Monday, May 10, 2021

Revelation 3:14-20: an insight into why Kiwis are not turning to Christ in a time of crisis?

Last week I was at a very worthwhile event - a Tikanga Pakeha forum on Rural Ministry. But in the course of this event, as with many conferences in these islands about ministry and mission, there was no escaping the fact that fewer Kiwis gather for worship on Sundays, with this forum highlighting diminishing numbers in rural churches.

Despite the world crisis of the Pandemic (albeit with NZ doing very well relative to other countries), and other crises (such as the housing crisis in our country), the dial does not seem to be shifting upwards on worshipping numbers (across the nation as a whole - clearly some churches in some places are growing, and some of that growth is conversion growth).

Indeed, nothing has shifted the dial upwards for some decades.

And, as best I understand the wider world, what is true of NZ is true of the Western world as a whole.

Whether we talk about the secular society, the post-Christian nation, the shift from religion to spirituality, we are talking about resistance to the Good News of Jesus Christ.


One theory I think has a lot to commend itself is that in a nation such as ours, notwithstanding crises re housing and threats such as Covid-19, most of us most of the time are incredibly blessed - good health, good times, good prospects.

There is so much goodness to explore and experience that there is little or no time to stop and ask about the truth of the universe, the meaning of life, let alone look within ourselves to see the state of our souls. 

It struck me - yesterday, because it was a passage I was preaching on - that when we read Revelation 3:14-20, the famous letter to the somewhat complacent and self-satisfied Christians in Laodicea, we could apply what Jesus says to the spiritual situation of (much of) NZ, as explanation for resistance to the gospel:

"For you say, 'I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing'." (17a)

Jesus speaking to the Laodiceans does not stop there:

"You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (18)

Nothing ever changes about our spiritual state before the God of Jesus Christ.

Could spiritual revival ever come to NZ without our realising that before God we are not rich but in great need?


Unknown said...

Hypothesis (1): A person responds most favourably to religious appeals framed in terms of his or her own stratum of Maslow's hierarchy of human needs.

Can dire insecurity drive some to seek God? Yes.

But equally, some cannot think about spiritual matters until their lower needs are satisfied. Some of the most consequential saints have come from wealthy or noble backgrounds.

Few churches serve more than one stratum well.


Unknown said...

Hypothesis (2): Churches began to shrink when families ceased to transmit the faith to the generation now in maturity.

There are several independent arguments in support of this. A few follow.

Mothers stopped passing on the faith when they decided that it was unfair to women.

The Father-Son relationship is only intelligible to those who grow up in a sort of family that is now rare.

The counterfactual is true: churches whose families evangelize their young have continued to grow, albeit at a slower rate than in the past.


Unknown said...

Hypothesis (3): With the passing of modernity, church growth will normally be convert-led and exponential.

Such growth is the eye of a needle for churches that still have a modern ethos. Why? Again, there are several explanations, of which only a few follow.

Kierkegaard was right: one must choose between institutional security and personal authenticity.

The modern churchman's visceral rejection of anything that most people will not like is repellent to prospective converts who are looking for fellow zealots.

Conversely, the modern church's determination to lure back its whole society all at once prejudices it against convert-led growth, which starts small but compounds at an increasing rate.


Unknown said...

Hypothesis (4): Modern churches do not attract converts seeking spirituality because the said churches are still in the unspiritual business of promoting a standard way of life to which every citizen should conform.

Hypothesis (5): Churches shrink, not because they are religious, but because they are civic. Declining attendance at worship, etc is but a special case of the more general shrinking of civic organizations (eg political parties, service clubs, labour unions, etc) in the West.

These hypotheses are usually argued separately, but they have an underlying affinity. If being some standard sort of citizen is the veritable quintessence of spirituality, then both are probably false.


Unknown said...

Hypothesis (6): Churches build loyalty by helping their members to make sense of the global village's pluralism, either as tribesmen or as cosmopolitans.

Put another way, churches lose members when they shamble on as though some past age of social consensus (eg the WASP Establishment in the US) had never ended. And under the surface, church fights today are really about which response to religious pluralism to support-- an embattled denominationalism or an expansive ecumenism.


Anonymous said...

Hypothesis (3): Churches begin to shrink when Christian families get smaller. Most church growth is biological. If the average family is half the size it was 50 years ago, there are simply fewer children beinv brought up as Christians. Contrast that with the size of Muslim families in Europe, which are still about the twice the size of indigenous families.Birth rates are falling but not as fast. There is also immigration from Muslim lands. That is why Sweden has 117 teenage boys to every 100 girls: immigration in Europe is overwhelmingly male.
Mormons and Orthodox Jews have larger families than average and more stay at home mothers in conservative religious communities do tend to have a strong role in religious formation of children.


Anonymous said...

Hypothesis (4): a feminized church does not have much appeal to men. Men want to be led by men in their spiritual lives. Liberal churches are more feminized in their leadership and focus of interest. Teenage boys don't see church as interesting or relevant to them. If a father goes to church, his children are more likely to come with him.
Jordan Peterson has of course explored the great crisis of masculinity in our times.


Anonymous said...

Hello Peter.

It's not just Christianity and the Western world. I read an article recently on the German DW news site concerning polling of younger people in the Middle East, including in Iran, which showed the same thing, a growing rejection of traditional religion by people under 40. That this is happening in some of the most conservative Islamic countries is fascinating, and telling. Similar things are happening elsewhere in the world. Christianity is not the only religion facing this phenomenon. And hopes, in some quarters anyway, that Evangelical growth may save the Church, are not panning out.

It is tempting to seek simple answers concerning causes for this, but I suspect the reasons are complex and multifaceted. If there is a common thread it may be that the world is just changing so fast, socially and technologically, that traditional religions, and theology, struggle to keep up and look increasingly anachronistic. For many younger people the biggest challenge they are facing is the potential for human extinction due to the environmental crisis, and traditional Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions don't seem to have much of an answer for that, and are often viewed as part of the problem.

Christianity in some form or another will survive. The Church has resources in its tradition to do so, and even to thrive. But I will not be surprised if what does survive looks very different to the kinds of Christianity we see around us today, both conservative and liberal. One thing is certain. Christendom in the West is dead, and there is no bringing it back.

Anonymous said...

Or maybe Christianity will largely disappear in "the west" but go on growing in Latin America, Africa, China and Russia and parts of eastern Europe, as well as the Philippines and parts of Indonesia?
The age of Anglican congregations in New Zealand and the lack of children in them tells you what to expect within ten years. Two churches shuttered recently in Dunedin diocese. But it isn't just about aging congregations- there is also a sea change in spiritual attitudes, leading to actual antipathy to Christian faith.
When an Anglican chaplain can be sacked from a church school for teaching Christianity and disagreeing with the school's promotion of a pro-homosexual ideology (as happened recently in England), how long before a public Christian faith itself is proscribed in the post-Christian west?
In my youth we used to imagine that persecution would come from some future communist thread. It never occurred to us that it might arise from within our own culture, driven by a sexual ideology that labelled orthodox Christianity as "hatred".

Unknown said...

Jesus's teachings and resurrection opened a new way for Jews to make sense of their absurd situation and just so to go on being Jews. Similarly, any Christianity that makes sense of the loss of Christendom can thrive.


Anonymous said...

Latin America has been Christian for some time. The "growth" there is just cannibalisation of Roman Catholicism by Pentecostalism, and such churches tend to have a short life span. As far as Asia goes, Korea is instructive. Once thought likely to be one of the first Asian nations other than the Phillipines to become Christian, growth there has stalled as younger people lose interest in conservative Christian religion. I would confidently bet the same will happen in time elsewhere in Asia and Africa. This will accelerate if, as I suspect, technological and economic responses to poverty and climate change lead to a post-scarcity world and large families cease to be necessary, or welcome.

