Friday, September 29, 2017


Bishop Muru Walters is retiring from his role as Bishop of Te Upoko o Te Ika (southern North Island).

He has given a very fine address at the recent Runanganui in Whakatu (Nelson).

It is here and I commend it to you for its insights into Christianity in Maori perspective.

Ontology of Scripture

Did you know Scripture has ontology? A lovely piece here on the theology of the late John Webster.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Towards revising a draft submission for 17 November

OK so comments back and forth have been vigorous re my (very draft) draft submission for the GS Motion 29 Working group (due 17 November). The guts of which were:

"I ask that the idea below is considered against the background of the "broad place" Anglicanism noted above, along with the fact that in the past few decades, despite same sex partnered clergy being part of the life of most dioceses, no bishop has been taken to a disciplinary tribunal for licensing these clergy.

My thought re an improvement to the proposal is to pare it back and slim it to a minimum set of changes:

(1) our declarations are changed in line with the proposal

(2) clergy and ministry unit office holders may determine without fear of discipline whether or not blessings of same sex relationships will be conducted within the ministry unit

(3) bishops have discretion to accept a person in a same sex marriage or civil union as a candidate for ordination or appointee to licensed ministry position.


I think (2) and (3) are the minimum we would need for space to be given for SSB (or, indeed, House Blessings) to be conducted in our church and for bishops to lift the moratorium on accepting candidates for ordination etc.

I suggest (2) would remove bishops from disputes with clergy who do not think they should be giving permission for such to happen or approving forms of service for SSBs. It would also enable the possibility of SSBs to occur in a ministry unit in a Diocese which otherwise generally held the view that SSBs ought not to happen.

Obviously (3) could lead to disputes with bishops, but would it lead to differences of view between bishops and their clergy which are not already in existence?
Incidentally I cannot recall one comment on the specifics of this particular proposal which I naively thought might get us around certain difficulties with the current proposal being discussed by our diocesan synods and hui amorangi.

But here is the thing: there is definitely, within our church, a school of thought which, frankly, wants no SSB happening anywhere, anytime, under any conditions which imply official or formal approval of our church.

There is also a(n overlapping) school of thought which seeks theological work to be done which has not be done - despite some work being done, the proposition here is that more work needs to be done. We should be principled in our pragmatism rather than pragmatic in our pragmatism - if, indeed, our principles permit us to be pragmatic. (On which we might usefully read this blogpost about our already constructed pragmatism).

Of course there is a school of thought which wants the status quo to change, and yesterday!

What is to be done?

Here is one of the simplest things we could do, on the face of it: to carefully and graciously separate our church into two churches, one which has nothing to do with SSB and one which has something to do with SSB. But this possible way forward is not as simple as it sounds because our church does not neatly divide into two groups on SSB (remember, on any issue in our church there are always at least three groups: conservative, moderates and progressives).

Here is another of the simplest things we could do, on the face of it: to commit to patient unity. If we are called by Christ to unity (and we are) and if we are in such disunity on an issue that we might split apart (anathema), then ecclesio-logic commends that we make no decision to change the status quo. On this approach we could certainly, at the least, commit ourselves to theological work together.

Then there is the recommendation of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans NZ, that we institute alternative episcopal oversight so that we make the best unity out of our disunity: various groups within our church are in unity with one or more, but not all bishops. I won't here canvas the pros and cons of this proposal (there are many), nor set out a judgment on the possibility, suffice to say that this is as much worth considering as the two possibilities set out above it.

At this point I am not setting out a revision to the first few paragraphs above - specific comments to any or all those suggestions welcomed.

I also welcome comments on three suggestions above for "What is to be done?"

APROPOS of a Comment or two below about braided rivers:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Towards a Motion 29 Working Group 17 November Submission

So, I have been posting here that I think the recommendations in the Interim Report of the Motion 29 Working Group are a "beautiful accommodation" (here, here, here, here) while also noting that not all share that view (here, here, here, here).

Here is another beautiful accommodation:

This is a Tesla electric car. It is beautiful in design and it is an accommodation (electric motor requires generation of electricity by some means or another, batteries which add weight to the car, it saves the world re oil consumption but destroys the world re ingredients required to make batteries, it costs much more than "equivalent" petrol or diesel powered car, and, while it goes further than any other battery powered car, you still need to think where you will end up for the night in order to charge it). In short, because it is a beautiful accommodation that does not mean it will work as a car to save the world's environment - certainly not on my stipend!

In other words, having pushed hard (in blogging terms) for a reception of the working group's proposal as a "beautiful accommodation" it is reasonable to ask whether it will work.

So I am now turning my mind in a different direction, aided and abetted by comments here, posts elsewhere and our own Synod discussion a few weeks back. That different direction is towards questions such as:

- what are shortcomings of the proposal, and can they be overcome?
- what will actually work for our church?
- what if we took more time than "we must have a decision by end of GS 2018"?

And yet, some recent experience has left me wondering why we cannot be a church which is accommodating re SSB? Recently I met an Anglican woman and discovered we both had something in common: both of us have wives! I also discovered a bit about her parish church, which welcomes and celebrates the lives of gay and lesbian persons. It got me thinking about the (potential) capacity of Anglican churches to incorporate breadth of theology, liturgy and experience. Incorporation in Anglican life does not require validation or endorsement but it does mean there is tolerance, space and willingness to exist together in a large enough room for conversation to continue.

