Monday, December 16, 2019

Incarnation Reflection: Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Annual Blog Holiday

This blog is on holiday, from 17 December 2019 to around 21 January 2020.

UPDATE 3: Are you, like me, a bit frustrated with some “Christmas” comments floating around social media (e.g., along “God became one of us to share our pain” lines)? In 2019, some 2000+ years on from the historical moment of the Incarnation, do we not need a theology of the Body of Christ conjoined with proclamation of the Incarnation as beneficial for humankind? That is, does God share our pain through the humanity of Christ via the local presence of the body of Christ, that is, via you and me as “the Body of Christ”? In turn, does not this mean that we are offering mere sentiment when we focus on “God became one of us to share our pain” without ourselves sharing and bearing the pain of those we share the message of the Incarnation with?

UPDATE 2: Thanks Christchurch Press for publishing on Christmas Eve.

UPDATE 1: This YouTube Video has not gone viral!

TOWARDS CHRISTMAS 2019 ...An Incarnation Reflection

Over the past few months I have found myself reflecting on the nature of God - on, if you like, God's Godness.

Such reflection is prompted by a whole bunch of things we say (or sing) as Christians which seems to anthropomorphize God - to make God somewhat in our image - a bigger and better version of ourselves, albeit with a bit more mystery ... I mean, we would answer everyone's prayers, right? But God doesn't always do that, but being much wiser than we are, no doubt has a good reason for not doing so.

So, I have been thinking about how we really need a shift in our "theology" - our understanding of God - so that we stop boxing God into dimensions we can grasp, cease over-personalizing God (e.g. making him out to be a kind of Celestial Bestie), and put an end to a breezy familiarity with the God who is not only bigger than the universe but beyond it.


(A lot of theology starts with that word, doesn't it?! The Old Testament ... but ... the New Testament. You deserve to die for your sins ... but Jesus saves ...).

But Christmas. But the Incarnation. But the Word became flesh. But Emmanuel: God with us.


Also a great theological word!

Dangerous though it is to anthropomorphize God, isn't it more dangerous to understand God apart from Jesus Christ?

If we meet God in Jesus Christ, then we meet one who was intimate in friendship, who personally and directly responded to requests for healing and deliverance, who was an anthropomorphism of the Divine.

The joy of Christmas is that the Impersonal God is revealed as, in fact, the Personal God.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Again, Romans 14-15

Two Mondays back I posted again re Romans 14-15 and the comments thereupon have been brilliant, profound, and, frankly, sometimes above my pay grade.

To continue the conversation I pick up just one part of one response (from Bryden Black):

"From all of which, I myself discern the issues being addressed by Paul in Rom 14-15 cannot be near the causes of our present, severe divisions among the Anglican Communion. Nice try, Peter—but pass ... The dynamics at play behind Rom 14-15, whatever they were, would seem to be such that Paul envisaged the real possibility of the different groups being reconciled - even as they held onto their respective positions, in some way. This is NOT what is at stake among the world-wide AC and also locally in provinces and dioceses and parishes. And how any bishop functions in this context I’m really not sure ... For what are the implications re “unity” when the theological foundations are just so incompatible, and the surface symptoms reflecting these foundations mutually exclusive?"

And one from just one part of one other response (from Bowman Walton):

"In the refreshing world of facts, there is a big one that elicits little comment here but adequately explains both sides of That overheated Topic-- since postindustrial people enjoying mass prosperity are less interested in continuing families, they do not use sex mainly for procreation, and their birthrates are quite low. Natives of this economy face a choice, not between being good Israelites or bad Romans, but between rival contemporary secular ways of repurposing the biology and culture of reproduction. (Max Weber's prediction about secularization was wrong, but his other one about sex was obviously right.) So on one hand, the Body has some who are trying to hammer nails into this fluidity because a hammer is the tool that they have, and others who are trying to decide-- given that they must decide-- how to swim in it.

Neither is stupid or faithless. But each is avoiding some elephant in their respective rooms, and they quarrel more to reassure themselves and to fortify their respective avoidances than to persuade anyone. Can the theologically inclined speak more directly to the social texture in which Christians live now? Can theologiphobes discover that the Bible they distrust shows a good way, even the best way, of living with realities exposed by Charles Darwin whom they do trust? Those would be ways forward."


Putting these two comments together - if I am understanding them rightly - we would have compatible theological foundations in the Anglican Communion (indeed in the whole global Christian community) if we talked to each other about those foundations in a spirit of openness to the full implications of living in the context of "a postindustrial people enjoying mass prosperity [who] are less interested in continuing families, [who] do not use sex mainly for procreation, and [for whom] their birthrates are quite low."

