Sunday, March 29, 2020

We are all in the boat, a global storm is threatening us and we ask Jesus whether he cares for us!

Pope Francis knows how to rise to the occasion.

I have a few ideas for posting some of my own thoughts about this and that but, really, when such a fine sermon is preached as Pope Francis preached yesterday morning (NZ time), why offer crumbs when a loaf is available?

"“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).
Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
In this storm, the fa├žade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.
The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.
Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7)."

Note how biblical, christocentric, cruciform this sermon is - a model for all preachers to aspire to!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Acres of time and space opening up for blogging?

NZ as local and possibly overseas readers will know is heading towards "lockdown". From 11.59 pm NZ time, Wednesday 25 March 2020, for at least a month, we are asked to stay in our own homes, unless we work in essential services (doctors, supermarket workers, etc), only leaving for walks in the fresh air and necessary trips to the supermarket or doctors.

For the next few days I am pretty busy in various (video) meetings because various things need sorting and rearranging. After that I am a little less busy but we have three or four crucial Board meetings coming up as we engage with the challenges of being a "shutdown" Diocese: services, meetings, community outreaches suspended. (We are "online" in various ways - of course!).

Beyond that, especially with no Holy Week and Easter services and travelling from one part of the Diocese to another, I am thinking some new time opens up.

Or does it?

We live in strange and interesting and stressful times.

Meantime I continue to read Doug Campbell's remarkable book, reflect on matters Anglican (overnight the 2020 Lambeth Conference has been officially postponed until 2021) and generally attempt to keep sane and calm.

Something more substantial on Monday ... God willing!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Normal transmission interrupted

I am working on a more "normal" post for this blog. But it seems a little odd to keep posting as though nothing much is happening in the life of our (or indeed other) Anglican church(es).

Here is our Diocese's latest post/policy re response to the Coronavirus/COVID-19:

Virus.

Here is my introduction to the policy document.

Stay safe and well.

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Love of God and our role in demonstrating it to the world

I am really enjoying working my way through Douglas Campbell's Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of God's Love (Eerdmans, 2020).

By "Pauline Dogmatics" Doug (if I may so call him, not only because he is a fellow Kiwi, but we shared aspects of Dunedin ministry and mission together in 1984!) means integrating Paul's words (the text by which we determine and debate what is "Pauline") with the fruit of 2000 years of systematic theological study ("dogmatics.") Specifically, Doug's reading of Paul's letters is in conversation in this book with systematic theologians such as Barth (most frequently), Zizioulas and many others, including ancient fathers.

While it is early days - it is a big book and I am only 70 pages or so into it - I sense that "the triumph of God's love" will mean by the end, the power of God's love to permit no obstacles in the way of drawing everyone through the proclaimation of the gospel to God's own self.

In another post for another day, I simply note here that Doug makes Paul's and the most primitive church's great creed, "Jesus is Lord" the starting point for all theological reflection.

But here, in this post, possibly one of many, I draw attention via citation to some important insights Doug shares with the reader in respect of the love of God, God's love, God is love.

God as personal, relational and familial ...

"There has arguably been a predilection for describing God in much theology - and perhaps especially in reflections derived from Latin-speaking traditions - with categories that are fundamentally legal and political. God is viewed at bottom as a monarch or sovereign, and the key analogies for understanding his relationships, both internally and externally with us, are in terms of law and the state. However, careful attention to what God has actually revealed about his nature to us in Jesus, his Son, suggest that these reflections are inaccurate and possibly even quite misleading. They have their place, but only after due correction by the analogies that are primary. God is fundamentally familial and disposed toward us in this way as well - as our heavenly Father." [p. 53]

I think this is critical to our Anglican ecclesiology, incidentally. Do we understand ourselves as family? Or as a body defined by rules and regulations? Actually we are a bit of both ("They have their place") but if God is "fundamentally familial and disposed to us ... as our heavenly Father" then our primary self-identity is as the family of God bound by love and not by constitution.

