Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Challenge of the Old Testament; reasons for being Anglican

I haven't made the progress I would have liked on a slow writing post so here are a couple of articles that have caught my eye this past week:

On the challenges of the Old Testament.

On reasons for being Anglican

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Perturbations, Mark 4:35-41, digging deep, trusting Tories

So, this week, the perturbations in the Christian global body include:

A lurch towards moderation

The Southern Baptist Convention cast a vote towards a modest amount of action on sexual abuse within their denomination (in the face of strident conservatives known as Pirates - let's take our church back - not wanting this to happen).

A (fairly well advance signalled) lurch towards (or reaffirmation of) conservatism

US Catholic bishops begin process which could lead to (e.g.) Joe Biden being refused communion. And simultaneously fired up the rumbling blaze between "conservative" and "liberal" Catholics in the US and beyond.

An apology from a Primate about a bishop's poor social media form in another Anglican province

Yes, The Archbishop of Canterbury, no less, has apologised for the actions of an "untrusting" Church of Wales bishop. (Her actions certainly needed an apology, but the ABC contributing an apology is somewhat bemusing).

Is there a link between Christian teaching on the subordination of women and domestic abuse of Christian wives?

Not far from here, just across the Ditch, a survey has highlighted a disproportionately high number of Anglicans, relative to the general population, experiencing domestic violence (here). Julia Baird is the leading journalist (as far as I can tell) on these matters. Six years ago she raised the question whether teaching on headship was a contributory factor to domestic violence in some Christian households (here). Six days ago, Jane, a former wife of an Anglican minister and domestic violence survivor writes in a more personal vein of her experience of hearing such teaching. She specifically questions the emphasis placed on such teaching in the Diocese of Sydney (here).

Today's gospel (as I begin writing this post) is Mark 4:35-41, the Stilling of the Storm, one reading of which is that the boat is the church, the storm is the perturbations which threaten the church as it sails through time and on the lake of the world, and the cry to Jesus to wake up highlights both the presence of Jesus in our midst and our lack of confidence in his care of the church.

We could have endless, nuanced discussions about each of these perturbations (for a brief example, note comments in the thread to the post below this re Biden. communion and abortion).

But each perturbation raises a simple question, what is the truth of the matter at hand?

This is my supplementary question: am I (are you) willing to dig deep into the matter so we do not stop at some convenient point and declare we have the truth already?

If there is - arguably - one connecting point for most of the perturbations above then it is that we reach a point of convenience when we declare that teaching X = mark of  Christian tribal identity. That rather shuts down further questing for the truth because we are combining the question of whether X is true with the question of who is in or out of our Christian tribe.

I want to come back to one matter in a forthcoming post, about "headship" teaching re men and women.

OK, the question of connection between communion and commitment to doctrine is also interesting so that might come up too.

Meantime, let's remember that Tories can be trusted. They are not all untrustworthy. The untrustworthy ones dominate the headlines but aren't the majority!

And to all bishops Tweeting out there, take care :)

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The outside God who works inside all our constructions of church and theology

The post below may not grab you so it may be enough to steer you towards this perceptive review of a pertinent book about a papal theologian.

Included in the review is this phrase,

"God's revelation comes to us from outside of us",

which, in the context of a review of a book by Protestant theologians evaluating and engaging the theology of Benedict XVI, reminds us that God is outside of us in all ways, not only as revealer, and thus all experience of God at work within each of our constructions of church and theology represents gracious choice on the part of God to be with us, to support us, to enable us to become what God intends us to be, even though I within my church or theology may think you in yours are quite wrong!

Put more simply: it is possible (in fact I am certain of it), that God is at work among all churches, no matter how they view each other's theologies and practices.

That does mean, of course, that I in my ecclesial corner and you in yours should take care not to leap from "God is answering our prayers" to "God is on our side (and not on yours)."

How is God at work in the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch?

That question sits alongside a very personal question for me in my role as bishop: How would I like God to be at work in the Diocese of Christchurch? (By which question I mean, Here is my list of problems I would rather like solved by tomorrow!!).

How is God at work in the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch?

One of the matters I have seen God at work in, and have expectations in faith that God will continue to work in, is the matter of supply of leaders for our ministry and mission.

We currently have two vacancies and some more are in the pipeline of the next six to twelve to eighteen months.

Sometimes I can "see" the resolution of a vacancy and sometimes I cannot. Cue a reminder that faith is part of the role:

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

It is an awesome thing to experience God at work - the outside God's gracious choosing to be inside the life of the church - God with us - Immanuel.

There are many other matters for which we need a divine response when human possibilities seem exhausted. It is scary and exhilarating to be called to have the faith which the writer to the Hebrews talks about!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Scripture works on diversity in unity, does orthodox Anglicanism?