That notion of the Anglican church as a large room - "you have set my feet in a broad place" (Psalm 31:8 NRSV) - was first conveyed to me in a lecture by Bishop John A.T. Robinson, on a visit to Christchurch in the late 1970s.

And it was a large space which enabled John A.T. Robinson, author of both Honest to God and numerous less controversial volumes of biblical scholarship, to exist in the same church as (say) John Stott, Jim Packer, Michael Green, Michael Ramsay, Desmond Tutu, etc.

Here's a question,

Would permission for SSB in the life of our church represent a matter beyond the already "broad place" in which the Lord has set our Anglican feet?

Some thoughts about questions posed above

- what are shortcomings of the proposal, and can they be overcome?
- what will actually work for our church?
- what if we took more time than "we must have a decision by end of GS 2018"?

Let's take the last question. I wasn't at the last two General Synod, I will be at the next one. I have assumed that in 2018 we must make a decision to make some change to the status quo.

Perhaps we do not have to. Perhaps - following some comments here and elsewhere - we really need to do theological work which has not yet been done (on blessing, ordination, marriage). It is not as though no theological work has been done (there have been several Theological and Hermeneutical Hui a few years back) nor as though no theology is involved in the various working group reports (there is always at least an implied theology to everything the church does). But are we settling for less than adequate work?

Might such work open up dimensions not yet considered by us? In recent days, for instance, Bowman Walton in comments here has raised the possibility that we should be considering House Blessings rather than Same Sex Blessings.

On the matter of shortcomings, there does seem to be a groundswell for clarity around the state/status of ordinands, ordained persons and licensed persons in same sex relationships. There is also the matter of episcopal relationships: between a bishop and those who are in dispute with that bishop over giving permission for SSBs (or refusing it), ordaining persons living in an SSB (or refusing to do so). Summarising, the proposal provides for an "additional bishop" to support those who are in dispute but there seems to be a groundswell for that additional bishop to also be an "alternative bishop."

But, to come to the middle question above, what is workable?

Without attempting anything like an evaluation of alternative episcopacy where it exists in the Communion, is it workable (and, in particular, would it be workable here)?

Does it work to put off a decision while more theological work is done?

If we accept that the proposal is geared towards safeguarding conservatives on the matter of SSB being permitted in a Diocese, does the proposal actually provide a viable route for progressives wishing for SSB to be permitted in a Diocese which otherwise is against SSBs?

Then there is the question of whether everything about the proposal depends on the bishop of the day not changing his or her mind and the successor of that bishop being of both similar and unchanging mind to his or her predecessor ... unless the electing Diocese specified that it did want a changed mind ...

One thought not much thought through by me is this ... I will air it here for critical review ...

I ask that the idea below is considered against the background of the "broad place" Anglicanism noted above, along with the fact that in the past few decades, despite same sex partnered clergy being part of the life of most dioceses, no bishop has been taken to a disciplinary tribunal for licensing these clergy.

My thought re an improvement to the proposal is to pare it back and slim it to a minimum set of changes:

(1) our declarations are changed in line with the proposal

(2) clergy and ministry unit office holders may determine without fear of discipline whether or not blessings of same sex relationships will be conducted within the ministry unit

(3) bishops have discretion to accept a person in a same sex marriage or civil union as a candidate for ordination or appointee to licensed ministry position.


I think (2) and (3) are the minimum we would need for space to be given for SSB (or, indeed, House Blessings) to be conducted in our church and for bishops to lift the moratorium on accepting candidates for ordination etc.

I suggest (2) would remove bishops from disputes with clergy who do not think they should be giving permission for such to happen or approving forms of service for SSBs. It would also enable the possibility of SSBs to occur in a ministry unit in a Diocese which otherwise generally held the view that SSBs ought not to happen.

Obviously (3) could lead to disputes with bishops, but would it lead to differences of view between bishops and their clergy which are not already in existence?

 What do you think?

Monday, September 25, 2017

We will have a new government, we voted for change

After our election results on Saturday night (which may vary slightly as "special votes" are counted over next few weeks)  and no one party or immediate coalition of parties can form a new government:

Alternative 1 today: blah, blah ... what will Winston Peters do ... blah, blah ... options ... surely that one won't work ... blah, blah ... triumph for Bill ... didn't Jacinda do well ... sad about Maori Party ... ACT, huh, 0.5% party vote ... Greens, got eaten compared to last time ... TOP, silly Gareth Morgan, never show contempt for cats, or voters ... blah, blah ... anyone know where Winston is?

Incidentally, to all those out there who voted "for change" the result does mean, on any scenario of forming a government, that the government will be changed from the previous one.