As far as the West goes, church decline has been occurring for many decades. The post-war revival briefly masked that, but faced with a Christian West that had given us two world wars and the Holocaust, decline was inevitable. Since then the Church has not exactly clothed itself in glory. The understanding of the role of Western Christianity in the imperialist project and the destruction of indigenous cultures, the awful abuse scandals that have rocked all the larger denominations, and far too many churches still clinging to oppressive attitudes to women and LGBT people, is it any wonder many younger people look at us and see nothing they want?

The Church in the West, and eventually elsewhere, is going to have to wander in the wilderness for a time. But it has been here before, and is capable of re-inventing itself for a different age. There needs to be some serious thinking about what kind of world we are likely to be living in by the end of this century, and what kind of theology, worship and church structures may be better suited for it. There are growing signs that the social trends we think are particular to the West as in fact global, technology is already challenging our understanding of what it means to be human, and younger generations have to avert an environmental apocalypse.

We also need to decide what our goal is and what values such a goal is based upon. Do we want to love our neighbours and wash the feet of our fellow human beings, or build religious empires? Do we want to be Christ-like, or do we want to Make the Church Great Again? Wisdom is at the crossroads calling to us.

Anonymous said...

The active persecution of the church in the post-Christian west, though dismissed as fever swamp ravings, is becoming a distinct possibility now under the pro-LGBT banner being promoted with state help under the name of "tolerance". The banning of free speech on the subject under "hate speech" laws, the banning of "conversion therapy" and the festooning of schools with LGBT propaganda (look at the story from England on the sacking of a chaplain who opposed the promotion of LGBT ideology in a supposedly Christian school) all indicate how parlous things have become. Will western Anglicanism oppose this? Not a chance. It is compromised because it is has wanted to be loved and accepted in a post-Christian world instead of seeking to convert it.
Post-Christian Europe will struggle with recalcitrant Islam in its midst, while Biden will deepen the divisions in America, stoking race issues and using Federal power to advance the "woke" agenda ( = secular, leftist identity politics) which is inherently anti-Christian. The pandemic has shown us that the left's appetite for power and control over people's lives is very substantial.

Anonymous said...

Hello Martin

"The active persecution of the church in the post-Christian west, though dismissed as fever swamp ravings"

Yes, that's exactly what I think of them. I used to believe and promote the same fever swamp ravings myself when I was a conservative. They don't stand up to serious, fact based scrutiny, anymore than the claim that the Democrats stole the recent US election does. Conservative hysteria about being persecuted is a combination of rhetorical tactic and falling for their own fake propaganda.

I would also point out that whatever is or is not happening, it's not "the church" that is experiencing this, it's specific individuals, individuals who are merely being asked to treat some of their fellow human beings with a little decency and compassion. Real compassion, not the conservative 'turn or burn' version.

On that issue I would like to apologise myself to any LGBTQ persons who, reading this blog over the years, were harmed, upset or distressed by anything I said when I was a conservative. I was wrong, and I am very sorry.

"Will western Anglicanism oppose this? Not a chance. It is compromised because it is has wanted to be loved and accepted in a post-Christian world"

Or because it wanted to fulfil it's mandate to love others as Christ loved us and treat people with different sexual identities as human beings who deserve dignity and basic human rights. It depends on how you look at it. I think the latter is true.

"Biden will deepen the divisions in America, stoking race issues"

Or he might go a long way towards solving them. I mean, he could hardly do worse than the last guy.

"The pandemic has shown us that the left's appetite for power and control over people's lives is very substantial."

Or it has shown us that the left believes people should not have to die in the thousands from a deadly virus, or be allowed to spread said virus and thus kill others, because of a very dodgy and extreme version of individual rights. And on the appetite for power issue, who was it in the US that recently tried to overturn a legitimate democratic election and seize power in a violent coup?

Anyway, we could go back and forth like this till the cows come home and achieve nothing but the generation of heat, so I'm leaving it there. I think Bishop Peter has raised a very interesting and important issue and don't want it to be derailed.


Anonymous said...

This thread probably makes little sense to an Anglican in say Egypt or India. Christians who have first-hand experience of being minorities know the dark side of that status first hand, but they also know how to keep that in a faith perspective that most churches of the West have not learned. Notwithstanding the genocide of the early C20, my Armenian neighbours in Istanbul were a thriving community of faith. So apparently are the house churches "actively persecuted" in China today.

So on one hand, there is value in shutting up and listening to Christians who have personally integrated the experience of relative powerlessness into their walks with Christ. If we are honest about our national histories, we may find that we need not look far to find them. Thinking confessionally, Anglicans particularly may learn a thing or two from the Anabaptists who have never expected any modern state to be their corpus christianum. One can also listen to Jews.

And on the other hand, to be wily as serpents but innocent as doves, rather than crazy as loons, shock words like *persecution* should be scrutinized from the perspective of such biblical themes as providence, temptation, union with Christ, and prayer. Protestants, having an especially close historic relationship with them, are used to trusting their control of modern states rather than God's rule of the world. Consequently, they do not know what they do not know about being Christians with little or no worldly power. Lurid fantasy, vague grievance, and misdirected rage fills the gap of that ignorance. These deserve pastoral attention as such emotions, in biblical faith, always do. That in turn requires that pastors learn a theological perspective on those emotions, which is a topic for another day.

In passing, religious persecution is more in the eye of the beholder than one thinks. George Washington firmly believed in religious tolerance, but during the Revolution his troops tarred and feathered some German ancestors of mine for being religious pacifists. Was that persecution of their religion? The calculated cruelty of a state at war? A xenophobic reaction to foreigners with strange ideas? Whatever. They liked America and stayed. It seems sane to draw two distinctions: (a) between authorised state prosecution and informal social discrimination, and (b) between harm that targets Christian identity as such and that which is just grinding of the gears of state. It is not persecution to be misunderstood, to be disliked, or to lose a social argument.

Whatever St John was doing with the sequence of trees in his forest, that and his letters leave no doubt of a certain paradox: the Light comes to everyone and testimony to it can be trusted, but with respect to its kingdom, in is in and out is out. Everyone could be in, but until one is truly in, the ways of God do not make sense. Indeed, other ways can seem humanly reasonable for a very long time. So the world is always somewhat silly about something, and part of being in, if one truly is in, is having the wisdom to understand why this is so.


Unknown said...

In mild support of Hypotheses 4 and 5: here and elsewhere, discussions of shrinking churches attract rather apocalyptic comments about politics. Why that rather than oh the state of the novel or the future of football? Many Protestants have identities in which political orientation (liberal or conservative) is fused with some confessional theology. Hence they do not experience political events as happenings in the silly world outside their inner faith. For them, a political win or loss is a religious experience.


Peter Carrell said...

Hello All
Thank you for brilliant engagement with this post and thread ... I can't engage myself right now, but am grateful for your stimulating responses!

Anonymous said...

Well, Shawn, as John Hus said to that peasant woman on his fateful day, "O Sancta Simplicitas!" I'm sure your contribution of brushwood will assist.
I imagine then that you agree with the sacking of the Anglican chaplain in that English school. Presumably he was just being "asked to treat his fellow human beings with a little decency"?
I have been observing the relentless shrinking of the Anglican Church of New Zealand for many years now and have seen it limping after 'liberal' culture and 'liberal' politics and all to no avail. Feminism, green theology, sacralizing Maoritanga and now embracing sexual revisionism have all been tried and with each change the church has aged and declined.
New Zealand has now become majority "non-religious", although weirdly there has also been some sort of revival of Maori paganism, as in that strange speech about taniwhas and Maori gods by the Foreign Minister - unless it was all some ironic joke. The Foreign Minister is apparently an alumna of a leading Anglican girls' school.
Well, back to the fever swamp for me - the liberal bromides have not drained it for me, I'm afraid. Good luck with your guy - it will be an exhilirating ride when Kamala gets behind that desk!