God's love

"If we have grasped the extent to which God is fully familial God composed of persons who are what they are because of one another, then we are in a position to grasp another truth that is equally staggering. ...[noting Paul's reference to the beloved Son of the Father, Romans 8:3; Ephesians 1:6; cf. Romans 3:25] ... The Father dotes on the Son, we might say. The Son is the apple of his eye. And the Son loves his Father, which is why he does what the Father says, even when it involves what seems to us to be extraordinary demands. Here we can be helped, in their best moments, by the astonishing love that often does obtain within our families between spouses, and between parents and their children, situations where people can offer everything for one another. Such situations mediate the critical realization that the persons of the Trinity have a deep and profound love for one another, something that is then also apparent in the life of Jesus. So as the author of 1 John puts it - characteristically a little more compactly than paul, although doubtless the latter would have approved - "God is love" (4:8)." [p. 54]


Then

"Paul says in a statement of near matchless importance - although he is echoing here a strong of similar statements found elsewhere in this and other letter - "God demonstrates his own love for us [in this] - that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:9). He goes on to say immediately in the verses that follow that it is this demonstration of love that eliminates any fear concerning a future angry judgement. ... The nature of God is revealed definitively by the death of the Son on the cross for us at the behest of the Father and the Spirit. There the Father has offered up his beloved only Son to die for us, doing so, moreover, while we, the objects of this costly mission, were rebellious and hostile. Before any response had been offered, then, the Father undertoo this ultimately costly act for us, which the Son obeidently carried out. And this proves that the Father's love for us is utterly fundamental to his character, and limitless, as is the Son's and their Spirit's. This God will stop at nothing in order to reach us and to heal us. God undertook this supremely painful action - the Father's sacrifice of his Son - to save a snarling and ungrateful humanity. Astonishing!" [pp. 55-56]

And our privilege and responsibility - Doug asks "where exactly do we meet Jesus and this overpoweringly benevolent and kind God?" [p. 56]

"We meet God through people like him - that is to say, through the community, and especially through its designated leaders. And we learn from this phenomenon that Jesus's followers mediate God's revelations." [p. 57]

Obviously there are occasions when God directly reveals God's self to some ... Paul is a great example! But more typical is "The Son of God, Jesus Christ, was proclaimed among you by me and Silas and Timothy" (2 Cor 1:19) [p. 57]

With a strong argument anchored into discussion of the human and divine wills at work in Jesus, Doug then works his way through the significance of this insight that the truth of the love of God is mediated to the world by you and me, as "witnesses" (p. 62-65). And there is much here to draw out which I will leav to another occasion, about how we must learn to tell the story of Jesus well. But, drawing this post to a close, this is Doug's conclusion to the chapter and to his thinking within it about our role in mediating the truth:

"Jesus did not write a book; he called disciples." [p. 69]


Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Trump on Pauline theology

Monday, March 2, 2020

Being Anglican, early 2020

Last week the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu and the Reverend Margaret Sentamu visited the Diocese - the last part of a trip through Fiji, Samoa and Aotearoa New Zealand.

There was a lovely welcome on Tuesday at Te Waipounamu, Ferry Road, the base of the ministry of Te Hui Amorangi o Te Waipounamu (i.e. the Maori Anglican Diocese covering the South Island).



Later that evening ++John and Margaret spoke on "Being Anglican" at a gathering of senior leaders. The following day, Wednesday, being Ash Wednesday, there were a number of services ++John and Margaret were involved in, culminating with our annual Catholic-Anglican service at which ++John preached.

A fairly simple observation from the few days spent with ++John and Margaret, both in formal contexts and in informal chatting, is that, notwithstanding various attempts around the globe to paint churches such as ACANZP as some degrees short of being truly Anglican ( (because teaching falsely about You Know What), we are, in fact, (in my words) ordinarily Anglican. (I say "ordinarily" because it will never be a claim here that ACANZP is some kind of extraordinarily virtuous Anglican church, a benchmark and guide for others to follow. We are simply an Anglican church with the usual mix of the good, bad and indifferent occurring in our midst.)

