Monday, September 30, 2019


(1) In many ways following up last week's post and comments thereon, I draw your attention to Issue 2 of Theology Magazine, which focuses on the nature of the church. Here is the Mag's own byline for the edition (my bold):

"Exploring ecclesiology doesn’t begin with church government, nor does it ponder church programs and music preferences. No, exploring ecclesiology takes on a much more sacred task, that is, the exploration of our union with the risen Christ. In our second issue of Theology Magazine we do just that, we explore what it means to be united to Christ."

(H/T Bryden Black)

(2) I was struck last week by an interesting parallel between Greta Thunberg's now famous UN summit speech and a DEL reading for Thursday, Haggai 1:1-8 (but stretched here to verse 11).

The parallel depends on making an imaginative equation between the house of the Lord and planet Earth ... which is plausible if we think of Genesis 1, according to some scholars, as setting out the creation of the world as though the world is God's temple.

Here is part of Greta's speech:

"My message is that we'll be watching you.
"This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
"You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.""For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight."
Here is Haggai 1:1-11
"In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jozadak,[a] the high priest:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands."
In other words, while we may argue (or not) with the scientific underpinnings to Greta Thunberg's speech (not cited above) and for which I have seen debate which suggests science is on her side, there is a case for thinking of Greta as a prophet in Old Testament style!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Two roads diverged in the the wood and I, I didn't know which one to take ...

Here is a series of recent posts or news items about division in the churches of the world ...

Eastern Orthodox in Western Europe.

Western European Roman Catholicism.

Within American Catholicism.

On the possibility of schism within Roman Catholicism; also here (but most of article behind paywall), though see embedded Tweet below.

Within The Episcopal Church.

Between The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina.

Between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Then, across the Ditch, the most recent posts by David Ould highlight an emerging crisis for the Australian Anglican church which - it is not rocket science to wonder about this aloud - could become an emerging division (hasten an already emerging division?).

Of course here in the Blessed Isles, there is a bit of Anglican division also.

No wonder David Ison writes here about "An Anglican Communion at a Crossroads?" (with H/T to Ron Smith who republished this article on his blog). This article is a very helpful review of a book about the Anglican Communion at a Crossroads, by Brittain and McKinnon, with perceptive comments from Ison. In the book, as relayed through this article, and in the article itself, there are both key observations about how all major strategies for uniting Anglicans are failing (and why), as well as a recipe for a way forward. Spoiler alert: centre on Jesus and focus on what we agree on and not what we disagree on!

The following Tweet highlights something Pope Francis has said about the possibility of a Roman schism:

It would be an intriguing Anglican theological essay, methinks, to respond to the task:

"A schism is always an elitist separation stemming from an ideology detached from doctrine." DISCUSS.

Not least the interest in the essay would be the fact that much talk by those who leave the Anglican Communion over the past decades has described the leaving as a response to elitist control of (e.g.) TEC, CofE ... such control driven by ideology and not by doctrine ... and, indeed, separation is precisely to maintain doctrine.

Yet, Francis has a point, I suggest. There is an "elitism" which proposes that the few know better than the many. And when doctrine necessarily always includes ecclesiology and genuine ecclesiology always upholds unity, it is a strange commitment to "doctrine" which breaks unity rather than remains within the church to continue to contend for truth. Further, when there are many things wrong with the church, with churches plural (and if the links above mean anything at all, they mean that in churches around the globe, members think there are severe faults within their churches), it is always striking when one and only one fault/"fault" is focused on as a catalyst for schism. It is not "doctrine" (as a whole) which drives such schism, but a fixation on one idea - an ideology which drives division.

Though, to return to Ison's perceptive article, current Anglican divisions are complex and not simple!

While I am personally committed to the Anglican Communion in communion with Canterbury (so not taking the GAFCON road), I am also committed to attending Lambeth 2020 which, noting a TEC link above, not all non-GAFCON bishops are committed to doing. Normally I am committed to the road marked "church discipline" but find myself deeply out of sympathy with the canonical pursuit of Bishop Love (see also link) above ... too many forks in the road in the one Anglican wood???

