Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The spectre of 1930 stalks the halls of moral theology

All is not well in the halls of moral theology (specifically, the Roman corridor). An Anglican genie, bottled up in 1930, has escaped and, via Amoris Laetitia, begun stalking the corridor. At least that is what this post seems to be saying :)

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

What a Beautiful Name - Down Under Song Wins Grammy

Brooke Ligertwood (nee Fraser) has written some great songs over the years. One of her latest, co-written with Ben Fielding, is What a Beautiful Name. Together they have won a Grammy. They belong to Hillsong Los Angeles.

Here it is:

Monday, January 29, 2018

Can the church restore divided humanity? #youhadonejobtodo

"“Humanity is one, organically one by its divine structure; it is the Church’s mission to reveal to men that pristine unity that they have lost, to restore and complete it.” --Henri de Lubac SJ"

Read this de Lubacian essay then.

I have been doing a bit of work on de Lubac this summer. He was a leading 20th century theologian who speaks relevantly into the 21st century. The sentence above highlights the biggest of big pictures of the point and purpose of the church.

Are we up for the mission of God, to restore humanity?

Do we understand that the gospel, when all is said and done, is a message of healing?

Friday, January 26, 2018

Motion 29 Working Group's Final Report: My Part 1 and Part 2 Response

Below, i.e. the two posts below this post, sequentially, Part 1 then Part 2, is my response to the Motion 29 Working Group's Final Report.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Final Report: can we live with the accommodation it offers? (Part 1)

The Final Report of the Motion 29 Working Group is reported on here.
You can see the report for yourself by clicking the link there or directly downloading the PDF by clicking here.

The changes the WG has made to the Interim Report demonstrate that the WG has listened to the feedback it has received. In some cases agreeing with the feedback. In other cases, not so.

The essence of the accommodation proposed in the Interim Report remains: it recommends that we do not change our doctrine of marriage but do make possible, in certain circumstances, the blessing of same sex relationships.

The differences from the Interim Report (as I see) are the following (in no particular order of importance):

- civil marriage is not a prerequisite for an SSB to take place
- a clearer pathway for those “Christian Communities” who are like-minded in the coherency of their theology and wish to stick together (by "clearer" I mean that the proposal does not confusingly mix this in with otherwise already existing "religious orders")
- recognition that some matters are currently in the too hard basket and GS needs to offer further and future guidelines (notably on the question of ordination)
- careful consideration of the possibility of "alternative episcopal oversight" (AEO) (commended for certain situations) but reasoned refusal to recommend "extra provincial diocese" (EPDio) (a challenge to create because it is not solely a decision of our General Synod)
- also, on a matter often mentioned on this site, some careful discussion of the constitutional implications of the proposal.

In sum: I see needed, helpful improvements to the Interim Report and its recommendations. I also see careful consideration of challenging matters which are desired by some but may not be possible or may need General Synod to decide to commission further work on.

For the Interim Report I argued here, controversially as it turned out, that it was a "beautiful accommodation." 

I am not going to do that with the Final Report. Instead I ask, can we live with the accommodation it offers?

I will also ask, of those who say "I/we cannot," what alternative do you propose?

I ask both questions on the understanding that we are a church with such diversity of viewpoint (on many things, on GLBT things) that we are not a church of coherent theology and we are not a church of one mind on GLBT matters.

If we think of our church as somewhat incoherently schizophrenic in its theology, especially on sexuality, then it is fair to ask whether (a) the WG appropriately has represented that mess? (b) whether we could reasonably expect the WG to come up with a proposal other than what it has come up with? (!)

The one thing we should never have expected of either GS or the WG is that they would press the church they represented into a mould that the church was not going to be pressed into; indeed, given our varied state of mind, could not be pressed into.(Yes, I know, resonances with Romans 12:1-2!!).

The best we could expect is that the WG would interim-ly propose a way forward which accommodated the two or more views, then listen to the feedback, assess the feedback, and then finally propose a way forward which continued to accommodate. 

We do not find the WG pressing for the status quo to remain. Presumably that is because there was no strong feedback that we should try to be a church which outwardly professed to believe one view (status quo) while inwardly believing a variety of viewpoints (reality). Rather, the WG continues to discern that as a church some accommodating change is required.

My view remains that the accommodation offered here bends over backwards towards accommodating those who are conservative on the matter of SSB. I also understand - only too well! - that the accommodation offered may not be satisfactory to a number of my conservative colleagues and friends. 

Where to from here?

Episcopal units have opportunity to consider the report and its recommendations before their reps go to GS in May. (The Diocese of Christchurch meets for a synod on Saturday 3 March 2018).

Any member of the church, any ministry unit of our church may consider the report now it is in the public domain. Some ministry units will be having discussions about it or about the prospects for the church should it be agreed to. (I am engaged to participate in such a discussion in a few weeks time.)

