Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and I am on another blogging holiday!

Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading through 2018!

This has been an extraordinary year for me personally, having no anticipation at its beginning that I would be elected a bishop before its end.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

As in previous years, I will be on a blogging holiday for a while, likely to resume service on Monday 14th January 2019.

As my new role Is already showing me how demanding it will be timewise, I am recognising that my aspiration to keep blogging will best be achieved by aiming to post once per week. And Monday mornings will be a good day to aim for making that weekly post.

Here is to Mondays in 2019 :)


I had some fascinating ministry experiences over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Two/four experiences illustrated the continuing reality and potential for the Christian faith to connect with many Kiwis and for "church" to be at the heart of communities. And two/four experiences illustrated the continuing reality and potential for many Kiwis to be disconnected from the Christian faith and for "church" to be at the margins of communities. We live in interesting times, with challenges and opportunities for the gospel.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The season has a reason!

My friend and colleague, Spanky Moore, University of Canterbury Chaplain, was interviewed yesterday on "The Panel", and a recording is here.

It is incredible that we have this almost totalitarian approach to Christmas (see some remarks within an Andrew Sullivan article) with so little attention to the reason for the season.

The listener whom Jim Mora quotes near the beginning of the segment makes a marvellous point: something significant is at work in the birth of Jesus. After all, no one will be celebrating her birthday (nor yours, dear reader, nor mine) 2000 years hence!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Is Theresa May the most important person in the world today? PS: what about Jesus?

Thinking further about last week's post (immediately below this), I have been thinking about the importance of the resurrection to claims that the Christian message is true. In a world of competing religions, where religion can be characterized as that which makes human life meaningful in the face of death (that is, in the face of the fact that we humans know we are going to die and thus we think about what it means to exist and to cease to exist), it is noticeable that religions offer a vision of life after death.

A simple consequential observation, of course, is that our means of knowing which vision of life after death is true, are very limited. No one has ever come back from Nirvana to tell us all about it. No Islamic martyr has returned to confirm the number of virgins available to him in Paradise. Religions, in respect of life after death, either win our adherence because we believe what they say for other reasons (miracles, compelling logic, superlative example of the religion's founder, experiences of the divine associated with the religion, etc) or what is offered as a vision of life after death is simply compelling in its own right.

Christians claim that one person, Jesus, has come back from life beyond death.* Thus our claim that we can look forward to resurrection is undergirded by conviction that we have a direct witness to support that hope.

Having had a few thoughts along those lines, I find today that Andrew Sullivan has written further on the matter of religion and politics, taking on various critics. Here. But, as (nearly) always, discussion of religion, including evidence for religious truth claims, does not mention Jesus.

Incidentally, before you get to what Andrew says about religion, you can read a fascinating analysis of the significance of Theresa May's attempt to secure a Brexit deal. It might just mean she is the most important person in the world today ... apart from Jesus Christ!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Religion is what matters most and what matters most might be politics

Andrew Sullivan is a shrewd commentator and always worth reading. In this article, "America's New Religions," he argues

"Now look at our politics. We have the cult of Trump on the right, a demigod who, among his worshippers, can do no wrong. And we have the cult of social justice on the left, a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical. They are filling the void that Christianity once owned, without any of the wisdom and culture and restraint that Christianity once provided."

Along the way, Sullivan offers insights and bon mots on the nature of religion, its necessity for humanity because we of all creatures know we are going to die, and the follies and fallacies of (at least some) well-known atheists.

A challenge - it struck me - is what role does "religion" play in my own life. If religion is that which helps us to make sense of the meaning of life, then, yes, Christianity - the faith based on the gospel of Jesus Christ - is central to and dominating in my understanding of the meaning of life. But, what other things help me find meaning? Are other religions at work within me? As a Kiwi looking at a Trumpian America, aghast at the involvement of evangelical leaders in the "worship" of Trump, I can readily (according to my own lights) identify a certain kind of American tribalism as that which gives meaning to such Americans. And tribalism is always a false religion. But, then, I need to reckon that being a Kiwi also helps me to make sense of my life ...!

Incidentally, the comments at the foot of the Sullivan article are fascinating. Not everyone agrees with him.


Monday, December 3, 2018

A new reformation?

Various convulsions in global Anglicanism over the past two decades or so, allied with a number of changes in Christianity (marked by conceptions such as "post-Christian", "post-evangelical" and by various shifts in ecumenical alignments and allegiances) have raised here and there commentary on the matter of whether we are undergoing another "Reformation". And the "we" can refer generally to Christianity (perhaps with subsidiary arguments about such major convulsions occurring roughly every 500 years) or, in some discussions, to Anglicans.

That is, splits in the Anglican Communion, the formation of GAFCON, etc are global Anglicanism undergoing a significant re-formation, comparable to the significance of the English Reformation itself, in which the Anglicans of the 16th century forged both a new governance for themselves and purified its doctrine of unscriptural accretions while retaining all that was good and true in doctrine and in practice from the ancient, universal church.

Now, we do not yet know how we will see these matters 100 or 300 years hence, so it is too early to make the call whether we are or are not undergoing a reformation which is comparable to the English Reformation.

But yesterday, participating in a well attended worship service in a parish which has recently experienced disaffiliation of congregational members and its vicar departing to form a new Anglican church, this thought struck me ...

In the history of Anglicanism there have been disaffiliations which, essentially, have been "new formations" rather than "reformations": Puritans and Dissenters leading to the modern Baptist church, Methodists, Plymouth Brethren are the most notable such new formations.

I further thought that these departures represent (it could be argued) an Anglicanism that could not contain the movement which moved towards disaffiliation and an objection to the breadth of Anglicanism that would not narrow itself to conform to the tidy uniformity of belief and practice which those disaffiliating required.

The former - as I understand it - especially applies to the formation of the Methodist church and the latter to the separation of Puritans and Dissenters from the Church of England. (I am less aware of the precise circumstances under which the Plymouth Brethren were formed.)

Now, of course, a very precise difference between these historic new formations and the current situation is that everyone is determined to remain "Anglican"!

But it does seem to me that while we may yet see a reformed global Anglicanism - say, 50 years from now, there is one Anglican Communion which is conformed to the Jerusalem Declaration doctrinally speaking and, perhaps, is united by an elected Primate as the focus of global unity - a different scenario is possible.

In that scenario, the broad Anglican Communion cannot contain GAFCON as a movement within it and GAFCON's objection to the breadth of the Communion means that, in the end, there is a parting of Anglican ways.

Now, and this is very important, a further thought is this: from an historical perspective, we can say that God has blessed all God's Anglican and Anglican-at-root churches: Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Brethren have all flourished.

Whatever the future historical judgement of the present time is, reformation or new formation, there is no need to be anxious about whether God is at work in all our midsts!

Certainly, from my own experience of yesterday, being present in four different events across four different parishes in our Diocese, I have no doubt that God is at work among us.

Note to commenters: please discuss this post without discussion of You Know What. That matter - again - has been discussed very thoroughly a couple of posts below this.

Update: after posting the above, I came across this interesting reflection on Anglican/Episcopal life in North America by Benjamin Guyer.