Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Brevard S. Childs on Scripture

I've been digging into the Book of Exodus lately. Spoiler alert: no significant insights coming in this post. But one thing leads to another. Digging deeper into Exodus led to a review of my commentaries on this book and the judgement delivered is, "Negligible." In remedying this paucity I have purchased a commentary I know to be somewhat more famous than other commentaries, Brevard S. Childs' commentary on Exodus.

Childs on anything in the Old Testament is always good, not least because he goes a bit against the grain of a lot of 20th and 21st century scholarship on the Old Testament which tries to read the books within it, if not the Old Testament as a whole, in its own right, divorced from its appropriation into the Christian Bible. The citation below captures how Childs wants to read the OT scriptures, 

"as canonical scripture within the theological discipline of the Christian church."

In other words, Childs is a determined Christian reader of the whole of Scripture, intent on reading Scripture as rule or canon and understanding it within the creedal faith of the Christian church.

Although no one told me about Childs when I was growing up within the evangelical Anglican movement, it is difficult to think that Childs and his writings would in any way have diminished the seriousness with which I learned to approach Scripture as authoritative in word and practice of the Christian life.

The more so when we read the fuller passage from which the citation above comes, words which are the very beginning of Childs on Exodus:

"The aim of this commentary is to seek to interpret the book of Exodus as canonical scripture within the theological discipline of the Christian church. As scripture its authoritative role within the life of the community is assumed, but how this authority functions must be continually explored. Therefore, although the book in its canonical form belongs to the sacred inheritance of the church, it is incumbent upon each new generation to study its meaning afresh, to have the contemporary situation of the church addressed by its word, and to anticipate a fresh appropriation of its message through the work of God's Spirit."

p. xiii, Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Commentary (The Old Testament Library) Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1974. 

Here is the thing which (in my memory) was not so well worked out in my experience of evangelicalism (generally) and Anglican evangelicalism (particularly): the "how" of Scripture as authority including the integral question of the "meaning" of Scripture.

It would have been good to have spent more time discussing,

"As scripture its authoritative role within the life of the community is assumed, but how this authority functions must be continually explored."

Why? Because looking back I think we assumed certain divisions among evangelicals without reflection on how such divisions could arise if Scripture was straightforwardly authoritative. Baptist evangelicals and Anglican evangelicals differed on baptism of believers' children (we knew that ... of course!) but we were both reading the same Bible. Later (in my experience) charismatic evangelicals and non-charismatic evangelicals differed on baptism in the Holy Spirit, but we were both reading the same Bible. What ( I do not recall) we did, say in Christian Union discussions about Scripture and its authority, was discuss how Scripture was authoritative when we didn't agree on its meaning.

Childs, above, challenges us to engage with the question of meaning in relation to authority:

"Therefore, although the book in its canonical form belongs to the sacred inheritance of the church, it is incumbent upon each new generation to study its meaning afresh, to have the contemporary situation of the church addressed by its word, and to anticipate a fresh appropriation of its message through the work of God's Spirit."

Of course this could be a licence (in evangelical perspective) for a liberal approach to understanding Scripture, not least because following Childs at this point means an openness to "fresh" meaning, finding the relevancy of Scripture to "the contemporary situation of the church" and allowing God's Spirit to help us appropriately appropriate the message of Scripture. From an evangelical perspective "Spirit" desperately needs definition lest we follow the spirit of the age rather than the Ageless Spirit!

Actually - I can now see - differences between Baptists and Anglicans relate to engaging Scripture with "each new generation" (Anglicans, for example, baptise children of believers because that is the right thing to do when the second and third and fourth generations of believers come along - something the NT does not pause to address).

When charismatic renewal came upon Anglican and Baptist churches in the 1960s and 1970s, there certainly was a "contemporary situation of the church" to be understood in the light of the "word" of Scripture as we were addressed by it and, those of us who embraced this new movement of the Spirit felt we were anticipating "a fresh appropriation of [Scripture's] message through the work of God's Spirit." All the while, resolutely not conceding for a moment that anything "liberal" was involved in our thinking!

I won't offer further analysis of the 2020s situation, suffice to say that in many and diverse ways, evangelical Anglicans continue to freshly appropriate the meaning of Scripture for today.

Thanks Brevard!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Lockdown Blogpost Casualty - Ash (without Ashing) Wednesday Livestreamed

 I had  a post started and the finishing of it was (is still) in mind but then our Government wisely analysed some new Covid transmission in our community and imposed, for a minimum of three days, a return to higher Levels, Auckland from 1 to 3 and the rest of us from 1 to 2.

In any other week of the year this might have been a non-event re episcopal life, but this week the three days includes Ash Wednesday and thus advice to the Diocese has had to be given.