You can discuss it here!

This is "Part 1" of my response. "Part 2" will focus on the matter of the Christian Communities and the strength or otherwise of this proposal in comparison to the soft support for AEO and the lack of support for an EPDio.

Other posts that I am aware of

Bosco Peters begins a series of responses here. His Part 2 is here.


The Final Report: can we live with the accommodation it offers? (Part 2)

Further on the Final Report of the Motion 29 Working Group - Part One is immediately above. A link to the report is at the beginning of that post.

I read an article when I was at Knox Theological Hall in the mid '80s and now have only a vague notion of its title etc but it went something like below (and I recall one or two other articles and books through the years which have proffered similar notions):-

In the first century there were several strategies in Palestine for either coping with or even keeping at bay the onslaught of Roman rule and Graeco-Roman culture. Handily (and this is why I remember the article) the writer found a series of "i" words to characterise the strategies, though I am not confident I have got the word for the Sadducees correct.

Zealots tried insurrection - military rebellion, violence - and failed miserably.

Pharisees tried insulation - hedging themselves in communities with various rules while also remaining in the wider society - a relative degree of success, indeed this was a strategy which many Jewish groups since have used effectively.

Essenes tried isolation - a step beyond the Pharisees (for the Essenes had some rules too) because the Essenes took themselves as far as practicable away from the Romans, residing in the desert - a limited degree of success, or even, they simply, in the end, failed and their community ceased to exist.

Sadducees tried integration - you cannot beat the Romans so why not join them by working hand in glove with them? Was integrating themselves (ingratiating themselves?) with the Romans easier because they rejected the idea of resurrection or because they came from that strata of society which rather liked to lead?

Christians tried incorporation - and succeeded rather well, because eventually the whole Empire became "Christendom." That is, while here and there, perforce of circumstances, Christian communities embraced aspects of insulation and isolation, they generally worked to a longer term and large vision for their strategy, one which was about "offence" rather than "defence."

Ever since reading that article I have appreciated that in any given situation in which a group interacts with another, different group, one or more of the above strategies is employed, consciously or unconsciously.

I suggest, below, that, when we consider possible responses to the Final Report (assuming, hypothetically, that GS passes in toto its recommendations) three of the strategies above are relevant as we consider possible structural (or quasi-structural) change.

The Final Report: against isolation, soft support for insulation, offering incorporation?

If any member of our church (or ministry unit or episcopal unit) wants to be Anglican in a different way because the report and its recommendations are implemented, there are three different ways on the table or dropped off the table, according to the Final Report's evaluation.

Extra Provincial Diocese (EPDio): as I understand this possibility, a group of parishes would be formed as a diocese which was not part of the "province" of the Anglican church of these islands but was part of the Anglican Communion. Some EPDios exist, though I am not aware of any within the Communion which are the result of leaving an existing province while remaining within the territory of that province. The Final Report rejects this option and gives cogent reasons for doing so (p. 14).

Forming an EPDio would be a strategy of isolation. The parishes so gathered together would be isolated from ACANZP in at least this sense: they could claim to be no longer part of a body which had agreed with the recommendations of the Final Report. There are advantages to this strategy (as there were for the Essenes), particular in respect of preserving (what I will call here) purity of doctrine.

Alternative Episcopal Oversight (AEO): for some Anglicans (in various provinces, in recent decades) having an alternative bishop to relate to, whether for pastoral oversight or for sacramental duty, has been a help in remaining a part of a church which has made a decision or decisions which are almost but not completely impossible to live with.

It appears some Anglicans in our church feel that they can live with the kind of decision a GS implementing the Final Report's recommendations would be making, providing they could insulate themselves from (some of) the effects of the decision. That is, by being able to relate juridically to a diocesan bishop who disagreed with the decision, if need be, by pastorally and sacramentally relating to a bishop other than their diocesan bishop. The stronger step represented by a EPDio would not be required, according to this thinking.

The report offers what I am describing as "soft support" for this possibility, on p. 11 and at the foot of p. 14:

"[B2] [p. 11] The WG recommends that the House of Bishops consider developing guidelines for the provision of alternative episcopal oversight in situations where relationships in dioceses or amorangi become impaired."

The WG thinks this will greatly assist in safeguarding those of differing convictions while ensuring that the role and rights of bishops are respected. "

"[H1] [p. 14] [having rejected EPDio] ... We note however, that should faithful Anglicans in this Church wish to consider other ecclesial arrangements, it would be appropriate for this Church to consider how best to embrace this challenge with the same grace and spirit as is reflected in Motion 29; seeking to find ‘breathing room’ for one another; to live out our commitment to each other in the light and life of the gospel."