Anonymous said...

So, BW, leaving aside all the psychological speculations which I confess I cannot follow: your own Episcopal Church has a uSa of 600 000 - about a third of what it was 40 years ago while America's population is now c, 320 millions. The age of most congregants in Tec is long past that of having children. The average congregation had about 70 members before covid struck.
The same thing has happened- but even faster - to the Anglican Church of Canada.
Can you actually see things turning around for North American liberal Anglicanism in the next ten years? Why will it not go the way of the Shakers?

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the issue at hand, If I have understood BW rightly, and apologies in advance if I have not, I think we may be in agreement, more or less. Christians in the West have become used to a socially privileged position, and now face the reality that this is no longer the case, and is unlikely to be so again anytime soon, if ever. I maintain that the reasons for this are primarily due to large, sweeping historical tides and events, enabled by advances in science and technology, that have little to do with the Church itself, and while I think some church responses are better than others, the reality is that the growth of a post-Christian society really has nothing much to do with issues of conservatism or liberalism within the church, and there is nothing much the Church could have done to prevent it.

Moreover, I think this is an opportunity, rather than a disaster. The Church has the chance to forge a new identity, one not compromised by being tied to social privilege and the state, and thus one that may be closer to the spirit of the gospel. This will take time, deep thought and reflection, and it will sometimes be very uncomfortable, hence my comment about wandering in the wilderness. I do not think this will lead to any real persecution in the West. I look around at places like Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Myanmar and others and I find the use of that label by people living in Western liberal democracies absurd and more than a little silly. It does mean we are no longer in charge and can dictate to the rest of society. Again, I see this as a positive opportunity rather than a disaster. The loss of previous number of church attendees is painful, but do we really want people coming to church because of social expectations and pressure, or do we want people to come because they genuinely believe in the church's mission?

In forging this new identity we must do so without any fantasies of regaining Christendom. There is no going back, no secret formula of church growth, revival, no theology, liberal or conservative, and no disaster or pandemic, that is going to put the Church back in charge.

Father Ron said...

Well said, Shawn! If being a Christian were no more than obedience to a set of rules, without the impetus to serve others,, of what use would it be?

Anonymous said...

Personally I think "old Shawn" of yesteryear had a better grasp of social realities and fallen nature in rebellion against God than "new Shawn" with his happy optimism about modern secular people.
In the Jacobin revolution of your mind in recent years you seem to have forgotten that the Church is a Divine Institution purchased by the blood of Christ (I don't know what Christology you hold to now) and the Gospel of salvation through the Cross of Christ (aka "cosmic child abuse" by people exiting Christianity) is Divine Truth (my capitals are deliberate) for all the world.
As for the bogeyman "Christendom", you do not seem to recognise that the modern state was actually created by Christianity. It was not really "compromised by being tied to social privilege and the state" (that sounds like Anabaptist propaganda) rather it tried to Christianise the social order through just laws and good, universal education. Nothing to be ashamed of here. I am very glad North America was settled and built by British Protestants rather than Arab Muslims. Do children turn against their parents? All the time. It's the oldest story in the world (see Genesis 3).
As for ridiculing use of the word persecution: you don't experience it because you don't challenge the new secular order. You are not a teacher or school chaplain rejecting LGBT propaganda in state or even church schools, you are not a doctor in a state that has now authorised abortion on demand and will very soon mandate medically assisted suicide.
You don't face these personal challenges, so you don't experience a crisis of conscience. I have a very different story.


Unknown said...

Martin's 5:55 of May 10 deserves its own Hypothesis (7): Growing religious movements often organize spiritual counsel by gender. His points about men are salient, and we have heard analogous comments from women for years.


Anonymous said...

Hello Martin.

Given that I believe we are facing the very real possibility of human extinction due to an apocalyptic environmental crisis, I don't think happy optimism about modernity or human beings quite describes my view. In fact I blame aspects of modernity, as well as human greed, for that crisis, particularly the desacralisation of nature and life. Mourning the loss, as I do, of mythopoetic thinking and a deeply sacramental worldview is not really consistent with Jacobin revolution.

With regards to modernity it's not a simple case of either/or. Modernity contains both wheat and chaff like everything else. I think democracy and equality for women and LGBTQ people are good things. I think industrial scale destruction of the natural world is a bad thing. Modernity has both blessings and curses. Every age does.

It's the same with Christendom. It had both good aspects and bad aspects. Being honest about the bad is not being woke, it's just being honest. As Christians, surely we should be able to engage in some healthy examination of our sins and failings as Church? The Mystical Body may well be Divine, but specific historical churches and church institutions are run by human beings and human beings, as you point out, do bad things. Sticking our heads in the sand regarding the failings and sins of the Church and Christendom is not consistent with the gospel, and while Christendom may have had good points, it also compromised the Church and its and ability to act in accordance with the command to love our neighbour. In WW1 and 2 Christian ministers in Germany and Britain sent thousands of men to die claiming God was on their side. None of this means trashing the past uncritically or dismissing it totally. I wouldn't be reading books about medieval Christian spirituality if I thought everything about our past was bad.

The problem with conservative Christianity of the hardcore Christian Right variety, is that it has become so fearful and reactive that it no longer sees the real past, it sees a romanticised version of it, a version that has become an Idol set in a gilded cage. It has become so obsessed with preserving and defending that idol that it has lost the ability to hear the Spirit speaking in the here and now. Worse, in the name of defending that idol it has begun to ally itself to politicians and political ideologies promoting truly evil hatreds and bigotries that can, and have, led to real harm. Trump's border policies that separated children from their parents and put them in cages, and the horrific March 15 terror attack against innocent Muslims in NZ, being examples.

That last example, the March 15 terror attack, was the final end of the "old Shawn" as you put it. While my journey out of conservative Christianity and politics had begun some time before then, seeing that horror, seeing where hatred, bigotry, and the dehumanising of people who are different in some way can lead, was the real end of the "old Shawn". Looking at that evil, and seeing what it reflected back about myself, made me sick to my stomach. My desire to repent and change was born out of seeing that horrifying human evil in my own city, and the potential for it in my own heart, not out of Jacobin optimism.

Real persecution is not being told you can no longer teach children that gay people are damaged and their love is sinful, it's being mudered along with 50 other people while worshipping in a mosque.

Unknown said...

Hi Martin.

Personally, I think TEC (and even the SBC) is going the way of Rotary Clubs, the League of Women Voters, Boy Scouts, and other civic organizations. If they were growing whilst churches only were shrinking, then it would be clearer that Christianity itself were in some sort of crisis all its own. The most read guide to this atomisation of postmodern society is Robert Putnam's book Bowling Alone.

A second factor is the revolution in family structure and mores over the past two generations. It has clearly disrupted the old cycle of baptism, confirmation, marriage, baptism etc. The revolution may also make our god language harder for some to understand. People connect less across generations and more to cohorts of same aged peers. And the family-focused parishes of our childhoods have little appeal for those living about half their lives outside nuclear families.

In the US especially, moving from city to city to pursue a career has weakened the sense of belonging to a congregation. An accountant who loved his parish in Houston has to sort things out all over again in Seattle. Congregational religions naturally suffer.