That is, we have not yet begun to do the work which integrity requires of us - the integrity of being people who live in this age and not the age of Moses, or Jesus, or Paul and urgently ask what it means to be holy people today (which will always mean a people informed by the Scriptures of Moses, Jesus and Paul).

In frank terms: yes, Bryden, there are - effectively - theologically incompatible foundations and thus some have made the choice which logically flows from that incompatibility, to separate ecclesiologically while others have made the choice to live with incompatibility. But, no, Bryden, following Bowman, there remains a work to be done, if we are willing to do it, in which we ask how there can be such theologically incompatible foundations amidst a people - Anglicans - otherwise either theologically agreed on so much OR ecclesiologically willing to live with so much difference - and so, could it be that this is because we have not yet begun to reflect on "the full implications etc"?

To which and to whit, with time still short, some observations:

(a) That theological genius, Mike Tyson, once said something like this, Everyone has a plan until I hit them in the mouth. The great difficulty with a theology of marriage is that the "plan" is easy to state (marriage is ... sexual sin is a dereliction of what marriage is ...) but responding to the punch in the mouth not so (... divorce ... a single mother bringing her child to baptism* ... a same sex married couple involving themselves in the ministry of the parish ... disciplining the "nature" of sexual drive within a marriage with the "contra-nature" of (artificial or "natural method") contraception, driven by a mix of concerns, including health of wife/mother and sheer economic sense and sensibility ...). Should the church divide because its response to the mouth punch of actual human conditions is various rather than uniform?

*It may be a sign of how far we have come - in the real conditions of modern life - that readers might puzzle over what the issue here is, but a conversation at the weekend reminded me that it was not so long ago that such single mothers were turned away from having their children baptised by some Anglican vicars.

(b) Dare we engage not only in a theology of marriage but also in a theology of justice, mercy and people on the margins of society? Without the latter, I suggest we are in danger of losing perspective on how important some issues are. Alternative question: how has the church come to be seen as an oppressive organisation for homosexuals? Ditto, dare we engage in a theology of theology? We seem to be in grave danger with That Topic of presenting a God to the world who has a soft spot for heterosexuals, even though we have many foibles, and a harsh judgement for homosexuals, unmodified by any intention to commit to a lifelong partnership. What kind of God is that? How on earth can it seem even slightly reasonable that the world thinks of God as homophobic? Surely we Christians couldn't have said anything to prompt such thoughts?

(c) Romans 14-15 envisages one simple common foundation for mutual welcome and acceptance - notwithstanding our arguments here over whether Romans 14-15 does or does not apply to present issues:

"Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."

Christ - the church's one (ONE!) foundation :)

Monday, December 2, 2019

Ending 2019 well

2019 has been a challenging year for our Diocese - a new bishop to get used to, the tragedy for Christchurch city on 15 March, ongoing effects of disaffiliations after GS 2018, our huge Cathedral Reinstatement project getting off the ground - but by 8.30 pm yesterday [first Sunday in Advent], I could reflect joyfully on some splendid end of year events and news.

Over the last ten days we have had three inductions: the Parishes of Ellesmere, Rangiora, Riccarton-Spreydon. Each filled with well-received ministers.

Yesterday morning, we were able to announce a new Vicar for the Parish of Papanui. Later in the day, at two different services I was at, parishioners from that parish expressed their excitement at the news of this announcement.

On Saturday, St Andrew's Day, I ordained three new deacons, each of whom will make a much valued contribution to ministry and mission in different parts of our Diocese.

But, wait, there is more ...

Yesterday morning I visited a Diocesan youth camp - a lively sequence of fun and sporting activities rounded off with teaching and worship - enthusiastic campers and keen young adult leaders.

And that teaching was given superbly by one of our youngest priests - a privilege of being bishop is to see our deacons and priests delivering ministry with verve, passion and excellence.

It was lovely to have Amy Page-Whiting, Senior Pastor, Cashmere New Life Church, as our preacher at yesterday's induction. Amy's presence reminded us of the work God is doing in all the churches of our city.

(Aside: all three inductions had female preachers. Whatever 1 Timothy 2:12 meant and means, I continue to be unable to see that it is meant to prohibit godly, trained female preachers from expounding God's Word in God's church.)

Then, a further observation: some conversations recently, including after the ordinations on Saturday, reminded me that even in a secular country such as NZ, where the church and its ministries are public, done well, and connecting with people, we remain a force of influence and impact in our society.

So, I feel, all in all, that 2019 is ending well for us as a Diocese. Thanks be to God.

2020 will have its own challenges ... one of which is that the lovely anecdotes above do not by themselves shift the "data" of decline in Christianity in this country. There is work to be done!