Alternative 2 today:

"Jens’s political sensibilities remain a delightful surprise to me. Once, when discussing my efforts to put his theology in dialogue with Cone’s work, I asked what he thought of black liberation theology, and he said, “Not radical enough.” I laughed and told him that Cone might not agree. He laughed and said, “Well, in the end we’ll see who the real revolutionary is.”
If there is any revolutionary community, for Jens that community is the Church, which is the only community whose life is to anticipate the kingdom. Baptism into the Church is also initiation into the kingdom. I suspect that the centrality of the Church in Jens’s political and eschatological thinking was what motivated him to work toward ecumenical unity. Jens was unsurpassed in his faithful grief over the divisions of the Church. His dedicated work in cofounding and leading the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology is just one example of his commitment to doing theology for the one Church. I experienced this commitment as Jens gave me pastoral counsel as I prepared for ordination in the Episcopal Church."

The above citation is from a reflection on Robert Jenson's life and theological work found here. (H/T B. Black)

Alternative 2 might offer more lines of fruitful, productive thinking than 1!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Pray with Us - Transitional Cathedral Today and Tonight

If you are in Christchurch and have some spare minutes or hours, come to pray at the Transitional Cathedral, Hereford Street.

9 am Friday 22 September to 9 am Saturday 23 September we are leading a Pre Election Prayer Vigil.

Let's pray for a good government and a great representation of the people of Aotearoa New Zealand in our parliament!

Each hour will be introduced with some reflection, Scripture reading and formal prayer - in some cases by guest contributors from our social and community organisations.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

More effective than Russian agents influencing America?

Ross Douthat has a fascinating column about the changing character of the Roman Catholic church. While his focus is on the fate of conservatives and liberals in an ongoing series of Inquisitions via internet trials, he recognises at the end that something Anglican is going on!

"Can the church really become Anglican, with sharply different Christian theologies coexisting permanently under a latitudinarian umbrella?"

So my question is, have some sneaky, hidden behind Facebook postings, releases of hacked batches of emails, etc, Anglicans had more influence on the church of Francis than Russian agents have had on the America of Trump?

Naturally I shall take denials from the ABC and Anglican Communion offices as tacit admissions :)

Who would have thought, around, oh, about 2003, when certain things unfolded for Anglicans and conservative Anglicans looked longingly towards Rome as the beacon of unchangeable teaching and unswerving application of that teaching, that 2017 would see the Anglicanization of Rome all but complete!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Incurvatus in se: who or what are we saved from and/or for?

Saved by grace? Yes, but who or what are we saved from/for?

With H/T to Bryden Black, read this fascinating and provocative post on salvation.

It is about the book, The God Who Saves: A Dogmatic Sketch by David W. Congdon.

I sometimes think that the notion of "being saved" in today's world is increasingly difficult to explain (since many people have no sense of fear of God, of judgment or of damnation, nor is there a sense of being a slave to sin). So I like the idea of being saved from oneself. The idea that we are our own worst enemies is not lost in a world of personal failures and shortcomings.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Politics of Jesus: who would Jesus vote for this election?

Crunch time. Votes to be cast by end of this Saturday 23rd September 2017. Who to vote for? Jacinda? Bill? Winston? James? Marama? Gareth? I'll concentrate here on the "party vote" but there is also the question of which local person to vote to become your local MP.*

If the criterion of your vote is voting for the winning side, well, good luck predicting that!

If the criterion of your vote is voting for a government which will keep NZ running well, planes flying, etc, then good luck with that!

If the criterion of your vote is voting for a government which has already informed you what their taxation policy is, then very good luck with that.

Perhaps you fancy gaining some insight from the partners of the prospective Prime Ministers? Then this article might help. But, then again, it might not, as each partner thinks their stumping partner is perfick!

If you do not fancy, as I do not, having Winston Peters being the queen or king maker, then, almost certainly, no predictions required, you and I will be disappointed!

But enough of secular political punditry (on which I fancy myself having some expertise :),) what would Jesus do?

Who would Jesus vote for this Saturday? (Well, okay, he was an observant Jew, so probably would cast an early vote so as not to do that sort of work on the Sabbath.)

It is tempting, incidentally, and I think some Christians will do this, to vote for Bill English (because a Christian, a married man and a family man) and not for Jacinda Ardern (because she is not married to her partner, not even engaged, and because she is not a committed Christian - she has distanced herself from her upbringing as a Mormon). Alongside that "moral approach" to voting decision-making, I would bring to bear this question: how honest is Bill English the politician? There are significant questions about his honesty in respect of the imbroglio over Todd Barclay and, more recently, a question about his continuing support for Murray McCully's shambolic if not dishonest performance explaining away an apparent bribe to a a Saudi sheikh.

What I think Jesus would do is to do what Jesus always did, which was to talk and act with a preference for the last, the least and the lost.

This election we are well aware that even if the country is working pretty well for many of us (who have jobs, who live in houses we can afford to rent or pay the mortgage for, who can pay our bills and buy good food for our families), it is not working well for all.

We have the last, the least and the lost among us - homeless, jobless, hungry, poor, waiting on hospital lists for treatment - to say nothing of those who feel hopeless and, perhaps, are turning to drugs as a result. Not all such situations can be fixed by government legislation and government department intervention. Some such situations could be helped significantly by the government governing better (e.g. using current tax revenue better) and by the government having more resources at its disposal (i.e. by raising more tax revenue).