These two or three undeniable trends explain so much of the decline we see that I have found little value in blaming one theological side or the other for it. Theology matters, not as an explanation for decline, but as a heuristic for doing Christianity differently in these new circumstances.


Unknown said...


On the word *persecution*.

Some use the word to indicate a matter of fact *social force* like education, bribery, venture capital, etc that nearly anyone can see. Generally, they have in mind some public state process directly against an identity. Lions' teeth in Christian flesh in some Roman arena where pagans, Jews, Christians, and atheists could all see it. Or Chinese government demolition of a church that leaves a rubble that any passerby can photograph, which was the point of doing it.

Others use the word to evaluate the friction they have with others who do not share their religious beliefs. The friction mentioned is usually either (a) other-minded persons will not associate with them, or (b) they cannot in good conscience support the revised mission of an employer. More speculatively, some use the word for an extreme interpretation of what the French call *laicite*-- a public realm without religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves, Christian crosses, etc.

Personally, I use *persecution* only in the first, non-evaluative way because that is clearer. But wherever there have been real Christians there has occasionally been friction over something, and mature churches are ready for that.

For example, my mother's family have been religious pacifists since before the Revolution, and in a country that fights lots of wars there has naturally been lots of friction with those who have felt strong moral motivation to go places, break things, kill people, etc. Nobody in three centuries has called this *persecution*. But from the beginning, pastoral care has included counseling for those facing military conscription. And the church sought and eventually won recognition of a legal status of *conscientious objector*. This history made it much easier for that church to oppose slavery, disobey Jim Crow laws, and advocate for the civil rights of black folk.

Christians who understand St John do not expect governments-- even ostensibly Christian ones-- to hear and heed the Holy Spirit as they do. But they do expect the Body to stand with them, and of course they also accept its discernment.


Unknown said...

Shawn, I am always surprised when anyone here agrees with me, because everything considered, that is not an easy thing to do. We all have different experiences and influences, and some of them have no replicas.

We do agree on the point most salient to + Peter's OP: the broad decline in overall church numbers is not explained by a fable in which wicked ideologues drove the public away from some natural condition of being churchly disciples of Jesus. The big picture is not one of petty grievances painted large.

Wf Rome had stabilized around Stoicism whilst Christians remained a vibrant minority promoting life in the Spirit, that would still have fulfilled prophecy. Or, if the Body had survived in the heart of Asia rather than north of the Mediterranean, the vibrant Nestorian missions might have flourished in a God-pleasing civilisation that we can almost imagine. (There were once 40 monasteries in Xian, and they made the first translations from Sanskrit into Chinese.) The apostolic deposit could have generated other worlds. God chose this one, and he is still choosing its aftermath.

As to other acts of providence, I respond with gratitude for the only Christianity the world has actually seen through time.


Anonymous said...

That's an interesting and also somewhat bewildering account you offer, Shawn. For myself I will say (and you will no doubt anticipate this) that I do not believe the world is about to drown in melted ice caps: an "apocalyptic environmental crisis" is precisely for me the thinking of the fever swamp. All the doomsaying predictions of the past 35 years have proved false and have been constantly revised: apocalypse not now. The much heralded catastrophe simply isn't happening. But all my life I have heard variant versions of "the end is nigh" (nuclear war, nuclear winter, Aids, global jihad, global warming, climate change and now coronavirus- what next?). Did you know the forests of America are substantially larger now than they were 100 years ago? And the rivers and air are cleaner than ever? Thst doesn't sound like imminent apocalypse to me. In fact there is more wealth and food in the world than at any time in history.
I haven't a clue what Obama's "cages" on the Mexican border and the vast people smuggling enterprise from central America using 'coyotes', or Tarrant's mass murder of Muslims in Christchurch have to do with evangelical Christianity.
But I guess you are perfectly relaxed that New Zealand now has abortion on denand and will soon introduce medically assisted suicide? Or that Christians are now a minority in the land? Or that Maori Christianity, once the most potent force in giving strength and direction to Maori, is withering on the vine - but the life chances of Maori are now poorer than ever? Or that New Zealand politicians, both Ardern and her so-called opposition - are terrified at the thought of offending Communist China and are making excuses for China's great evils?
And why do so many children in the wealthy "west" exhibit unhappiness and anxiety? There is a vacuum of purpose and meaning in the modern world that cannot be over ome by sacralizing sex (the only answer secularism has)- but Christ and his Gospel do not change.
Neither do the wiles of the devil. We must not be deceived.


Peter Carrell said...

I confess, Martin, to being slightly bewildered by your last comment.

1. That the world has not ended in a previous age of warnings and threats does not mean it will not do so. We have not ended in nuclear conflagration because we have worked hard to avoid that fate. It would be a pity if we did not work hard to avoid climate catastrophe.

2. Whether or not the 15 March shooter has anything to do directly with evangelical Christianity, it is worth asking whether evangelical Christianity has anything to do with a culture (or sub-culture) in which ideas of white supremacy and Islamophobia find fertile soil to grow in.

3. I have lived within evangelical Christianity all my life: it is my home and tribe, Christianly speaking. But even so, I find myself asking why if evangelical Christianity is the best way to understand and live out the Gospel, we evangelicals have so little impact on the world around us, notably here in NZ.

Anonymous said...

So, BW, you are saying that the Episcopal Church is basically a spent force and is dying out, along with Rotary and other older middle class clubs?
Thus is pretty much what I have believed for a while now. The aging of the congregations and the lack of children make this inevitable. The disappearance of Canadian Anglicanism is even more rapid, such that they are no longer publishing statistics,
But God in his providence has raised up the Anglican Church of North America, and I am confident from what I have seen of Foley Beach and his leadership that an orthodox Anglican presence will continue in North America.


Anonymous said...

Well, you asked, Peter, so let me venture an answer to your questions as far as I can.
1. There was no nuclear war because the Soviet Union collapsed - as only a few visionaries in the 1980s could foresee. The left completely misread history - as it always does. As it still does. Jacinda Ardern's acquiescence to Communist China is as understandable as it is deplorable. Like Aung Suu Kyi.
2. What relation did Tarrant have to Christianity at all? I am not aware of any. That sounds like a smear to me. As for the bogeyman of "Islamophobia": the conflict that is gathering steam in France between radical Muslims and indigenous French has nothing to do with evangelicals, who are few and far between in France. Similarly in Britain. Or in Italy, where there are very few evangelicals but scores of thousands of African migrants crossing from Libya. And the Christians of Egypt, Sudan Pakistan, Indonesia etc suffering at the hands of Islamic supremacy have no idea what "white supremacy" is. But probably not many of them watch MSNBC.
3. I don't know why. Orthodox and Catholic Christians may ask a similar question but may know how to take a longer and larger perspective. NZ Christianity can be a bit myopic and without much historical sense prior to 1814. But I found Rod Dreher's recent book on Christians living in a hostile culture (applying lessons from eastern Europe to America) has some interesting pointers.


Anonymous said...

Hello Bowman.

I agree that the current numerical decline of the Church is not the result of liberal theology, or a conspiracy of wicked secular activists and politicians waging a war against Christmas, but a result of forces and tides that are largely economic in nature, and of course the simple fact that people now have freedom to choose. The reality that in a post-Christendom society people can safely exercise a choice to practice Christianity or not without fear of social or legal repercussions is a major factor. We are just going to have to accept that when given the freedom and safety to choose, many people voted with their feet. For a time evangelicalism seemed to be bucking that trend, but this was an illusion. In the US almost all of the major evangelical denominations are also facing serious decline. Newer conservative churches are, at best, only picking over the bones of the older denominations. They are having no impact on the overall numbers, and are not likely to.