I suggest the greatest challenge concerning "being Anglican" is whether "there will be an Anglican church to be Anglican in". Damian Thompson, writing at The Spectator (and also podcasting) makes this point:

"In every big city in the United States and Britain there are buildings – often quite magnificent – that were erected by Christian Scientists. But many of them are now offices and apartments, because this once thriving and very wealthy denomination is virtually dead.
In this week’s Holy Smoke podcast, I talk to Jon Anderson, an expert on religious and political sects, about the collapse of Christian Science – whose followers included Joyce Grenfell and Doris Day – and the scary lessons it holds for today’s mainstream religions.
There’s already a whole graveyard of Protestant denominations filling up in America and Europe. Could the more conventional bits of the Anglican and Catholic Churches one day end up there? What about Reform and Liberal Judaism?"

How might we avoid "the graveyard"?

I don't think we will avoid the graveyard by being one thing or another on You Know What - it seems to me that for every person outside the church who might be attracted to a conservative resolution of this matter inside the church there are two people who are put off going to church by the church's conservatism on this matter.

We will avoid the graveyard by continuing to win people to Jesus Christ through sharing the good news of God's love, forgiveness and mercy to all people. But what we say in communicating the gospel will - presumably - need to be ever alert for what the Christian Scientists have failed in. (I am not sure what that is, not having listened to Damian Thompson's podcast, but I am guessing there will be something about the implausibility of Christian Scientism.)

What encourages me in this matter is finding young people not only identifying with our church but also making steps of commitment such as yesterday in one of our parishes when seven young people were confirmed and another young person baptised. (Of course all people of whatever age joining our church is important re our flourishing, but looking ahead 50 plus years, well beyond my own death, the "elders" of the church of 2070 will need to include wise and mature Christians whose adult journey in faith and discipleship begins now.)

Incidentally, looking beyond our local Anglican scene, I am also encouraged by the life and liveliness of many churches hereabouts. Whatever we make of a man such as Franklin Graham's ministry, over 100 church leaders participated in a dinner here in Christchurch last week to explore the possibility of his being invited to lead a mission in Christchurch next year. On Saturday I participated in the opening of a new Methodist church in Christchurch. It is, I think, the fourth of four new or renewed inner city churches in Christchurch since the 2011 quakes. In a few weeks' time another new inner city church will be re-opened.

There is absolutely no reason to be complacent about the future because there is no reason to think the aggressive and corrosive growth of secularism in our society will cease. But there are reasons to hope that the future for "being Anglican" is bright.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Anglican Ecclesiology 2020: Lambeth or Boycott?

As the Anglican Communion heads this year towards Lambeth 2020 - the opportunity every 10 years or so for every Anglican diocese throughout the world to be represented by its bishop(s) at a conference - it is worth a few words on the ecclesiologies which are at work among us.

A noticeable phenomenon in the run up to Lambeth is the willingness of bishops who disagree over That Topic to gather there (including, intriguingly, Kenyan bishops whom their Archbishop is permitting to attend even though he himself will not).

That is, this year there will be an underlining of the fact that the division among Anglicans around the globe is not "because of That Topic" but because at least two different ecclesiologies are held by Anglicans.

The (as I will call it) Lambeth ecclesiology is held by those who understand that Anglicans hold various matters in common (enabling meeting together) and many matters in difference (so meeting together is opportunity to talk about these matters).

By contrast the (we may as well call it) GAFCON ecclesiology is held by those who understand that Anglicans may (actually, should) divide over certain matters, that that willingness to divide is critical to Anglican character, and that correct doctrine is prerequisite for meeting together. A GAFCON ecclesiology, in other words, is a willingness to boycott meetings when it is determined that people holding the wrong doctrine are going to turn up.

From an historical perspective we might note - I think reasonably and fairly - that a Lambeth ecclesiology flows with the arc of Anglican history, noting the ways in which Anglicanism has followed the via media, enabled both Protestant and Catholic sentiments to hold together within the framework of one prayer book and generally gone with Hooker's arguments about avoiding Catholicizing and Puritanizing extremes. A GAFCON ecclesiology, by contrast, is a Puritan ecclesiology finally dominant in a fairly significant number of Anglicans around the globe. (Strictly, a majority of "Anglicans in the pews" but a minority of Anglican provinces).