But, just before we jump to the conclusion that Jesus would necessarily vote for one of our left-wing parties, it is worth remembering that Jesus was intelligent and wise. I think we could also assume that Jesus would not be so stupid as to vote for a solution to the problems of the last, the least and the lost which foreseeably would take us into a socialist world liable to become bankrupt (cf. Venezuela) or totalitarian (cf. anti-Christian Soviet Union, China).

In other words, Jesus would be a centrist like me!

OK, maybe not. But thinking like Jesus would think should bring into our minds both compassion and wisdom, both concern for people in need (think Parable of the Good Samaritan) and concern for society flourishing over the long-term in respect of freedom, sound economy, solid institutions (think Proverbs).

It might also be worth thinking about how Green Jesus would be, if voting in this election. As supreme Agent of Creation, I find it hard to think of Jesus as being unconcerned about how polluted our rivers, lakes and underground water supplies are becoming (think Genesis 1-2).

Trying to think Christianly in this way may or may not help us to finally determine which party we will vote for, because this way of thinking, leaves a number of options open to us. But it might also make us think a bit harder about which party we would vote for - it might make us pray more for good discernment.

I know which party I am voting for but won't say here. I am happy to say whom I am voting for in my intriguing local electorate, Ilam, where the incumbent National MP, Gerry Brownlee, is apparently being chased hard by a popular city councillor, Raf Manji, standing as an independent. My vote, however, is going to Tony Rimell, the Labour candidate and a Baptist minister here in Christchurch. In his favour is the fact that he is the only candidate I know personally!

*For overseas readers, NZ has a Mixed Member Proportional voting system in which each voter has two votes. One vote is for the local electorate MP, the other vote is for the preferred  party to govern. The latter vote determines, proportionally, the make-up of parliament with MPs being drawn in from party lists to make up the proportionality required after the electorate MPs are taken into account. Theoretically a party could score >50% of the votes and govern alone but in practice no government has been formed under MMP without either a formal coalition with one or more other parties and/or a confidence-and-supply agreement with one or more other parties.

A further point of history to bear in mind: not since 1969 has NZ elected a government for a fourth term. The present National-led government has governed for three terms. The arc of history bends against a return of a National-led government, but the arc of history is a quaint notion and not a law of the Medes and Persians.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ecumenical Response to Synod's Cathedral Decision

Thanks to a commenter on Bosco Peter's post on our Synod decision re reinstatement of the cathedral, I have now noticed an ecumenical church leaders' response to the decision. It is worth copying in full here:

Sunday 10 September 2017
The Anglican Cathedral has been at the centre of perhaps one of the most public and fraught stories coming out of the devastation caused by Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. It has been a long and difficult saga. Every Cantabrian has to be aware of the angst and debate regarding the future of this iconic building in the centre of our city. Every New Zealander probably, and many people in various parts of the world, also know about this broken building and the conflict over its future.
While it is primarily an Anglican conversation, along with other interested parties, many Christians have felt a stake in this matter, even if for most, it is from the side-lines. So, in the lead up to the Anglican Synod and their decision regarding the future of the Cathedral, many have prayerfully supported their Anglican brothers and sisters, their leaders, and Bishop Victoria.
Now that they have carefully considered the many conflicting interests, weighed their options and thoughtfully arrived at a decision, leaders of most groups of churches in our city and region are glad to express unequivocal support for the Anglican community. The rebuild will be a demanding project, a whole new challenge. We look forward to seeing a successful conclusion, a building ready to be filled with people and praise again.
At a recent Heads of Christian Denominations meeting, serious concern was expressed about the conduct of some aspects of the debate around the cathedral. Church leaders recognised the contentious nature of the issue and the complexities involved, however there is great concern about the occasionally vicious nature of some of the debate. Vitriol and personal attack add nothing of value to a decision-making process, and in fact demean all of us in the city.
Now Christian leaders plead with everyone interested in this divisive debate to accept the decision that has been carefully and legitimately made. Let us put division and bitterness behind us and work together for the good of our whole community.
The vision Christian leaders share for our Christchurch is of a great city, bursting with life, its people thriving and prospering in every sense. Every day Christians work in a multitude of ways for the good of the people of this city and we are committed to continuing this work, in compassion and care, in the arts and business, in education and community building. We want a city where everyone is welcomed and respected, whether people of a faith and creed or not. We desire a city where there is opportunity for everyone to positively participate and contribute, where goodwill and generosity of spirit build strong vibrant communities across the city and region. We dream of a city where our modern nation’s founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi, is honoured, not simply settled.
There is much yet to be done; in housing, mental health, education, employment, racial reconciliation and more besides; and it will take us all working together for the common good.
The task for all Christian believers is to shine the same light of God’s love and grace in our city here today, and in the days ahead.
Christians are fallible humans, we do not always reach the heights we aspire to, and so we acknowledge our shortcomings. However, as followers in the footsteps of Jesus we are glad to be called by God to bless the city with hope, joy, creativity, beauty and love.
This is our commitment to the city and region we love.
We invite all people of hope and vision to join with us in this dream, as we join with you; we all need each other.
Paul Askin, Senior Pastor Kaiapoi Baptist Church
Maurice Atkinson, Regional Mission Leader for Canterbury Westland Baptist Association
Steve Burgess, Senior Pastor South City C3
David Coster, Moderator Alpine Presbytery,Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
Alan Jamieson, Senior Pastor South West Baptist Church
Margie Lamborn, Regional Overseer of Central South Island Assemblies of God
Fr Rick Loughnan, Administrator for the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch
David MacGregor, Senior Pastor Grace Vineyard Church
Donald Scott, Senior Pastor North City Church
Ken Shelley, Senior Pastor King’s Church
Mike Stopforth, Director Catholic Bishop’s Pastoral Office
Nu Telea, Senior Pastor Elim Church Christchurch City
Kathryn Walters, District Superintendent Central South Island Synod Methodist Church of New Zealand"