The role of economics and technology in all of this have perhaps not received the attention they should. Smaller families are a result of relative wealth and economic security, not ideology. Japan is facing the same issue with regards to birth rates, as is China and increasingly much of the Middle East as well. Contrary to the anti-Muslim hysteria on the far right Muslim birth rates are also beginning to decline. The growth of economic globalisation, an internet based economy, automation, artificial intelligence and other technological and economic trends are changing the nature work, family, and social structures far more deeply and powerfully than any liberal activist could hope for.

As you point out all of this this means the traditional parish structure is ill suited for the times. Large inter-generational families are disappearing and people are far more mobile, and these trends here are only going to continue for the foreseeable future. Current church structures made sense in an agrarian society, and during the early industrial period, but they make less sense now as time goes on. What kind of church structures may be better suited for the times is an important question. I think that modified forms of early medieval religious orders based on a shared rule of life may be one possibility.

Anonymous said...

Hello Martin.

I'm not sure what was bewildering about my account. I had a good hard look at the Christian Right I was a part of, and did not like what I saw. What I saw was far too much lip service to "Jesus" and "the Gospel" but little of the kind of humble, loving, non-judgemental and forgiving ways Jesus modelled and taught. I saw self-satisfied theological arrogance, hatred towards liberals, gays and Muslims, and a willingness, even pleasure, in seeing evil in others and society, but a wilful blindness to seeing it within themselves or their churches. I saw a growing alliance between the Christian Right and far-right politicians promoting the kinds of resentments and hatreds that helped propel the Nazis to power, and motivated the March 15 terrorist. I saw an obsession with sex and abortion despite the fact that the Jesus hardly ever deals with the former, says nothing at all about the latter, and clearly makes economic oppression and abusive social privilege the central and primary part of his ethical teachings.

That last one is not a liberal take on the Bible by the way, it's what is actually there in the four gospels. As a good evangelical I read the Bible daily, and the more I read the gospels, the more this discrepancy between what Jesus was concerned about and what the Christian Right was concerned about on ethical issues became difficult to ignore. Eventually I just could not maintain the cognitive dissonance this required. Either Jesus was right or the Christian Right was, but they were not saying the the same thing when it came to ethics and society.

Now to be clear I am talking only about the political Christian Right here, not about all evangelicals or all conservatives. Nor am I saying that everything about liberalism is good and right. I have critiques there as well. For the record I voted against the legalisation of euthanasia. Jesus' ethical teachings should make everyone and every political ideology seriously uncomfortable.

What I am comfortable with, and what the Church has no choice but to be comfortable with, is that we now, in the West, live in a pluralistic society in which we have to negotiate, through the process of peaceful debate and democracy, what kind of society we live in and what laws we have. This does not have to make us fearful. We have to live with the fact that women and minorities who had little to no voice in previous times now get to have a say in how society is run. This also does not have to make us fearful.

Unknown said...

No, Martin, Hypothesis 6. I expect TEC to thrive as a smaller body in its new cosmopolitan niche, and hope that ACNA pulls itself together for those who prefer a more tribal denominational identity. Neither church will go the way of the Shakers because both do attract new members, but both niches will be smaller than those of the last heyday of grand denominations, the 1950s. Shrinking is not disappearing; growing is not world conquest; survival depends most on a distinctive offering.

Interest in classical Anglicanism is growing in both denominations.


Unknown said...

So long as a sketch of the web of causes gets to Social Atomisation --> Associations Shrink --> Churches Shrink, Shawn, it may be a fairly good start. Factors that explain the shrink of unions, garden clubs, bowling leagues, etc probably best explain the causation of what is happening in churches.

In passing, I have almost retired the word *conservative* from my vocabulary. In our moment, Max Scheler's *ressentiment* (French, two esses) is usually a better explanation of what they collectively say and do than a simple desire for continuity with tradition. We urgently need a pastoral praxis for Protestants who feel more humiliated by their loss of social power than invigorated by the gospel.


Anonymous said...

Shawn: what you are describing is actually the progressive death of Christianity as churches become ever smaller and the state, allied to media and the health industry, becomes ever larger and ever more controlling over speech, admission to employment, and the very character of the church and what it may say and do. Censorship of "hate speecch" is a cause beloved of the left, and Ardern is duly following that playbook in New Zealand. Like John Hus's peasant woman, will you offer your brush wood as well?
In other words, modern Scandinavia, especially Sweden, where Christianity has almost entirely died out among indigenous Swedes but Islam - of a kind - exists among immigrant community. That is New Zealand's likeliest prospect, mutatis mutandis.
I notice that you brushed aside the matter of abortion, as if it was an irrelevance - complete with the non sequitur "Jesus never said anything about it"! I am glad my Catholic education taught me to beware of that kind of myopis fundamentalism. Actually abortion is completely central to the creation of the modern world. And I think you have entirely and fatally underestimated the significance of sex and sexual conduct in modern ideology. You do not seem to see why it is central to the modern secular left. Carl Trueman's recent book (with a foreword by Rod Dreher) "The Triumph of the Self" chronicles how we got to where we are. What you dismiss as obsessions of the Christian Right are in fact the obsessions of the Secular Left and central to modern leftwing identity politics.

BW: the Episcopal Church continues to exist on dead men's money, as do a lot of cultural heritage clubs. And like Swedenborgians and Unitarians, tiny pockets may persist for aging antiquaries for another thirty years or more. But it is now in freefall in its northeast heartlands and it will have no relevance in evangelism. A church that doesn't have children ceases to be a church pretty soon. If you are a parent, you will understand this.
As for "tribalism": try as I may, I do not understand your idiosyncratic sociologese (or most of your idiosyncratic sociological analyses). I think we all belong to tribes, but some elite and moneyed social classes don't recognise this.


Anonymous said...

"The left completely misread history - as it always does."

The left was completely right that the invasion of Iraq by Bush 2 was predicated on falsehoods and would be a disaster. The left was also right that the "war on terror" would lead to more terrorism. It was also right that slashing financial and banking regulations would lead to disaster, and they did indeed lead to the 2008 financial crisis.I can think of several other issues where they have been right. And Simon Bridges has been a far stronger defender of China, as has the National party in general, than Jacinda Adern. In fact I think your claims regarding that matter are very selective.

The environmental crisis is not however a left wing issue, it is a matter of overwhelming scientific evidence.

"What relation did Tarrant have to Christianity at all? I am not aware of any."

He was motivated by a similar ideology regarding Islam that has also been promoted by the US Christian Right. That's not a smear, just a fact. Many conservative US evangelicals, such as Franklin Graham as just one example among many, as well as many conservative Right politicians in the US, Europe and elsewhere, have engaged in anti-Muslim bigotry and cited the "great replacement" conspiracy that motivated the terrorist. Hungary has been ruled for over 10 years by a Christian politician who promotes this kind of fear mongering hatred. This rhetoric has real world consequences, potentially murderous consequences. The Right, imo, has blood on its hands.

However, my point in citing both of those issues, the March 15 terror attack and the environmental crisis, is not to debate those issues specifically, but to point out that "Jacobin optimism" is not a reasonable description of my current views, and certainly not a motivation for them. On the contrary, a deep appreciation of the human potential for evil is why left the Right for the liberal left.

Anonymous said...

Hello Bowman,

Yes, I agree that ressentiment is a more accurate description than conservatism for what we see in the Church and society today in some quarters.