This is "soft" rather than "strong" because it is not a recommendation to GS for legislation its members vote on but for the HoB to "consider" the development of guidelines.

Nevertheless, it is on the table for discussion.

Christian Communities: The Final Report, having moved on from a stumbling block in the Interim Report re Religious Orders and Religious Communities, is focused on and supportive of the idea of Christian Communities (pp. 13-14). In fact it

"recommends recognition of Christian Communities in this Church ... bound by common bonds of affection and theological conviction; being able to remain involved in the life of a parish, the diocese and this Church."

Note that this language means Christian Communities could be formed by conservatives or progressives on the matter at hand, but also for other reasons (e.g.) proponents of the exclusive use of the Book of Common Prayer, parishes which believe the purest form of eucharistic worship is a carbon copy of the Roman Mass, etc. I am thinking of forming a Christian Community for those who commit to only using the NZPB for services :)

Psychologically this option could be helpful to those feeling isolated by proposed changes or who wish to insulate themselves from the rest of the church but structurally this option is utterly mainstream within the continuing structure of ACANZP:

"... members of the Christian Community continue to be part of this Church." 

That is, while adhering to the specific constitution of the Community, members would continue to be subject to the discipline both of the wider church through canons and the Constitution and of the local diocesan bishop. There is not necessarily a connection between Christian Communities and AEO.

A strength of this proposal is that it gives those who believe their view of things (see examples above) the opportunity as a united and recognised group to advance that view across the wider church - an opportunity for a strategy of incorporation, that is, of remaining inside the church in order through time to win over the church to a particular understanding of a holy, blessed life.

On GLBT matters, if conservatives are ultimately correct, let's see that view incorporate the rest of the church through the next decades. If progressives are ultimately correct, let's see ... you get my drift!

A further strength of the proposal is that it should prevent SSB being thin end of the wedgist. That is, for conservatives like myself who are open to SSB being permitted but unable to see how changing our doctrine of marriage is consistent with our constitution, the formation of a Christian Community around this view would be an ongoing signal to General Synod that resistance to changing the doctrine of marriage itself is a characteristic of our church's life.

Readers will have various views on this analysis and differing preferences for the future structure of our church to which they (and their ministry units, episcopal units) wish to belong.

What do you think?

Has the Final Report got the options re structure (a) right, and (b) well reasoned?

If you prefer EPDio, do you think the rest of the Communion would agree to it?

If you lean towards AEO, is that a personal preference or also a preference of your ministry unit?

Are you interested (might your ministry unit be interested) in forming a Christian Community?

An alt.Gregory Dix on the Eucharist?

Many readers will be aware of Gregory Dix's famous passage in his seminal The Shape of the Liturgy when he offers a moving paean of praise for the endurance of the eucharist:

"Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God."*

One of my holiday reading books has been Sara Miles Take this bread: a radical conversion (New York: Ballantine, 2007) - Sara was a speaker hosted by Theology House in 2016.

In the course of talking about her conversion - memorably through being irresistibly drawn into a eucharist at St Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco - she develops her testimony of being fed by God and feeding the people of God. In the midst of a discussion about what the church has done with Jesus' Last Supper, there is this purple prose passage on the eucharist which I think stands in the 21st century with Dix's 20th century paean:

"The entire contradictory package of Christianity was present in the Eucharist. A sign of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, it was doled out and rationed to insiders; a sign of unity, it divided people; a sign of the most common and ordinary human reality, it was rarefied and theorized nearly to death. And yet that meal remained, through all the centuries, more powerful than any attempts to manage it. It reconciled, if only for a minute, all of God's creation, revealing that, without exception, we were members of one body, God's body, in endless diversity. The feast showed us how to re-member what had been dis-membered by human attempts to separate and divide, judge and cast out, select or punish. At that Table, sharing food, we were brought into the ongoing work of making creation whole." [pp. 76-77]

Miles' is not quite Dixian as a paean of praise, but it is utterly realistic about the capacity of the eucharist to fracture the church even as it never loses its capacity as a sign of God's renewal and reconciliation of creation

What do you think?

*from from Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press, Adam and Charles Black. (1964 printing), pages 744-5. copied from Texanglican.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Russell Brand meets Jesus!

Some readers may never have heard of Russell Brand. Those who have will have mentally marked him down in the "not the guy I want one of my daughters to marry" category." But the article aboves reveals someone in whom God is at work #nooneisbeyondredemption

And he makes a point, one which might be a bit of a theme this year on ADU: Jesus has a message of healing for a broken world ...

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

David Bentley Hart's New Testament translation: Wright or wrong?

I am working my way through David Bentley Hart's translation of the New Testament, partly with an eye on reviewing it here on ADU.