But if the Anglican woodland has some complexes forks in the road to negotiate, the links given at the beginning of the post make a very simple point: other woodlands have their complexities also. Some Anglicans may be tempted to jump out of our woodland to another - a longstanding option exercised by many through the centuries. But in the 21st century, a century in which there is instant and widely available communication about each and every fork in the road, no matter how great or small, those woodlands should not be entered into with some kind of ecclesial naievity about (change of metaphor) how green the grass is on the other side of the fence!

Monday, September 16, 2019

So, how did we get to be religious, Charles Darwin?

Before we get to this week's main fare, a couple of important articles to link to:

(1) Last Thursday Teresa and I had the extraordinary privilege of attending the ordination of Waitohiariki Quayle, the second Bishop of Te Upoko o Te Ika, first female Maori bishop and first Aotearoa NZ born woman as bishop in our church. Taonga has an excellent article here with lovely photos.

(2) Do we ignore Pentecostalism Down Under style at our peril? This article explores "How Hillsong and other Pentecostal megachurches are redefining religion in Australia." But as pretty much every Christian in NZ knows, Hillsong is hugely influential in NZ also! Lots to ponder for Anglicans used to small congregation: we can get (to put church growth crudely) bums on seats if we define the gospel in terms of God's plan for your successful life. That is not something Anglicans (and most other denominations want to do) ... but in the meantime is Christianity in the perception of society around us being redefined? What if Pentecostalism a la Hillsong is perceived to be normal Christianity and Anglicanism a weird little sect?

So to the main fare.

Inter alia at our recent Synod there was a challenge in terms of evolution: when do we hear the bishops of our church asserting their belief in evolution? Does believing in evolution define (or not) whether we are "conservative" or "progressive"? Does not believing in evolution make Christians very weird in the marketplace of ideas?

 The latest Church Times has a very interesting article here by Mark Vernon.

It begins by setting out the issue of explaining the development of religious consciousness in terms of evolutionary biology:

"EXPLANATIONS for the origins of human religiosity have not escaped the immense fecundity of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Many proposals address why people have believed in gods and other worlds as far back as archaeologists can see. To date, two ideas have tended to dominate.
One is that Homo sapiens needed “big gods” to survive. These deities threatened to punish people for their wrongs, with the upshot that large groups worked better together. It sounds plausible, except that our ancestors lived in large groups long before punishing big gods emerged; so the proposal nowadays is widely criticised.A second idea is that early humans were superstitious: they were readily inclined to interpret a rustle of leaves, say, as the movement of a spirit. They were wrong, it is presumed, but that doesn’t matter, because, every so often, a rustle of leaves had a real cause: it signalled the presence of predators. Evolution, therefore, selected for the superstitious because they survived."

But these two ideas have weaknesses, so:

"IN SHORT, the field is ready for a new hypothesis, and another is now gaining ground. Moreover, this hypothesis appeals not only to evolutionary biologists but also to sociologists and theologians. It feels less reductive than its predecessors, and may well cast light on human religiosity today, as well as in times gone by.Leading its development is the Oxford evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar. A recent meeting of the International Society for Science and Religion brought together experts in science and theology as well as archaeology and psychology. It made for a fascinating few days.The proposal might be called “the trance hypothesis”. In the middle palaeolithic period, perhaps 200,000 years ago, humans started to realise that they could induce altered states of consciousness. It marked a step change from the capacity to experience awe and wonder, which is something that we probably share with our primate cousins and other animals. The control of ecstatic states meant that what was revealed could be intentionally explored."

I will leave you to read on to get the further detail needed to complete the explanation of this new hypothesis. Moreover, Mark Vernon offers some striking thoughts about the difference between "spiritual/spirituality" and "religious/religion" worth noting in our age when we are concerned with how we reach people with the gospel or (so to speak) reach the gospel embedded in people already.