I also agree that the trend of social atomisation in society is the primary cause for the shrinking of the Church, and again, this trend has very little to do with any political ideology, or any particular theology, but is the result of economic and technological changes which are ongoing. This may reverse in time, and I have come across at least one critique of the Bowling Alone theory which claimed that rather than atomisation what was changing was the nature and type of voluntary associations. Either way, the Church needs to factor this into it's thinking and planning regarding the future and the kind of society we will likely have in a few decades.

As far as theology goes, the problem with ressentiment conservatism is that it cannot live out Kingdom values while raising the drawbridge, building walls, living in fear of the rest of society, and resisting any and all change. The problem with a certain kind of 20th century liberal Christianity is that it assumed modernity would kill off the mythic and the supernatural, and a purely rational religion would take its place. The Church is not well served with either of these options.

Unknown said...

To me, Shawn, ressentiment seems rather to explain why good theological work from say the confessional Reformed (eg Richard Gaffin) is not reparative on the ground for their churches. It's not their fault that local congregations of that ilk are too preoccupied with WASP identity politics to retrieve themes (eg union with Christ) at the heart of that tradition (eg Calvin, Institutes, 3.1.1).

Post-liberal theology (eg Hans Frei, Robert Jenson) has likewise has done good work (eg biblical narrative, Trinity) that gets little traction in mainline churches. Instead, we get the vicars who read the Bible rather flatly and preach social emergencies weekly.


Father Ron said...

Martin said:

"But God in his providence has raised up the Anglican Church of North America, and I am confident from what I have seen of Foley Beach and his leadership that an orthodox Anglican presence will continue in North America."

My question is this: How 'orthodox' is this prelate of ACNA who travelled abroad, recently, to New Zealand to 'co-ordain' a schismatic ex-priest of ACANZP as a 'bishop' in his own 'Church' - in our country - purporting to represent 'orthodox Anglicans' here? This does not sound like classical orthodoxy to me, but rather a rogue prelate 'ordaining' whom he likes as part of his own schismatic organisation - certainly not the 'Church Catholic'.

Perhaps you are not aware that ACNA is not recognised by the A.C.C. (of which ACANZP is a member) ? Neither in ACNA recognised by the official Anglican Church in the U.S.A. (TEC).

Anonymous said...

I'm curious. If God can raise up entire denominations, if He is the sovereign Lord and King who brought the Church with the blood of His Son, why has He apparently been utterly powerless to prevent the decline of the Church in the West in the first place?

Other questions arise for me. Why, if the ultimate destiny of millions of individual souls are at stake, could He not start a Church of some kind millions of years before He apparently did so? Why did He create and then apparently kill off all the Neanderthals? Were they all evil? Or a failed experiment?

Why did He not just put the Apostle's Creed and the Trinitarian theology of Persons and Substance in the Bible from the get go and prevent hundreds of years of bickering, not to mention a few murders? Why, if He is Lord of the Church, could He not stop the Church from splitting into multiple denominations and theological traditions, which it began to do very early on and has not stopped since?

Why, if "orthodoxy" is so important, could God not be very, very, super clear about what is and is not orthodox? Because off the top of my head I can think of four major Christian traditions that claim to be orthodox, all of which have different views and teachings aa to what it is, and hundreds more denominations who all disagree about the details? And all of them cite the Bible, or Tradition, or both. All of them claim God is peaking to them, but He seems to be saying different things to different groups. Why, if the Bible is the clear and inerrant Word of God, do we need a large army of theologians to explain what it says, and why do they disagree amongst themselves about that very thing?

Finally, If the Bible is the epitome of moral law and perfection, why does it not condemn child abuse, spousal abuse, slavery, torture or genocide? Why, if abortion and euthanasia are two of the great moral issues of our day, is the Bible silent on both?

So we have a picture of God who is supposedly the all-powerful Master of everything, lets call this the "Big Man in Charge" version of God, with a life or death message for us that we need to hear clearly or risk burning in hell forever, because this God gets very angry and has to hurt us if we disobey Him, (think about that image for a moment, and supposedly this is ok because he has elected a few lucky chosen ones he forgives by hurting His Son instead), but at the same time He seems seriously incompetent in how He runs His Church, and His speaking to us is more like the incoherent mumbling of a very elderly person to whom you want to say "speak up, we can't hear you clearly!"

Perhaps our understanding of God is in serious need of an overhaul? Perhaps too, these sort of questions might be one possible factor in why many people in the West no longer find the Church credible?

Jean said...

Hi Shawn,

I have been trying to keep abreast of the comments on this thread many of which provide food for thought, however, I felt compelled to respond to your last one regarding questions concerning God or the understanding of God. I do comprehend you have voiced these in the context of the ongoing discussion you have been having with Martin. I share my thoughts on your musings.

Raise up certain denominations but utterly powerless in the decline of the church in the west: I am unsure if you are using irony here. God is not powerless, however, he rules by power for not power over and therefore wherever God sends His Spirit and revives His Church (aka his followers) it will be because the people’s hearts and minds ‘seek His face.’

Start the church at a different point in history: “At just the right time Christ died for the ungodly” - while the historical timing of Christ’s crucifixion as in ‘why then’ may remain a mystery I do not believe the question of ‘what about all those who lived before and didn’t have the ‘opportunity to be saved’ does. As I understand the reach of Christ’s salvation was both retrospective (covering those who came before) as well as stretching into the future. There is the mention of Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison and also When he ascended on high he led captivity captive" (Ephesians 4:8) ‘ notwithstanding when Jesus stood on the Mount of Transfiguration he met with both Moses and Elijah who were apparently still very much alive, although dead.

Not stop the church from splitting: Perhaps for the same reason he doesn’t stop people from robbing houses, people have free will. Albeit assuming God is ‘unhappy’ with denominations splitting due to ‘certain topics’.

Why doesn’t the bible condemn child abuse, spousal abuse, slavery, torture or genocide.. abortion, euthanasia: I have always found the Bible to use the polite word ‘discourage’ such activities, e.g. in regard to children ‘it would be better for any of you to hang a millstone around his neck than to harm any of these little ones’, or the repetitive theme from Genesis onward that God alone has authority to shed blood/take life for life is in the blood (not that people necessarily obeyed) and God is the author of life (this can be applied to genocide, abortion and euthanasia). Euthanasia was a common practice amongst the Roman’s as was infanticide until the influence of Christianity.

Life or death message we need to hear or else burn in hell forever, forgive some by hurting his son instead: Umm.. God is not the author of death/sin, Satan is. The penalty of sin is death. Jesus chose to die, as the Bible points out at any point he could have called on a legion of angels to save him but ‘for the joy set before him he endured the cross.’ And Jesus died, “once for all” - not some. However, all humans are also gifted with free choice and this includes choosing to accept ‘so great a salvation.’

Incompetent in how he runs His Church, speaking in incoherent mumbling: Well yes God in his infinite wisdom has decided to use us as his people to run His Church - we have this treasure in jars of clay so that people will know it is of God and not of us.” God is the ‘head’ of the Church, however, The Church is neither denominational nor a building but all those people who follow Christ. Usually I find I mumble more incoherently than God does.

Anonymous said...

Shawn: I remember (or perhaps misremember) a Catholic priest talking to us as a group of schoolboys many years ago, saying something like the following:
"You may find questions of faith confusing to follow. I know if I were God, I would have written the message up in the sky so that everyone could see and there would be no doubt about things.But God chose a different way."
Then he went to talk about Christ.
But as I reflected on this years later, having studied Pascal and seeing everywhere the teleology of nature, I concluded that God did in fact write his message in the sky as well as in the Incarnation. The question is not "Is there a message out there (and in here)?" but "Who can read it?"
But I think you knew that already. One of the profoundest hymns ever written (in pellucidly simple English) is William Cowper's "God moves in a mysterious way" (Graham Kendrick has produced a beautiful version):

"Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan his plan in vain.
God is his own interpreter
And he will make it plain."