Of course much remains to be seen about how these ecclesiologies unfold this year. For instance, will Lambeth 2020 be an environment in which (say) "debate" is encouraged compared with "discussion"? Will the grassroots of bishops be able to move a resolution from the floor of the conference or will it be a stage-managed conference in which such democratizing possibilities are ruled out? Might GAFCON 2020 unexpectedly put out an olive branch towards Lambeth?

Also, of course, we could have an interesting discussion about which ecclesiology is "Anglican/unAnglican" or "better." I think that is a little pointless. "Anglican" is always contestable. Hooker wrote not because he had an idle Sunday afternoon to fill in with hypotheses about ideal Anglicanism but because there was a contest. The first Lambeth Conference was not called because the ABC thought it a nice idea. There was a contest of ideas which needed sorting out.

But what I would like to set out here is my reasoning why Anglicans contemplating boycott of Lambeth 2020 should re-think their position.

(1) It is not a good ecclesiology to force or enforce a point of view by not turning up to engage in conversation/discussion/debate. Necessarily an ecclesiology willing to boycott is willing to divide and an ecclesiology willing to divide the church always diminishes our witness as Christians. Nevertheless I acknowledge that GAFCON does not see itself as a dividing of the Communion permanently so much as a gathering place for those who will re-commit to practical unity when the remainder of the Communion wakes up to its theological error.

(2) That Topic can be characterised as a matter of doctrine, of adherence to orthodoxy and thus, on the face of it, justification for boycott appears reasonable, even heroic: "We are not going the way of the world, we are resisting the cultural hegemony which is shaping the church when it should be the other way round." But it is not a fair characterization. Not least because it does not do justice to faithful Anglicans who have come to a belief that orthodoxy on the doctrine of marriage is neither as simple as some statements make out (e.g. there is not one, single, global view on remarriage after divorce, which incidentally has led to no boycotts of global Anglican conferences ever) nor beyond debate in the light of new understanding on homosexuality. That is, unless we believe that Anglicanism is synonymous with the revelation of an unchanging understanding of homosexuality, it is simple respect for brothers and sisters in Christ to acknowledge that Anglicanism could include those who think there is an unchanging revelation and those who think there is not on the matter of homosexuality.

(3) Anglicanism through history has made accommodation to changes in understanding of God's revelation in Scripture. I have no idea throughout the Communion how many Anglicans hold to an understanding of the six days of creation in Genesis 1 which would be completely at home in, say, the 16th century while also at great variance with discoveries about evolution, age of the universe and of our planet, actual progress of creation in respect of light and matter. But I am sure there are some, even as many, many Anglicans have made the adjustment of an historic understanding of Genesis 1 in order to teach a doctrine of creation compatible with both the text of Genesis and with accepted scientific discoveries. And there is no boycott proposed because Anglicanism accommodates both views in its midst.

(4) While we can readily acknowledge 1001 ways in which the sexual revolution of the 20th century has unleashed a cultural tide of opposition to traditional, biblical, orthodox Christian sexual morality, itself part of a larger tsunami of philosophical change and challenges flowing against Christianity since the Enlightenment, we can also distinguish that cultural tide from the specific point of difference on homosexuality among Anglicans.

That point of difference is Anglicans awakening to two realities among their families, friends and congregations:

(1) that beloved people have the courage to identify that they do not belong to the assumed normality of heterosexuality so that when we are talking about "homosexuals" we are no longer talking about an "us" and "them" division of society but about our sons, our nieces, the person who sits next to us in the pew who reads the same Bible, sings the same hymns and prays to the same Lord as everyone else in the congregation.

(2) these beloved people are driven like everyone else with sexual desire, with ambition for intimacy, with longing to love and to be loved in the permanent embrace of a lifelong partnership. And, here is the point of difference, such awakened Anglicans asking whether it is a dereliction of doctrine, a revision of orthodoxy, a simple caving into cultural tides to propose that the church might view lifelong partnerships between two people of the same sex with commendation rather than condemnation. At stake here, similar to 3 above, is a new understanding of what it means to be human, to be granted the gift of life, including the capacity to love another, in the context of creation.

In other words, it is reasonable to propose that when Anglicans differ on this matter we might remain in the same room, attend the same conference because we can respect that difference has arisen in a responsible manner, not because of a tragic lapse into heresy etc. Essentially this is what ACANZP's General Synod 2018 decisions mean.