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Debates within a debate, differences about difference

One of the fascinating aspects of our debate over the cathedral at synod was what I will call here "debates within the debate."

I mention these not to relitigate the arguments made on the floor of synod but to make a point about the wide array of differences in our church. Not confined to You Know What!

Subsidiary Debate 1: church and state relationships. Should the church respect the state and its role in the life of the church (Romans 13, respect for God's appointed authorities)? Or, should the church be wary of the state since the latter can be an authority which seeks to suppress the authority of God (cf. Acts 4)?

Subsidiary Debate 2: church and community relationships. To what extent is the church for itself (as a worshipping community, as a group of people gathering regularly with shared commitments to ministry of Word and Sacrament) and for the community around it? May the latter shape the former? What role do buildings play in the life of the church and its reaching out to the community? Might the importance of a building for the wider community shape the building for the church within its walls? How does the active, believing, worshipping congregation connect with the vague spirituality of the unbaptised, little or no-belief community? These questions were touched on as we considered the past ministry and mission of the cathedral before the quakes, as we considered the possible future ministry and mission but did that prognosticating on the future state of church life, of spirituality in the community. They also arose in connection with the intangible notion of our relationship with the city and province, as well as with experiences of seeking to advance the gospel in our city with a broken cathedral.

Subsidiary Debate 3: appropriate Christian use of money. When is money spent on one desirable project "too much" money? As a diocese we have restored churches for smaller outlays of money than the cathedral will cost. The outlay on the cathedral is definitely "too much" for some members of Synod. We never actually asked the question, but what would be the point when "too much" was reached? Is spending money on aesthetics of church life (burial ointment for Jesus, stained glass windows, beautiful church buildings) compared to spending money on the poor (in our Chch city case, on mental health and on social housing) an either/or, or a both/and? The question "what would Jesus do?" was raised. An important question and one with some nuances to it ... since presumably Jesus wanted the cathedral in the 19th century!

Readers here who were at Synod might have other subsidiary debates to note in comments ...

But, nevertheless, a word about the You Know What discussion

We had an hour's discussion of the Motion 29 Working Group Interim report (same sex blessings). Afterwards I realise that the contributions to the discussion represented three levels of "difference" in our Diocese.

First, and most obviously, differences of views on the rightness of blessing.

Secondly, and fairly obviously, differences in starting point for those views - different underlying theologies and ways of doing theology. (Note yesterday's post here on ADU).

Thirdly, and not so obviously to me until a conversation sparked the thought, the difference between those who feel they can live with difference on this matter and those who feel they cannot. A difference about difference!

That is, when the proposal makes a way for us to be a church living with difference on the matter of blessing, one explanation of rejection of the proposal seems to be that it is not imaginable that such living with difference can take place.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Leaching nitrates into theological wells?

OK so the focus is on how a certain philosopher/theologian poisoned German theology, Protestant and Catholic - guess who before reading on!? - but I think this article illuminates a lot of debate hereabouts, Down Under at large, and on ADU in particular.

In this season of electioneering, in which quite rightly we are thinking about the effects of leaching nitrates into water bores, streams and rivers, we need to remain ever vigilant about the quality of our Christian thinking, susceptible as it is to the increasing depths to which the nitrates of heresy and heterodoxy can leach. I include myself in that concern. I know some of you ARE concerned!

Here are the money paragraphs:

"Citing a Lutheran hymn, “God Himself is Dead”, Hegel argues that God unites death to his nature. And so when we encounter suffering and death, we taste the particularities of the eternal divine “history”. As he puts it, suffering “is a moment in the nature of God himself; it has taken place in God himself.” For Hegel, suffering is an aspect of God’s eternal nature. Our sin and suffering is necessary for God to be God.

This heretical view has had widespread influence in modern Catholic and Protestant accounts of God’s nature. It’s often given a pastoral veneer of the God who weeps with us. Yet, tragically unaware of his error, the Hegelian homilist preaches a God who cannot save: a God who is so eternally bound to our tears he cannot truly wipe them away.
Many 20th-century German theologians followed in Hegel’s footsteps. A basic principle was Hegel’s dialectic process itself as revelatory, which is to say they smuggled into their ideas on “doctrinal development” the notion that God was continuing to reveal himself in history, as though there was always something “becoming” in God, and thus, in the Church. Hegel’s spiritual forerunner Joachim de Fiore had predicted a “third age of the Holy Spirit” which would sing a new Church into being, and it’s striking how many German theologians have been entranced by the idea of a future Church very different to the holy and apostolic one of the past.
This is not to say Hegel is the answer to Bismarck’s hypothetical question. There is a great difference between the Left Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach’s idea of religion as projection of inner spirit and the theologies of Karl Rahner or Walter Kasper. But there is nevertheless something deeply Hegelian about making the unfolding of human experience in history a standard for theological development — to which God or the Church, always in mercy, must conform. Unfortunately, this is a terrible standard for change which leads not only to false reform, but to apostasy and desolation."