My question goes something like this (remembering that I am a bear of small brain and questions about how our faith developed in respect of the prophet Charles Darwin are at the edge of my linguistic, philosophical and theological competency):

If we accept that some such hypothesis as introduced above explains how, along the way of our biological development as homo sapiens, we reached a state in which we could consciously articulate religious thoughts and insights, on what grounds do we then discern that at least some of those thoughts and insights are "not our own" but come to us from outside of ourselves as a newly emerging community of religiously conscious people?

That is, how do we as evolving animals determine that we have received revelation, that God/gods are not our invention?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Mission for an asset rich cash poor church?

We held our Diocesan Synod over the last days of the past week - my first as President of the Synod. It was a full Synod - we finished a few minutes before the designated finishing time of 5 pm on Saturday. It was a helpful Synod - to me at least - because it helped chart some directions over the next twelve months in respect of strategy and planning for action towards my stated big theme for the Diocese: Regeneration through Christ.

In due course and through our official Diocesan media we will report on the Synod. Here I want to reflect generally on an aspect of church life, perhaps more peculiar to Anglican churches than other churches in Aotearoa New Zealand, which various discussions in the Synod touched on. This is the question of funding mission (say, new outreaches into society) and church development (say, building a larger church for a growing congregation to gather in) when the funds do not appear to be available, yet the overall assets of the church (in this case, a Diocese or region) are considerable.

Other ways of putting this include:
- We are asset rich and cash poor.
- We have churches in the wrong places in respect of how housing has developed in the past 50 years; what if we sold all our churches and started again?
- Why own church buildings at all when they consume so many dollars maintaining and repairing them and take up so much administrative time and energy?

But putting things like that raises the inevitable questions of what can and cannot be done.

For instance:
- can a Diocese make a plan, sell buildings over here and build new buildings over there? (Answer, in Anglican polity: mostly a resounding, No!)
- what difference does the heritage status of a building make to what might happen to it? (With related question of cemeteries on church land ...)
- would we settle for always using rented properties rather than properties we own?

On the one hand, it is pretty simple to put up so many questions and raise various issues so that we do nothing to change the status quo.

On the other hand, there is a will to find a way forward and an urgency pressing upon us to change the status quo.

As we sometimes observe to ourselves hereabouts, there is no point in being the last Anglican in the Diocese of Christchurch wondering what to do with several hundred million dollars of real estate.

Our Synod raised questions. This time we didn't settle on answers. A year from now we will come back to these matters. We will have done more work by then. My blog a year from now may or may not have some definitive decisions to report!

On the other hand

Monday, September 2, 2019

Round up of not insignificant things

(1) This past weekend Teresa and I have been in Nelson for the ordination of Steve Maina as bishop and installation as the 11th Bishop of Nelson. There is a good report with a small video and a photo or two here. The weather was amazing so the town procession referred to in the report was very pleasant. The two and a half hour service seemed not to take that long. It was a joy to be back in Nelson cathedral (one of my favourites).

(2) Bishop Steve's new role in the traditionally conservative Diocese of Nelson in part will be worked out against the backdrop of continuing outworkings of our GS 2018 decision on the blessing of same sex civil marriages. Although, in a sense, the "noise" since then has been about disaffiliations, there has nevertheless been a "quiet" progress in the development of a Christian Community, the option for staying within the polity of ACANZP while strongly signalling a certain distance from the GS decision. Taonga has an update on the development of the AFFIRM-based Christian Community as well as a rationale for it, here.

(3) How important is marriage? How do Christians respond to its breakdown? How should we respond? What is held in common about marriage across the great Christian streams (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox), and what is different? No less a figure than David Bentley Hart has some interesting things to say here, from an Orthodox perspective. His criticism of annulment in the modern age is my criticism. But is he correct in some other things he has to say? Thoughts?