This week I am following on from last week’s post, where I draw attention to John’s theological work in John 3:15-18, as he uses literary skill in those verses, as well as his facility with Greek to develop what he sees as the truth about Jesus. 

Thus, whether these verses are the end of Jesus’ own conversation with Nicodemus, or John’s commentary on what Jesus has been saying to Nicodemus, we find something which is both critical to our understanding of Jesus and distinctive (compared to, say, Matthew, Mark, Luke or Paul when they share through their writings their own distinctive understanding of Jesus).

What John writes about Jesus is different to what any other writer in the New Testament writes. What John writes about God's love for the world and about what God seeks from the world, "believe", is different to what any other writer in the New Testament writes. There is diversity in the New Testament.

The New Testament is united in its focus on Jesus Christ. It is bound together by Christ. No other figure - man, woman, apostle, politician, angel, figure from Israel’s past - comes even close to Christ as the single, undivided object of the New Testament writings’ devotion, commitment and worship. The unity of the New Testament is Jesus Christ. 

Yet this unity is unity-in-diversity as we read four different gospels, five if we allow that Paul’s writings constitute a fifth gospel, as well as the insights and disclosure of James, Peter, Jude, the anonymous writer to the Hebrews, and John the seer of Revelation.

Put another way, the church accepting through the first centuries that a particular set of writings bore the mark of authenticity and authority as accounts of Jesus and the earliest understanding of Jesus and then, finally, determining the canon or rule that this set and no other writings constituted the New Testament, pulled off an amazing feat. That feat was publishing a diversified account of Christ which was and is also utterly unified. There is one Christ in the New Testament but many insights into that Christ.

The New Testament (indeed the whole of Holy Scripture but it is a longer account to bring the Old Testament into this post) gives permission for the church of Christ to live out this phenomenon of unity-in-diversity. Indeed, diversity in the New Testament is reflective of different churches across the Mediterranean world and their distinct interests in the reality of Jesus Christ and how his teaching and example of life were to be lived out by his followers.

A regret I have - I do not think I am alone - is that some particular theology within the Anglican Communion in recent decades seems loathe to allow that there might be diversity of thought within the Communion between Anglicans who love our Lord, that there could be on some matters a “good disagreement”, and that our unity (our Communion) might be in Christ and not in monochromatic thinking on matters which are secondary to our belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God (to summarise the Creeds).

This is not to say that there should not be criticism of what Anglicans say and think. I am myself quite critical of quite a bit of what I read across the Anglosphere most weeks. Anglicans are as capable of saying naff things as any other kind of Christian. And by "naff" I mean things that I, at least, cannot agree with because I cannot see the reasonable case within Scripture and tradition for the argument being made. As, indeed, various commenters here - quite regularly!! - do not agree with me.

But is the criticism going to be grounded in acceptance that diversity of thought within the Anglican Communion is permissible or grounded in determination to dismiss those who think differently? A recent book, The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism (edited by Gerald R. McDermott, Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020) is full of good things and a range of essays from a diverse set of Anglican thinkers. It acknowledges, for instance, the possibility that Anglicanism can diversely include Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals. But strikingly it cannot envisage, none of the Anglican contributors can envisage the possibility of being orthodox yet thinking diversely about homosexuality! Any such difference in thinking (that is, difference in appreciating what Scripture teaches, or in what science tells us) is dismissed.

By contrast, another recent book, The God of the Old Testament: Encountering the Divine in Christian Scripture by R.W.L. Moberley (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2020), offers this account of the challenge of understanding Scripture according to the many contexts in which each reader/interpreter stands. After distinguishing five different contexts within which biblical content is heard (origin, canon, Judaism, Christianity, historic and contemporary cultures), Moberley writes:

"In general terms, however, the question of how best to do justice to and appropriately interrelate all these contexts is probably the greatest and, as yet, least-worked-out challenge facing those who would interpret Israel's scriptures as Christian Scripture. It should be clear that there will never be just one way of doing it." [p. 8].

In particular, Moberley goes on to observe that in the perennial debate between authorial intention and reader response (here, "text-hermeneutic and reader-hermeneutic"),

"A text-hermeneutic considers the semantic potential of the words of the text and recognises that they may be open to more than one valid construal, according to context. A reader-hermeneutic recognizes the importance of the context of the reader: the particular pre-understandings and knowledge oand interests and questions that an interpreter brings to bear, all of which make for a difference in reading. Thus, the exercise of a text- and reader-hermeneutic is integral to reading as Scripture." [p. 9].

Is it possible that Anglicans, whether describing themselves as "orthodox" or otherwise, taking to heart what Moberley says, might be more alert to the inevitability of diversity within our Anglican ranks?

And in that alertness, might there be greater empathy with those whose views are disagreeable?