Monday, September 11, 2017

Restoring thin places

Yesterday Teresa and I had the immense privilege of being present at the reopening of Holy Innocents church, Mt Peel, South Canterbury.

Also in the news this morning I see this item about the restoration of St Mary's Cathedral, New Plymouth, Taranaki.

In both cases these churches have iconic status, represent history (in the sense of connections to significant events, development of farming in NZ and the Land Wars, respectively) as well as heritage - its decades since I have visited St Mary's so won't comment on its heritage, but Holy Innocents has as an extraordinary collection of stained glass windows in a small church as you could find anywhere in NZ. (The photo below does not do justice to the beauty of the new window in the new east wall and only gives a hint of the amazing windows in the side walls.)

In the particular case of Holy Innocents, Bishop Victoria in her sermon talked about "thin places" - those places on earth in which heaven is juxtaposed with the flimsiest of walls between them. Holy Innocents, indeed, seems one of those places.

In conversation afterwards, I found myself reminded of the capacity and power of such thin places (including, our cathedral). Self-described irregular churchgoers connect with thin places! Regular church goers do too.

It is hard to put a $ value on restoring our churches, let alone the ones we feel are thin places.

So I won't. But what I did note in the service yesterday was John Acland's remarkable stories of significant donations for the restoration of Holy Innocents turning up in completely unexpected ways.

So I give - we can give - thanks for the mysterious ways in which we are finding thin places are being restored.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Christ Church Cathedral: the way forward!

Most readers here know that our Diocese has been sorely troubled by questions and issues about our cathedral - Christ Church Cathedral, located in Cathedral Square, the beating heart of our city. Badly damaged in the 22 February 2011 earthquake and subsequent quakes, we (particularly our Bishop, successive Deans, Church Property Trustees, CPT staff, and, lately, Synod members) have contemplated deconstruction, been tied up in court sorting out insurance funds usage, staying deconstruction, been on a trip around the northern hemisphere looking at cathedral designs, participated in two working parties, spent countless hours in meetings, sending and responding to emails, and so forth.

These last two days, as also many readers are aware, we have been doing our final talking and debating the merits of three Options A, B, C in an attempt to make a final decision about the way forward. A = reinstatement, B = new build, C = give the cathedral to the people of NZ.

Today we voted in a 55% vote for Option A.

Media articles are here and here (the latter, on Taonga, will be followed up soon by an "after the decision" article).

We had an amazing debate. Solid speeches, careful questions, impassioned entreaties, all with no sense of rush. It is a long time, if ever, that I have been part of such a long diocesan synodical debate. What really surprised me is that after this morning - when speeches favouring A were running about 16 to 3 for B and 1 for C - we had a vote as close as it was. I thought A might have achieved over 2/3rds majority. It did not.

To be clear to readers, I spoke for A and voted for it. My key reasons are in the Taonga article.

A few hours later I do not regret my choice.

One of the oddities of our situation as a Diocese - not commented on in any speech that I recall - is that we have supported the restoration of heritage churches. Tomorrow I travel to Mt Peel for the reopening of Holy Innocents church. Recently I was in a service in the reinstated St Bartholomew's church in Kaiapoi.

A question I wouldn't mind discussing at some future point, in some kind of diocesan forum, is what our theology of restoration of churches is. In part our tension over the cathedral seems one of dimensions. In appearance the difference looks like: if a church is smallish, and its restoration bill is smallish, we're fine with restoration. But if it is a large building and the bill involves many noughts, then we are not so fine.

Or, is it more subtle than that: if a parish chooses to restore, that is their business, but a cathedral is a building with many owners and several visions for its future, and thus we have differed.

Further, it appears that when (say) a restoration is a $1m or $2, we think not of helping the poor of our city. But the cathedral at c. $100m has provoked many concerns about best and highest use of money relative to real, widespread needs in our city and country.

Either way, to what extent do we have a theology of restoration? And of what nature is that theology relative to our theology of money and of social assistance to those in need?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Saving the church from its statistically inevitable death?

Recent news out of the CofE is that its inexorable decline in adherence continues, arguably at an alarming rate. Not much is different in Australia and New Zealand. Also Down Under, like in Britain, Catholic and other churches are holding their own (more or less) and the overall belief in God box ticked numbers are going downhill.

Thus I read this thread on Twitter this morning with interest:

This starts with this Tweet

I think Ryan Cook is largely right in his next Tweet that on Twitter and elsewhere on social media (including, we might observe, this blog!!) there is a quickfire reaction to church decline which (a) blames and (b) globalises the problem with antithetical - they both cannot be right - conclusions.