Ave atque vale,

Unknown said...

Hmmm... There are sententiae that are not unreliable in a conversation with a prospect about his own conversion but are inadequate to a wider conversation about the history of God with creatures. That is not scandalous in itself, but it becomes so when the converted one understands his salvation as though it were not part of that history, and resists reframing that integrates God's love for him into his love for all that he has made.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jean

No, I’m not being ironic. In my experience many evangelical/conservative Christians have a power over model of God in mind. Revival, or raising up churches, is spoken of in terms that place all the power in God’s hands. Yet, this same God is supposedly losing an entire civilisation. I really do think there is a contradiction here.

I don’t buy the free will argument regarding salvation. This doesn’t solve the problem, it makes it worse. Clearly millions of people have never heard of Jesus, and this includes millions who lived and died after his death, but before Christianity became global and well known. Millions today live in the religions of their parents, religions different to Christianity. They live their lives based on their culture, society, and ancestral heritage. Do they really get to choose Jesus or not? Children in parts of the world starve to death in the thousands every year, or their lives are cut short in other ways. Have they really hard a chance to choose? What about those whose lives are so damaged by abuse or oppression that any ability to choose is gone, or they are so busy trying to survive or just stay sane that even thinking about the issue is impossible. No, I just don’t believe that everyone gets that choice. That’s nice and neat theologically, but does not reflect the complexity of the real world or the complexity of peoples actual lives. Also, no matter how you slice and dice it, this model still involves hundreds of millions of people ending up in hell because they failed to make the right choice. A God who would put us in this particular world and set things up in this way is not loving.

I think we need to dump the whole Fall/Sin/Salvation/Heaven/Hell model and rethink what the Good News is, because to many people today, this does not sound like Good News.

And yes, God is the author of death, because we know from science that death is a natural, normal, necessary part of the way the universe functions. Without death life would not be possible. He made it that way. Death has been a part of the universe from its inception, it did not appear billions of years after the Big Bang because a human being ate an apple.

Sure, you can claim that the Bible may teach by inference that abortion or euthanasia are wrong, but that’s not something the Bible actually says. God does command the shedding of blood in places, and in the case of the Canaanites, genocide, including the mass murder of children and pregnant women. On the issue or killing in general, the Bible is all over the place. That’s why there has always been disagreement between pacifists and just war advocates.

The earthen vessel idea only goes so far in explaining the problem of why there is so much disagreement about the Bible and what “orthodoxy” is. It does not explain why the Bible often seems to contradict itself, why Arminians and Calvinists can both make their case using the same Bible, or why the Bible just seems so unclear to many people. I would suggest that we might try thinking about the Bible itself as an earthen vessel, that, is an imperfect vessel that contains treasure.

All of this gets back to the issue Bishop Peter has raised, about why many people don’t seek out the Church in times of trouble in our society. I believe that part of the problem is that the traditional way of telling the story of Christ and the Good News just isn’t credible to many people in the West anymore.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jean,

I bring all this up partly to challenge a certain political form of strident Christian thinking, but more importantly, I have come to believe that the way Christians and churches speak about God and how we describe the Good News is a problem, not just in how society hears what we say, but also in what kinds of Christians and church institutions it creates. For much of our history, power over, not power for, has been the primary way God has been understood and talked about, and this has, and still does, lead to problems. The abuse scandals in various churches including our own can partly be explained because of a power over way of thinking that traditional theology and God-talk has encouraged. Bishop Peter wonders why the pandemic did not lead to people coming back to church and suggests people are too comfortable. Yet given that the abuse scandal is still in the news, I think other reasons might be a cause as well. Nor is the problem just about that specific issue. More than a few people have pointed out that the "Big Man in Charge" model of God has led to problems in other areas, the oppression of women and the environmental crisis for example. Human beings and societies tend to embody the ideas about God we believe in, so this is about more than just who we think God is, it's about us as well.

Given various factors at play in society and the world it is unlikely that the Church will be in a majority position again anytime soon, certainly not in the West, and in time probably not anywhere. But the Church can learn to thrive, not just survive, by more deeply modelling and living the power for and power with way Jesus lived and taught. This will require a deep root and branch change in our God-talk, our understanding of what salvation might be, and our church structures.

Father Ron said...

Bishop Peter. Father Ron here: I've just encountered this warning about ADU:

Deceptive site ahead
Attackers on may trick you into doing something dangerous like installing software or revealing your personal information (for example, passwords, phone numbers, or credit cards). Learn more

Father Ron said...

Reading once again, through this barrage of comment, I came across, today, the following comment from ANGLICAN TAONGA, which should hearten us all:

"What does it mean to be a priest - indeed, to be a baptised Christian - in the modern world?

It means to bear witness to the unlikely truth that, behind the facade of modern life, God lives. This God of mercy and judgement is made known to us in word and sacrament, and is waiting for us, if we will only heed the call and turn aside. Despite the grossness of our sin, our capacity for extraordinary cruelty, and the endless moral compromises of the faithful throughout the ages - nonetheless, God lives. And nothing in earth or heaven, in the end, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

- James Harding is a senior lecturer in the theology programme at the University of Otago.

What is disturbing, for me, was the news that the new ABP of Sydney joins with local GAFCON afficionadoes, in threatening the upcoming ACA General Synod with subversive action if they allow the Australian Anglican Church to bless same-sex unions. (see - kiwianglo). What does this say about Anglican collegiality?

Father Ron said...

Further to my last comment, today, here is the latest publication from CCAANZ:

Kanishka Raffel, Archbishop-elect of Sydney

Kanishka Raffel, Dean of Sydney, has been elected as the 13th Archbishop of the Diocese of Sydney. Bishop Jay Behan has sent greetings to Archbishop-elect Raffel and released the following statement on his election:
“We are delighted to see the election of Kanishka Raffel as the next Archbishop of Sydney.
Alongside his long-term ministries in Perth and Sydney, Kanishka has also shown a long-term commitment to the growth of the gospel outside Australia, and to encouraging Bible-believing Anglicans around the world. As well as being the Dean of Sydney and a member of the Gafcon Australia Board, Kanishka has visited New Zealand a number of times, most recently for my consecration, and has been a great encouragement as we have established the Church of Confessing Anglicans. Most importantly, Kanishka is a faithful minister of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many of us here have already been encouraged, challenged and blessed through his teaching and ministry. We look forward to continuing our warm, gospel-centred friendship and partnership with Archbishop-elect Kanishka, and I encourage all CCA church members to pray for him as he moves into his new sphere of ministry.”

Unknown said...

Father Ron, should Shawn be listening to Richard Rohr?


Father Ron said...

A brief reply to your's, Bowman; I beliIeve, YES! The Church needs to live in the love of Christ - in an increasingly unbelieving world that does not see that love being administered in parts of the Church (sadly).

Unknown said...

I grew up in a churchly ethos that was not bossy, but brotherly, knowing God as the Father, and the Son, and not least the Holy Spirit. Is this unusual down under?

The Big Man in Charge mentioned above sounds to me like the human projection that was described by Feuerbach and Freud, and exploited by authoritarians and fascists. As a feature of human nature, it is ubiquitous, and just so, not especially Christian.

By definition, disciples of Jesus integrate the Persons into their imaginations and spirituality. This seems to absorb or displace the dreaded BMiC with a more sublime divinity: "You are servants no longer, but friends..."