And if Hookerian Anglicanism means anything at all, does it not mean that we approach matters of dispute seeking to understand the reasoning which has led to the issue or issues at stake with a willingness to seek accommodation of reasonable points of view?

Monday, February 17, 2020

Who wrote John's Gospel?

The answer to the question "who wrote John's Gospel?" does not come easily, and across the world of scholarship there is no agreement whether the author is (1) John the son of Zebedee (2) another John (3) someone else (but somehow the gospel became associated with John the son of Zebedee). Then there is a parallel keenness of interest in whether the author (whatever his name) is the disciple described as the one whom Jesus loved (the Beloved Disciple).

These two debates meet in John 21 (though it is possible that talk in that chapter about the Beloved Disciple being the writer, verse 24, is only referring to this chapter which may be an epilogue to the gospel rather than a part of the whole gospel).

For the first and only time we have a reference to "the sons of Zebedee" (verse 2). And the Beloved Disciple (verse 20) is one of the seven disciples mentioned in verse 2. The seven disciples are:

Simon Peter,
Thomas called the Twin
Nathanael of Cana in Galilee,
the sons of Zebedee,
two others of [Jesus'] disciples.

Given that the Beloved Disciple is not Simon Peter (because Simon Peter asks Jesus a question about the Beloved Disciple) and unlikely to be Thomas or Nathanael (since there is no intrinsic reason why we wouldn't have the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Nathanael if this were so), the Beloved Disciple is either James or John (sons of Zebedee) or one of the two unnamed disciples.

Christos Karakolis makes a point I have never previously thought of or heard of:

"It is striking that the three named disciples of 21:2 are the only disciples to have made a confession of faith referring directly to Jesus." [p. 666, see below for full bibliographical details]

Karakolis provides John 6:68-69 (Simon Peter's confession), 20:28 (Thomas' confession) and 1:49 (Nathanael's confession) as the texts supporting this claim.

There is another observation which Karakolis makes which I hadn't thought of or heard of before. When Peter says he is going fishing (21:3) and the others agree to follow him (within a gospel which has not previously informed readers of the fishing background to Simon Peter, Andrew and the sons of Zebedee),

"This information reveals in an indirect way that all disciples present, including the sons of Zebedee, share a fisherman's experience, although it is not clear whether this is their actual profession. Only thus can their spontaneous response be explained, a response in which everyone in the group immediately agrees to follow Peter in a nighttime fishing expedition on a rather unpredictable and dangerous lake. A man without fishing experience would not have followed so willingly." [p. 664]. 

That is, we can reasonably surmise two motivations re the names given in the list. On the one hand, the author says to us his readers, for this third and final resurrection appearance of Jesus, the three "confessors" were present (from a narrative perspective, a closing of a loop in the story). On the other hand (and assuming a bit of knowledge of the other gospels), that author tells us that at least three known fishermen were present in a group of people motivated to respond to a lead by Simon Peter to go fishing.

It is an odd way to finally but uniquely mention the sons of Zebedee who otherwise appear near the beginning of the other gospels. And even odder seems to be a lack of mention of Andrew, another known fisherman, whose prominence otherwise in the Gospel of John could lead us to reasonably presume that he was one of the seven.

What to make of this in respect of determining the name of the author of John's Gospel?

First, the reference to the sons of Zebedee need have nothing to do with the authorship. They are mentioned because they strengthen the idea that this particular group were not crazy or foolish to join Peter in his fishing expedition. Secondly, even if we surmise - for fishing reasons - that Andrew likely was one of the unnamed disciples (though puzzling as to why he is not thereby named), we are still left with one unnamed disciple who could be the Beloved Disciple and if the latter is the author then we do not have a name for the author.

Yet we have a gospel traditionally associated with one of those two sons of Zebedee. What does Karakolis say?