Not progressive enough? Yeah, right (as we Kiwis say). All those cool dude atheists with strong social progressive agendas and antiTrump stickers on their car bumpers are just waiting for the moment when the church approves SSM and drops its opposition to abortion and euthanasia.

Not conservative enough? Yeah, right. All those keyboard warriors with their white is might, government is always wrong, world is going to hell on a skateboard named Gramsci (cultural Marxism) are just waiting for Francis and Welby to stop their ambiguities on social policies and their neoMarxisms on economic policies and then they will turn the computer off in order to activise in the church instead.

If you search diligently on the Twitter thread above you will find my own tuppence worth. Here I summarise as this:

Whatever number of Christians left in the world, we must be faithful to the gospel. We must believe that Jesus Christ is good news for the world though the kind of good news that many will reject. But we must not subvert the good news by mistaking it for this (progressive) or that (conservative) agenda. The good news of Jesus is very good news but it is very good distinctive good news.

Our challenge is to find that distinctiveness in today's world (a challenge because some blurring has occurred through the centuries of Christendom) and to communicate it in terms which relate to the context in which we live.

Vital here, IMHO, is that the gospel is not one and only one set of words. At the very beginnings of our life as a Christian community there were at least five different versions of the gospel: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul. Those first Christians translated the good news of Jesus in at least five different ways.

A translation of course which did not create five different gospels - a Martian looking upon the global church today could be forgiven for thinking that today's church has lost sight of that simple historical fact!

Actually, buried in global statistics of decline are narratives of growing churches. Churches, that is, which are translating the gospel in a manner which is understandable of the people. Here in NZ I too see that happening, though perhaps not as frequently as desirable.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Anglicans Down Under need your prayers!

There are many prayer needs around the world today, including the need for peaceful resolution of the crisis over North Korea, an end to violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and help for those traumatised by flooding in Asia and in the USA. The needs below are not quite as urgent as such needs for basic human safety and security.

Christchurch Cathedral Decision

This weekend our Diocesan Synod meets to make a decision about the future of our cathedral in the Square. People are already praying, as Bishop Victoria movingly writes this week to her Diocese:

"I am deeply moved that the administrator of the Roman Catholic Diocese, Fr Rick,  asked all the parishes to pray for our Synod last Sunday.  When I was at Laidlaw College addressing a class this week, the class ended its session in prayer for our Synod.  South West Baptist and other churches and denominations have also spent time in prayer on our behalf.  This is such a blessing.  Again I remind you that you are invited to come and  pray in the chapel at St Christopher’s during the business sessions of Synod. "

If you could also pray for us: for wisdom to know what to decide and for courage to make a decision, we would be most grateful.

We debate the cathedral matter through Friday 8 September and vote on it at midday Saturday 9 September. We meet at St Christopher's Avonhead. Synod papers are online here.

Also appreciated would be prayer for our discussion of the Motion 29 Working Group Interim Report (4.30 pm Friday afternoon 8 September).

A prayer to pray for us is here.

Meanwhile ... up the road in Nelson ...

Te Pihopatanga o Aotearoa Election of new Archbishop

This same weekend representatives from all five Tikanga Maori hui amorangi meet in Whakatu/Nelson for their runanganui (whole Tikanga synod) where they will elect a new archbishop. Taonga sets the scene here. Please pray for God's choice to be elected.

And, then, as I write this, across the Ditch

The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia meet this week

They're slumming it on the Gold Coast, so we should pray for this Synod. Air conditioning to work, that sort of thing :)

Seriously: there are, I gather, a few issues, around and abouts.

Session info is here and you can follow on Twitter at #GS17

Which brings us back to our Synod here in Christchurch and the most important decision of all:

What hashtag to use?????

Monday, September 4, 2017

Oh, well. That's that then. One reinstatement coming up.

Our beloved Press this morning has ever so gently nudged our Synod towards reinstatement of the Cathedral by publishing an article titled:

"Synod members may be leaning towards reinstatement, sources say"

Actually, the Press quotes only one source.

However I am not going to dispute that the way the pre Synod conversations and information sharing is going, the case for reinstatement as an affordable option is building.

Bishop Victoria Matthews herself wrote to the Diocese last Wednesday these words, cited in the Press article:

"I do not have any sense of how Synod will vote about the Cathedral nor am I worried. Every option has certain things to recommend it and I would be able to support any of the three options. Some of you will know this is due largely to the increased gift from the Government and CCC which eliminates the need for fundraising by the Diocese."

However I think Synod will be hearing from its members arguments for each of the three options before us: reinstatement, new build, giving the building and land away.

(We will also consider whether to admit as a late motion or not a proposal from one of our clerical members which would be a fourth option, a mix of reinstatement and new build for the east end.)

I think we are all wary of making a prediction about what the outcome will be. Not least because synods have the power to take a submitted motion and amend it etc. Amendments can be painful but incredibly useful in allowing Synod to edge its way towards a united decision.

Incidentally, the Press article is wrong on one matter. It talks about how synods vote:

"The synod is chaired by the bishop and members normally vote in three houses with a yea or nay verbal vote. The bishop has one vote, the clergy have one vote and lay members have one vote. A decision is passed if it has the support of two or more of the three votes."