So yesterday's potential blogging time got squeezed out with all the bits and bobs of discussion about what to say and what - in particular - to do about our Ecumenical Service tomorrow evening in the Transitional Cathedral.

All sorted ... now. But no post in the usual way.

For those interested the Ecumenical Service will be livestreamed and the details (along with other advice, should you be interested, about Ash Wednesday in Level 2) are as follows:

"This minimum period in Level 2 includes all of Ash Wednesday and thus affects services on Ash Wednesday. Earlier today I gave this directive to our Vicars/Priests-in-Charge/Chaplains:

There is to be no Ashing at Ash Wednesday services.
Ash Wednesday services may be held (providing they comply with Level 2 Guidelines for our services and other gatherings) but they are not to include the act of Ashing people’s foreheads.
I recommend as an alternative the following action at the point in the service where Ashing would take place (with suitably adapted words being said): pause, silence, each member of the congregation using their own thumb and signing their own foreheads with a cross.
Yes, that means we do not have the witness of Ash on our foreheads as we depart from the service, but collectively, through a Lenten fast from Ashing, we are witnessing to NZ that we are taking our responsibilities in Level 2 seriously and solemnly.
Ecumenical Service at the Transitional Cathedral
5.30 pm Wednesday 17 February 2021: this is now a Livestream Service. 

We do not want to have to turn the 101st person away so Archbishop Paul and myself have agreed that we will ask everyone to stay home and share in this service via Livestreaming.

The only people present will be participants in the service. If you are not a participant, then please stay home and watch the service via Livestream from the Transitional Cathedral Facebook page or YouTube page (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX1CvdiQsCUKka5bjH2ZHxA )."

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

What's in a translation?

Last Sunday the Gospel was Mark 1:29-39. (You were there, right, and heard it?)

Something struck me in the passage for the first time but then I realised it was striking in one translation but not in others.

Concerning verse 31, when Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law.

Here are some non-striking - for me, on this occasion, as I will explain - translations: 

"Jesus went and took hold of her hand, and raised her to her feet." (REB)

"He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up." (CEB)

"He went to her, took her by the hand, and helped her up." (GNB)

"He went in to her, took her by the hand and helped her up." (NJB)

What about the Greek itself?

"And going to [her] he raised her holding the hand."

So, nothing wrong with any of the translations above!

But the translation which caught my eye was the NRSV:

"He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up."

What struck me was the NRSV's "lifted her up." 

That got me thinking and the thinking became part of my sermon. Jesus lifted her up. That's what he does, he lifts people up. He lifts you and me up. Do we need lifting up today? So many things get us down and we need lifting up. And Jesus will do this!

Now to this week's Gospel, Mark 1:40-45.

A very striking issue arises.

The leper at the centre of the story begs Jesus, "If you choose, you can make me clean." (40, NRSV)

Does this mean Jesus could have chosen not to heal the leper?

Does this mean when we are not healed that Jesus has chosen not to heal us?

Answers on a postcard ... or a comment!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The church of God is people but are the people being separatist, even supremacist?

Michael Reddell, firing up again one of his blogs - in another blog he is one of NZ's preeminent economic commentators - reviews two books he has recently read, with the title "All one in Christ Jesus."

Book one is "... Mississippi Prayingwith the subtitle “Southern White Evangelicals and the Civil Rights Movement, 1945-1975, by Carolyn Dupont a US academic. "

Book two is "Hirini Kaa’s book, Te Mahi Mihinare: The Maori Anglican ChurchKaa is both an academic and an ordained Anglican priest, and his book was a really interesting read. The evangelisation of the Maori population in the 19th century, initially by CMS missionaries and increasingly by Maori Christians themselves is an inspiring story, full of individual tales of heroism, humility, and faith. (Sadly, the decline of Christianity – including Anglicanism – in New Zealand whether among Maori or non-Maori populations is the dominant story now). And the interest in Kaa’s historical material continues well through the 20th century (he stops at about 1990 just before he himself became a member of the General Synod), including the development of Maori bishoprics."

Along the way of the review there are interesting observations which raise important questions about what is admirable and what is not so admirable in church life expressed on racial and/or cultural lines (think, for instance, Peter McGavren's "homogenous unit" principle in church growth theory re what might be admirable and note Carolyn Dupont's concerns re resistance to integration between white and black worshippers re what seems less than admirable).

But what Reddell says about Hirini Kaa's book is particularly interesting to me because I myself am in the midst of reading the book.

Thus likely I will come back to this post to add some thoughts of my own ... but if you have read Kaa's book (or Dupont's), you may wish to comment now!