"The implied reader should identify the Beloved Disciple, who makes his appearance later on in the narrative of this chapter [ch. 21], with either one of the sons of Zebedee or with one of the two unnamed disciples of 21:2. However what seems like a riddle to the modern reader of the Gospel would probably have been obvious to the implied readers of the Gospel." [p. 669]

Karakolis then goes on to argue that because the Greek re the sons is, literally, "the [plural] of Zebedee" that the implied readers would have understood that this "meant the sons of Zebedee" and thus that we can safely conclude that "the implied readers knew the individual names of the sons of Zebedee" [p. 669]. Further,

"The Beloved Disciple is very close to Jesus and a person that is often compared to Peter and found to have superior faith and a closer relationship to Jesus than Peter has. From the perspective of the implied reader this person should therefore be a most significant apostle and not an unknown and insignificant character. From an historical point of view John of Zebedee was such a person." [p. 669]

Karakolis goes on to work through the pros and cons of the still possible identification of the Beloved Disciple with one of the two unnamed disciples and concludes,

"Although such an interpretation remains possible the odds are in favour of the identification of the Beloved Disciple with one of the sons of Zebedee." [p. 676].

Who wrote John's Gospel? We cannot rule out the possibility that it was John the son of Zebedee. But neither can we confirm it!

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL REFERENCE

Christos Karakolis, "The Sons of Zebedee and Two Other Disciples: Two Pairs of Puzzling Acquaintances in the Johannine Denouement," in Hunt, Steve A., Tolmie, D. Francois and Zimmermann, Ruben (eds), Character Studies in the Fourth Gospel: Narrative Approaches to Seventy Figures in John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2013, pp. 663-76.

POSTSCRIPT: here is a succinct statement of the argument for the authorship of the Fourth Gospel being John but not John son of Zebedee. Rather, it is "John the Elder."

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Whither eschatology?

When will Jesus return?

He has promised to do so.

We are getting ever closer to the exact point when it is 2000 years since Jesus taught about his Second Coming (though no one knows when that anniversary will be reached, only when it will have been reached, c. 2034).

Does it matter whether it is 2000 years since?

Here is a thought: in the year 4020, if the Lord has not returned, will we Christians be any more or less anxious about the not yet fulfilled promise?

Is Christianity - as a faith movement, as a way of living, as an aspiration to rule the world [kingdom of God] - timeless or time bound?

Can we continue - as long as the sun shines on our planet - just being faithful, quietly ignoring the promise to return?

Or will we get anxious as we confront the challenge of the end - eschatology - as Jesus taught it? (By "confront" I mean have a wide ranging, earnest, global, potentially church splitting debate agonising over "what Jesus really meant" ... as we do over, you know, Another Topic.)

Of course the challenge has been faced before!

I am old enough to remember the 1970s and the excitement which Hal Lindsay's The Late Great Planet Earth induced (or was it surfing a wave already heading towards Christian shores?).

In NT itself there are signs of distancing between the inaugurated eschatology of the Synoptic Gospels and Paul (e.g. 1 and 2 Thessalonians) and the realised eschatology of John's Gospel - between the former's conviction that Jesus would be returning very soon and the latter's disinterest in the matter.

Yet, if Revelation is the last NT document to be composed, the ending of the collection of new sacred scriptures fans the flames of urgency and anticipation about Christ's return.

As best I understand periods of renewed urgency and anticipation in the history of the church, Revelation is the much invoked scripture which continues to fuel such flames.

One of the puzzles in 2020 - I venture to suggest - is that when we live in a world anxious about its future (if Coronavirus doesn't kill us, it will destroy the global economy; if global warming doesn't fry us, it at least raises the question whether we humans deserve to call Earth our home, so perhaps we should all leave), there is not a new outbreak of eschatological fervour, a renewed yearning for Christ to Return, to release us from the mess we are in.

And, surely on past performance, the corollary of eschatological fervour, the enthusiasm to identify the AntiChrist would have no shortage of candidates to consider, starting with one Donald Trump.

I mean, look at how many Christians more or less idolise the ground upon which he walks!

So, a question, "whither eschatology?"

Will we show a renewed interest in the matter?

Will we engage with some decent depth of commitment in the exegetical puzzle of what Jesus meant when he taught the imminent end of the world, even before the generation hearing his teaching had passed away?




Monday, February 3, 2020

What has Christianity Ever Done for Us? I mean apart from ...

I reckon that Dominion by Tom Holland is a great book - a must read on the history of Christianity and the history of the world since Christ. For all sorts of reasons. I may draw attention to some of these in coming posts.