This is not so. Only when a voice or show of hands vote is taken does a simple majority prevail. When we vote by houses each house has to vote for a motion for it to pass. It does not pass if only 2/3 houses vote for it.

The Press is correct when it goes on to say that Synod will consider a different way of voting, at least in respect of a preliminary vote for one preferred option. However this proposal has to be agreed by the Synod and I am expecting a debate on whether we should or should not vote in this particular way.

I will attempt to keep you posted through this week, until Friday morning. Likely I will not post about the debate (Friday) until the vote (Saturday) has been taken.

Right, I need to get on to some powerpoints to show when I introduce the discussion at Synod about same-sex blessings ...

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Beautiful Recommendation by FCANZ? [Amended]

[Amendment: the original post here drew attention to a confusion in the wording of the FCANZ post discussed below. My post has now been amended to reflect the new wording.]

The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans of NZ (FCANZ) has published a response to the Motion 29 Working Group Interim Report (M29WGR).

The response can be found here. Below it is their original submission to the Working Group, in late 2016.

I like the way this response is introduced, with much appreciation and thankfulness for the approach taken by the Working Group. I also like the fairness of the response because some issues it sees with the proposal made in M29WGR are recognised as issues for those who support SSB.

Among various challenges to M29WGR made in the response, none of which are trivial, I think the most significant challenge concerns its request for alternative episcopal oversight as sine qua non to our church finding a way forward.

Interpreting a few tiny "smoke signals" in the weeks before before reading this response, I suspect that considerable conservative evangelical discussion within some sectors of our church is taking place about alternative episcopal oversight.

I suggest the FCANZ response should be read carefully on this matter, for two reasons.

First, making this request is itself a shift on the part of FCA (as one part of the NZ Anglican conservative evangelicals). Note at the link the submission made last year. It requested an extra-provincial diocese as a way forward. Alternative episcopal oversight against that request represents a commitment to a solution within the life of ACANZP itself.

Secondly, what is said about alternative episcopal oversight is grounded in an aspect of the M29WGR, the Christian communities which it envisages as means of safeguarding convictions.

Substantively, the FCANZ response in respect of alternative episcopal oversight raises an important theological principle: communion in an episcopal church necessarily involves communion with one's bishop. How is this to be so when communion with one's bishop is impaired? The response says this (emboldening is original to the FCANZ post):

"If Bishops allow the blessing of same-sex marriages within their hui amorangi/dioceses there will be some who believe this is unconstitutional and against the gospel of the Lord Jesus.  Their relationship with their Bishop will be impaired. Therefore, simply having an additional structure (such as a Christian Community) which exists alongside existing diocesan structures is insufficient.  Ministry units of a conviction different to their diocesan Bishop must be able to have alternative, rather than simply additional, episcopal oversight.   If such alternative episcopal oversight were to occur from a Christian Community, then the Bishop of that Community would need to have the same privileges and responsibilities as any other diocesan Bishop, and the Community have the same status as a Diocese.  
We appreciate that this is a significant development of the suggestions provided in the report, but one which we feel is a minimum necessity to truly safeguard the convictions of those who wish to uphold a traditional position. "

This is a considerable argument because it works from integrity of belief that if a bishop acts unconstitutionally and against the gospel of Christ then impairment of relationship with clergy and laity follows. In turn that raises the question how one might have episcopal oversight from a bishop with whom one is in an unimpaired relationship. The proposal in the cited paragraphs is that the M29WGR proposal for "additional" episcopal oversight (via a bishop who is visitor of one of the envisaged Christian communities) is strengthened and transformed to "alternative" episcopal oversight.

Incidentally, this works two ways in our context: those wishing to conduct SSBs could have alternative episcopal oversight via a Christian Community in order to ensure that from one diocesan bishop to another, permission to conduct SSBs continued.

What do you think?

In conclusion, a note re my original post on M29WGR:

(Slightly defensively!) What does this response do to my "beautiful Anglican accommodation" assessment of M29WGR?

First, yes, it highlights some aspects of M29WGR which could be (so to speak) more beautiful. Some significant criticisms are made, and they are (according to some conversations I have had, internet comment I have seen) shared beyond the part of the theological spectrum inhabited by FCANZ.

Secondly, it recognises that M29WGR is a compromise. Thus a question for our church is whether this compromise could be better (so the response) or whether it is, in fact, the best compromise (because, actually, the criticisms made by the FCANZ response are about matters considered by the Working Group and not acted on).

In particular, as far as I know, alternative episcopal oversight was considered by the Working Group but not acted on.

Nevertheless, FCANZ in this response is pressing the point - note the words "minimum necessity" in the citation above - that alternative episcopal oversight really, really ought to be considered if we are not to have schism.

If schism could be averted by this recommendation, we could still have a (very) beautiful Anglican accommodation!

For clarity: I am neither arguing for nor against "aeo" here. I may or may not one day reflect upon the (de)merits of "aeo" for our church. But what I am urging is that all readers here note that those wishing to avert schism appear to now have the issue of "aeo" to engage with.