But I do not think I am going to do better than Tom Wright's review here.

Tom has certainly spotted strange English renderings which I have not but he also highlights two concerns I already have, even though I am only up to Matthew 11, along with having read the introduction and the epilogue.

(1) The use of "a Holy Spirit" in (e.g.) Matthew 1:18 is very, very odd. If one wants to be strictly literal then the Greek should be rendered "a holy spirit". That is, without looking ahead to the Trinitarian consciousness of the Nicene church, we read that Matthew says that Mary became pregnant through the action of a spirit, qualified as a holy spirit. The use of CAPS in Hart's actual rendering supposes that Trinitarian consciousness but in that consciousness there is not "a" Holy Spirit, only "the Holy Spirit" (as all other English translations I am aware of).

(2) Tom also spots that Hart says he is avoiding dogma when he, in fact, does not. On the not unimportant subject of salvation Hart presses positively along an Eastern Orthodox line and negatively implies in the NT text itself (and associated footnotes) as well as explicitly in his introduction and epilogue that the Western tradition is simply wrong. Bias is hard to escape and no English translation I am aware of is completely free of it. Hart's translation would be the better for fronting up to the fact that his sits neatly within his own Eastern Orthodox theological frame of mind.

Also worth a look are these thoughts - not a full review - by Michael Bird.

POSTSCRIPT After writing the above I came across Doug Chaplin's post about Wright's review and Hart's response to it. Doug makes a great point about the wisdom and efficacy of NOT having one individual translate the Bible!

Hart's response is here.

To the extent that Hart himself responds to Tom Wright's own translation of the New Testament I have no comment to make: I am not familiar with Wright's translation. I also have no comment to make re the intricacies of Hart's critique of Wright's deficiencies on ancient Judaism. I note some rejoinders by Hart to points I make above but I remain less than convinced by them. I also side with Wright on criticising Hart's use of "alee," "tilth" and "chaplet"!

PS PS Careful consideration of the tension between Wright and Hart's approaches here.
Note also links in comments below.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Hello 2018. Would you mind starting again?

So, here we are, just on halfway through the first month of 2018 and I and perhaps you as well are asking for 2018 to begin again.

In no particular order of importance:

(1) Down Under Summer: too much rain! Too cold! (Or, if in Oz, too hot!) Perhaps we could have a decent run of sunny, holiday mood suitable days and weeks of weather?

(2) President Trump: could we forget and wipe out certain things you have said and start afresh, speaking about and to the world in a kinder, gentler, respectful way?

(3) Visiting cricket teams to both Oz and NZ: a better standard of competition, please!

(4) I am starting back at work today and I am glad for all the practical things I have gotten done about the house and about my study ... but, really, there is still quite a bit to do and I wouldn't mind some more holidays in which to accomplish them :)

On a serious note, my holiday musings (including some contributory comments by readers and responses by me to the post immediately below), holiday reading, and holiday experiences at different places of worship, have gotten me thinking and thus re-keened up to blog in 2018.

Something I wonder if I might do is try to offer a bit more theological solidity e.g. by offering reviews/responses to serious theological reading. (However that is very hard to "live into" so "I wonder" and not "I promise"!).

Out of a wide ranging set of reading, thoughts, conversation, experiences, for the purpose of this blog, a very simple question comes to mind, What is the church?

"What is the church?" touches on associated questions, "What or who is the church for?" "What should our experience of church be?" "What did Jesus want the church to be?" "What would Paul and the other apostles make of the church in 2018?" "What makes the church? Preaching? Eucharist? Both? Something else?" "Where is the Holy Spirit in the life of the church today?"

Something I keep observing to myself is that different styles of church will mostly seem right and proper "church" to those enabling them either by preparing and performing or by choosing to faithfully participate in them. Yet pretty much every different style today - in my humble or not so humble opinion - can be severely critiqued from the perspective of Jesus and the gospels (e.g. see one book I have read on holiday, Sara Miles Take this bread), if not from the perspective of Paul and his charismatic, house churches.

Yet I also find, for myself, much that is good in each of the styles I experience and much to agree on in what I read. Obviously the perfect, if not ideal church is an amalgam ... :)

Praise the Lord: God in Christ is Lord of the church! And I love a comment in a Christmas letter sent to me. I paraphrase it here to avoid unfortunate and/or unnecessary identifications being made:

"For us the [Anglican church of the nation to which we belong] continues to amaze, astound, depress (delete as applicable – [where we live and go to church] IS the Diocese of Aregion!).  We are consoled in recalling that the [Anglican church etc] is NOT the Church as defined by [our] brother Paul."

So, I shall continue blogging in 2018 in a continuing attempt to contribute something, however tiny, towards the church becoming what God intends it to be ... thank you for reading, keep up the commenting :)