyond my knowledge and thus my reputation as a 'global thinker' and 'man of the world' has been ruined by discovering, nearly in ripe old age, that this luminous figure has had no influence on my mental development.

- Heaven on earth is a reality! As discovered by attending a day of the Boxing Day cricket test at the recently opened Hagley Oval, here in Christchurch.

- Boy have I got some financial tips for you and your investments :) When I took Thomas Piketty's now famous book Capital in the Twenty-First Century away to read, I thought - on the basis of some comments I read - that I would be reading a socialist tract. Far from it. This book is a gem as it explains how capitalism has worked and is working. It takes a very long view about the success of capital investments - like analysing several hundred years of data - and thus I have a financial secret to share with you. 

Like all financial secrets to successful investing it is very simple and I will give it to you for free. Seriously, there are no strings attached. I get no commission from the following secret information. 

It is this: if you get more than 5% return over your lifetime on any form of investment you make then you are very, very lucky. Why? Because the long term investment return on capital is 5% or less (and currently it is in a period of 3-4% return, and we may not see a rise on that in our lifetimes).

The more alert of my two readers will now be pining for something 'more Anglican' than the above topics so a few have come to mind amid the stupor of the holiday mood:

- My liturgical hopes for 2015. Having visited a variety of churches in the past few months, could we possibly stop doing X,Y,Z and start doing A, B, C?

- The one vital piece of information every parish website MUST have. Clue: It is NOT that you are a welcoming, inclusive, vital church.

- Factional fiction, John's Gospel, and How God Became Jesus. You probably know the books I am referring to which also formed part of holiday reading.

- If hell exists, is its population less than 1? An intriguing thought. EVERYONE should read this post :)

- Motion 30 Is there a solution to this conundrum?

- In a world seemingly confused by the relationship or non-relationship between 'Islam' and 'Islamism' as in 'One is a religion of peace and the other is not, or is it?', should we start talking about Theocratic Fascism? But if we do that, do Christians need to look in the mirror in order to recall Christian theocratic fascism from the past?


Monday, January 19, 2015

Spiritual and sacred links for Monday 19 January 2015

Back to work ... back to blogging ... not quite over the holiday mood (for overseas readers, NZ is basking in summer sunshine and heat which is not quite a heatwave, the dark side of which is areas (such as as Canterbury where I live) experiencing drought which could imperil our agirculturally based economy ... incidentally, to all climate change sceptics out there, I notice last year was the hottest on record ... I guess we could all fry to death while disbelieving in both climate change and hell, the perfect storm of secular atheistic thinking ....

Enough of the provocateur, here are the links

1. Listening to God [Luke 10:38-42] - William Taylor - St Helen's Bishopsgate Video and Audio

2. Where are you going? [Matthew 2:1-12] - Dr Kendall Harmon

3. Kingdom Come: You and Me [Mark 1:14-20] - Archie Coates - St Peter's Brighton Audio

4. Legalism is not enough [Matthew 5:17-26] - Andrew Wingfield Digby - St Andrew's Oxford Audio

Commentary for Sunday 18th January
5. The Sunday Readings - Rev Stephen Trott

6. Preaching Ideas and Commentary - Rev Peter Carrell

7. Reading Mark 6-10 - Read the New Testament in a year with Rev Andrew Goddard
[and follow the links on the drop down menu Reading NT for other resources]

8. The bells of St Matthew's, Stretford near Manchester - BBC Radio 4

9. Choral Evensong from Christ Church Oxford - BBC Radio 3

10. Sunday Holy Communion livestreamed from St Helena's Church, Beaufort, South Carolina at 10:15 am Eastern Time, 3:15 pm London Time

11. Choral Evensong from Trinity College, Cambridge live at 6:15 pm GMT Sunday [1:15 pm Eastern]
[and afterwards podcasted at the link below]

12. Sunday Hour - BBC Radio 2

13. Archived Choral services during the holidays from the chapels of King's College Cambridge
and St John's College, Cambridge
and Trinity College, Cambridge

Please pray for the Ebola Crisis and for those working for a cure; for Christians and all facing persecution and crime in Syria and Iraq including refugees facing winter and hunger; for the persecuted church and in particular in Nigeria, Niger, Iran; for peace in France, Ukraine, Israel and Gaza; for St Michael's, Heliopolis in Egypt and for the Diocese of South Carolina.

14. Topical Prayers - Church of England
Egypt: Request for prayer: Tragedy Strikes Sudanese Congregation of St. Michael’s Church in Heliopolis
Nigeria: Boko Haram massacre: Satellite images show Nigerian town of Baga 'wiped off the map' - ABC Religion
Primate Okoh solicits for united effort to fight Boko Haram Insurgency - CoN[AC]
Niger: Churches burned down over anti-Charlie Hebdo demonstration in Niger – WWM
Syria region: Jordan's Syrian refugees living in dire poverty - UN - Christian Today
Iran: Christmas arrests in Iran: 11 still detained – WWM
Iranian Christian released from prison, pastor given additional one-year sentence – CSW
South Carolina: Prayers from Lent and Beyond

15. Sunday Programme - with Edward Stourton - BBC Radio 4

Food for thought
16. Church of England: Go Forth and Multiply – Economist
How I almost lost the Bible - Gregory Thornbury - Christianity Today
You're not too busy to read the Bible - Jen Pollock Michel - Christianity Today
Blogging, campaigning and the General Election - Law and Religion
Engage 2015 for the Rugby World Cup in September

17. Rejoice in the Lord Alway - Purcell - Sydney Sussex Choir

18. Light Up The World - Desperation Band