Meantime, here is Tom Holland writing a snapshot or three from his book for a UK magazine, with a nice riff on a famous line from The Life of Brian.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Anglican Communion: with See or Chair?

In the most recent and second update to the previous post, I linked to an interview with Archbishop Greg Venables, who is not at all as cheery about the recent Primates' Meeting as its communique is.

I note that in the course of the interview ++Greg says this:

"Regarding the way forward we considered, as we often do, the structures of the Communion and the Instruments of Communion and the difficulties encountered when differences arise. There was passing reference to the incongruity that the Archbishop of Canterbury is chosen by the English government and just presented to the Anglican Communion. Now some people are talking about a mechanism for the Primates to choose one of our number to be the Chair, but it would be a Chair that we pick. Archbishop Justin (Welby) even made reference to that when he first came into office, and his openness to it. We also talked about our identity as Anglicans."

The larger section here is "Anglican identity" and a number of other things are said which I am not attempting to discuss here.

I am simply intrigued with whether it makes any difference to the Anglican Communion if the Archbishop of Canterbury is no longer the Chair (of the Primates' Meeting ... of other Communion bodies such as the Lambeth Conference itself).

For the ABC to no longer be the "convening bishop" or the "primus inter pares", would that matter?

For instance, for some of us, including myself, a critical element of Anglican identity is that one (as individual, as an Anglican church) is in communion with the See of Canterbury and I see this as essential to membership of the Anglican Communion.

But would this be a somewhat moot point if, say, the ABC goes to various meetings simply as "one of the bishops"?

It need not, of course, because we could distinguish the historical importance of the See of Canterbury to all things Anglicans from the human body which inhabits the role of Chair of this or that meeting or conference.

Of course, it is something of an oddity that I and others argue that communion with the See of Canterbury is vital to Anglicanism while having no say in which inhabits the See - that being up to the British government, on advice from the Church of England, and only on that advice.

At least when the Pope is elected, Cardinals from all around the globe get to vote!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Anglican Communion: alive and, it appears, quite well [UPDATED x2]

UPDATE (2): ++Venables has a some what different understanding of what went on, here.

UPDATE (1): insight and questions here ...

ORIGINAL: A week or two ago I put down this marker for a first post:

While not intending to blog until later in January, I am happy to put down a marker towards that anticipated post by noting this press release about the forthcoming Primates Meeting in Jordan, noting that 36/40 primates intend being there ... which seems pretty significant in the year of Lambeth.

How significant remains to be seen ... perhaps the aforementioned blogpost might reflect thereupon and thereunto!

Actual first post ...

The recent Primates' Meeting in Jordan appears to have gone quite well ... certainly no hiccups or speed bumps on the way to Lambeth 2020. On the one hand, "the usual suspects" chose to stay away (and a few others could not make it) and on the other hand, a large majority of Primates turned up (33/40 provinces represented).

The Living Church has a report here.

The official communique is here.

The report has a few bits to chew on, coming out of a press conference, relative to the situation we Down Under Anglicans are in ...
- an intention not to dwell on the negative of a new Anglican church being established;
- a hint that various doors are open to (so to speak) better futures.

But, the marker in the sand is pretty clear re doors to new futures: the Anglican Communion is what it implies on the tin: a communion of those in communion with the See of Canterbury.

For myself, I fail to see how a definition of Anglican (whatever else it includes) can exclude communion with the See of Canterbury if it is to be a definition which accords with the history of being Anglican which is always about the Church in England (pre H8) and the Church of England (post H8).

Speaking of what it means to be Anglican, ++Cranmer in his blog makes an interesting point or three as he segues from an observation of ++Rowan's ... here.

Relating to all such matters Anglican, however, is a critical matter, as the Jordan reports and communique bring out: within the communion of Anglicans in communion with the See of Canterbury, there are differences, and these differences can be lived with ...

At this current time there appears to be a resolve to live with differences, at least by 33+/40 provinces.

Is this resolve stronger than in 2008?

So, all in all, in the run up to Lambeth, I think we can say that the Anglican Communion is alive and, it appears, quite well.