But naturally, precisely naturally, others not so well-integrated project BMiC onto biblical language about the Three, vedic language about say Vishnu, political language about demogogues, etc. The first of these are not quite ignorant of the three Persons-- they have usually heard of them, and may claim to believe in them-- but their life and worship have no explicit place for the divine circumincession. They understand personal salvation as safety from the BMiC, not as participation in the life of the Three.

Inasmuch as BMiC is a dangerous idol, those stuck in that concept of the divine should indeed pray to be shown a better one. Persons deeply attracted to Jesus will find his Father and Holy Spirit no less alluring.


Father Ron said...

Precisely, Bowman. And this is why - as sisters and brothers in Christ, we need to feed on Him Who is the 'Bread of Life, in the Eucharistic unity only He can give. The Triune God is thereby renewed within the Body to engage with and renew the Divine Image implanted in every human being. "Where charity and love are; there is God" (Antiphon for Holy Thursday when Jesus washed his disciiples' feet - after the Last Supper.


Come, Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of the faithful with the fire of your LOVE!

Unknown said...


From the back of a galloping horse, Christianity is a messianic variant on Judaism, Protestantism is a reframing of that for individuals, and Evangelicalism optimizes that reframing for proselytizing. The Messiah, individuals, and conversion are all good, but the end result is a diminished imaginary. For example, heaven in the scriptures is different in kind from what most modern churchfolk understand it to be.

Many, if not most, find it difficult to integrate a religion all about their own conversion into the cosmic panorama of the creeds and scriptures. For them, the most radical, innovative, breakthrough, NEW! IMPROVED! theology would be the headwaters of the river they only know from locks in a canal.

This is not to deny that some new proposals in theology have had merit. For instance, the work of Robert Jenson and Eberhard Jungel on the Holy Spirit impresses even those who disagree with it.

But theology worth praying does not come like sausage from a methodological meat-grinder. And many would find sonatas easier to play if they first practiced scales.


Anonymous said...

"The Messiah, individuals, and conversion are all good, but the end result is a diminished imaginary."


That is in part my own concern here, that the focus has become all about human sin, and that in a very individualistic, puerile and legalistic way, and we sometimes, in some theologies, forget the social and cosmic dimensions, which, ironically, have been revealed by modern science. The universe was here for billions of years before human beings came along, and if we go the way of the Dodo, will be here for billions of years more. Humanity and the Earth are not the centre of the universe. Something vastly bigger than us is going on in the universe, and thus with God. We need to weave this cosmic dimension better and more explicitly into our theology and teaching.

Take the Fall for example. Clearly, from our understanding of the science, human beings did not introduce violence and death into the universe. They were here already. Moreover, human beings had little if any choice but to go along with evolutionary needs regarding selfishness and violence, simply to survive. We were literally biologically pre-determined for selfishness and violence. In some respects, we were the victims of evolutionary needs and impulses (Powers and Principalities?), and all this entails for humanity; crime, violence, killing and war. The idea that the guilt is all on us, and that Jesus had to die to assuage God's wrath against us, seems deeply unfair to the realities humanity finds itself confronting in a world we did not make.

So then, where do we go theologically? The are multiple avenues we could go down, and likely several are a good idea. One is to look Eastward at the more cosmic way the Eastern Orthodox Churches understand the gospel. Another is the Creation Spirituality of Matthew Fox and others. And yet another is to look at the cosmic warfare model of people like Gregory Boyd and Walter Wink, one of the only theological ideas from my evangelical days I have kept and still find useful. Further, placing the social dimensions of Jesus' Kingdom proclamation of liberation from oppression, poverty and social exclusion (including for LGBT people) at the heart of our message of Good News.

Finally, while I somewhat agree with what you say regarding the BMiC vs the Persons of the Trinity, the Church has more often than not fallen into teaching and modelling the former rather than the later, and our language (and some of the images of God in the OT) have not helped. I suggest, and this will elicit groans from some, that we adopt far more female imagery of God in our theology and worship as both a counter-balance and as a more expansive undressing of who and what God is. We might look to the work of Elisabeth A. Johnson in her book 'She Who Is' as an example.

This really must be my last post, as I have online lectures to watch and essays and work to be done (I'm currently doing Harvard's Intro to Computer Science through Edx) and it's far too easy and enticing to get distracted here!

Blessings to all!

Jean said...

Hey Shawn

I understand you are challenging an outworking of Christianity which comes from a polarising (at both ends) and in some countries political ... BW I can’t say generically whether believers downunder have grown up in Churches whereby the Gospel has been aligned within the framework of the ‘Big Man in Charge’. For myself, no. The Holy Spirit was the most missing member of the trinity in both preaching and worship as I grew up.

By the time I came on the scene Christianity was no longer aligned with any political or social power, if anything it has always in my lived experience been the opposite-to be Christian was to be unpopular and to be treated with suspicion. I too wrestle at different times with parts of the Bible and just what I will term as ponderings over certain teachings of our faith. Actually the comment I made in my last post regarding God not being the Author of death came out of such a wrestling. Many years ago when my Grandmother was ill I got quite angry with God (not unusual for me) and I kept badgering him about how he could invent death and how it can’t be that people just don’t exist anymore. And yes I knew the theology then too, sometimes we need more than intellectual ascent. As I sat in the hospital cafe right in front of me was a newspaper in perhaps the only city in NZ that still printed a daily verse. That verse was from Hebrews 2:14 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--“. I personally find the Bible is fathomless when it comes to comprehension yet this has for me when in combination with the Holy Spirit led to regarding it as more rather than less ‘the Word of God’.

Peter raises wealth and a turning from justice within the body of Christ in NZ as a possible contributor to fewer Christians in churches and BW offers some other helpful insights. Bringing up scripture, I know, again - the premise is we do what we are called to do - some sew the seed, some harvest etc and God gives the growth. So I guess the question in our western democracies becomes are we doing what we are called to do?


Anonymous said...

Um, in my last post undressing should have been something else. I don't remember what now, but definitely something else! Hmmm...I blame Safari's spell checking, but what would a Freudian say?!!!

Buy for now.

Anonymous said...

Oh my, Shawn. I took CS 50 as an intensive double-course over a summer. In its different way, it was, shall we say, as absorbing as Math 55. Nobody finished assignments in time to dine properly in Annenberg Hall, so we grilled late night suppers outdoors in the Yard. Blessings on your studies!

On the "diminished imaginary" of modern religion, you've stopped at a good place.

("Diminished imaginary?" Dallas Willard criticised even evangelical religion as mostly "sin management" for the Western psyche, which is a far narrower motivation than we observe in the people of the Bible or experience for ourselves when reciting the Psalms. This shrunken sense of what life in God can be and in what sort of creation we do it is what Shawn and I seem to have been talking about.)

Some have been born presentists; I am not one of them. While I am not hostile to those who do take the recent past as their starting point and then set out to fix things here and there where they are (eg Elizabeth A. Johnson), that is not the approach that I have taken.

Pondering the end of Christendom in the 1970s, it seemed simpler after that caesura to just reset: start from the Judaic beginning, follow with caution its development through the first millennium, and this time avoid the meandering detours that led to the present impasse. This approach has differed from a presentist one in four ways: (1) The schism of the fathers and the rabbis is understood in a more contemporary way; (2) The patristic and monastic paradigm of theology (cf Jean Leclerq, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God) is given as much weight as the scholasticism of the schoolmen, reformers, and moderns; (3) Accordingly, the Western errand into justification theory C13-21 is not privileged over other currents; (4) Past critics of the Pilgrim Church's turn-offs, digressions, and detours are reappraised in the light of hindsight.