Monday, September 19, 2022

Clearly Scripture is not as clear as clearly many would like it to be!

How clear is Scripture on matters of importance to its readers?

More technically, is Scripture "perspicuous"?

Is Scripture clear/perspicuous on some matters and not on others?

Is Scripture clear on a matter in one generation but not in another?

Lee Gatiss, Director of the Church Society, has recently spoken critically of Lambeth 2022 and some things Archbishop Welby said during it.

A text version is here and a video version is there.

Essentially, his critique of Welby is this (my bold):

"That was the issue at hand as he spoke: can we bless same-sex marriage, or not? And rather than clearly identify the glaringly obvious deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy, he spoke very highly of those who deny the truth: their “long prayer” and “deep study” and their view of scripture and of Christ. Those who would have been seen as heretics by every previous generation of Christians across the world were invited and treated as brothers and sisters in full communion."

Or, Scripture is completely clear on blessing same-sex marriage (i.e. Scripture says No), those who think otherwise are clearly heretics. Ergo, the ABC is wrong not to exclude churches which either do not think Scripture is clear on this matter, or may think Scripture is clear that the answer is Yes.

Now, you could probably predict where I might want to go on this: Scripture is not actually clear on such blessings (because it does not address the particularity of our age). Actually, that would be to go down a pathway often gone down here. No further need!

Let's go in a slightly different direction and focus on the general question of the clarity/perspicuity, or otherwise of Scripture.

Let's assume, by the way, that Scripture is clear on matters of salvation.

Is Scripture unclear on other matters?

I've been recently thinking that there has been and is something of a challenge re the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture when we shift from reading Scripture about our relationship with God and read Scripture about our relationships with each other, about our human experience of relationality.

Take the relationship between humans known as slavery. Good Christians argued for and against the keeping of slaves in days gone by. Fair enough in many ways because no text in Scripture unambiguously says, Stop keeping slaves. Put in other words, Scripture is clearly not against slavery but arguably unclear whether it is in favour of slavery or simply in favour of making the best of a systemic feature of ancient economies. Most NT texts speaking about slavery focus on masters treating slaves well and slaves impressing their masters with their virtuous and diligent service. That now Christians are very clear that we should not keep slaves, that there should be no slavery anywhere is not a triumph of the perspicuity of Scripture! 

(Ironically, we might also note that the nearest we come to Scriptural clarity about employers/employees is to read the texts on masters/slaves and make appropriate translation to modern working conditions. We make that shift in relating Scripture to modern life. Do we do so on other matters?)

We could then look at marriage and divorce. A rough trajectory through Scripture is that marriage is permanent (Genesis 2) but reasons for divorce press on the making of Israel's laws (other books in the Torah) and divorce is permitted in some circumstances. Through subsequent centuries discussion about divorce continues and by the time of Jesus two schools of rabbinic thought debate with each other, one "hard" and one "soft" on the matter. When Jesus is asked about divorce, our best take is that he sides with the "hard" school and either (in his original response) gives no grounds for divorce or only one ground (adultery). Yet Matthew's Gospel in chapter 19 provides a so-called Matthean Exception and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 provides a so-called Pauline Exception so there are signs that the earliest church faced questions (as Moses did) and came up with some variation to what the Lord had laid down. Fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries, and we see further variations being worked out through time in the main Christians traditions, none of which is clearly taught by Scripture. No annulment process is laid down in Scripture for Roman Catholics, no variations in the character of weddings for second or even third marriages is set out Scripturally for Eastern Orthodox, and Protestantism has engaged with questions unknown to Scripture such as a wife leaving and divorcing an abusive husband.

Incidentally, each such main Christian approach is reasonable on the basis of seeking to match Scripture with life, and each such approach develops a tradition of interpretation of Scripture and yet Scripture as "supreme authority" cannot readily dislodge where each church has gotten to on these matters because the reasonable, traditional response developed has precisely evolved from finding Scripture to not offer a once and for all circumstances authoritative answer to human questions.

Next up is the relationship between women and men in the life of the church, a question partly discussed in relationship to the Christian family: the relationship between husband and wife; and partly discussed (in some churches) in relationship to the (im)possibility of ordination of women to positions of responsibility in the ordering of the church: deacon, priest/presbyter or bishop.

On the former we have faced the challenge of Ephesians 5:22 (and similar verses) and (unless otherwise belonging to a school of thought called "complementarianism") determined that this might not mean what it looks like it means, e.g. because it is governed by Ephesians 5:21. But doing this (which I do happen to do), does rather call into question the clarity with which (e.g.) Anglicans once held on the matter, expressed in the Book of Common Prayer marriage service which asked the wife to be to declare that she would "obey" her husband, but asked of the husband to be to declare that he would "love" his wife.

On the latter we have faced the challenge of a variety between texts of Paul (or his Pauline imitator(s)), some of which seem to support women in leading roles (Romans 16, references elsewhere to Priscilla and Aquinas, a possibility in 1 Timothy 3 that women as deacons is supported, all in keeping with the genderlessness of Galatians 3:28 and the apostolicity of Mary in John 20) and some of which appear, in a similar spirit to Ephesians 5:22, to subjugate, even silence women to the authority and voice of men (1 Corinthians 11, 14; 1 Timothy 2). 

Possibly the school of thought known as complementarianism may have a virtue of consistency in believing Scripture is clear on this matter; but the overwhelming tendency in contemporary Christianity (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Prostestant, Pentecostal) is to explore, with a lesser or greater urgency re actual change, the possibilities for a new found recognition of the equality of women to men as both being fully human and fully alive and gifted in the Spirit of God. In some thinking among conservative evangelicals - I find - it is the apparent lack of clarity of Scripture on the matter which permits them to support the ordination of women. For some, this exploitable lack of clarity only extends to ordination to the diaconate; for others, it extends to presbyters or to presbyters and bishops.

This exploitation of lack of clarity on one matter only highlights the exploitation of clarity on other matters of humans relating to humans. Is there Scriptural clarity on the matter of how we interpret Scripture in favour of modern life when some texts are in tension with each other compared with when Scripture provides (or appears to provide) clarity?

Another matter of humans relating to humans concerns one human killing another human. Generally this is prohibited ("Do not kill"), through both Old and New Testaments, but exceptions happen and so debate occurs over those exceptions. Is war (which necessarily involves killing) such an exception? For some time in earliest Christian history, war was not an exception and Christians determined - with Scriptural clarity, with respect to the teaching of Jesus - they would not be soldiers. While a pacifist streak continues in Christianity, mostly we accept that sometimes war cannot be avoided and Christians will kill. For centuries Christians have presided over justice systems in which execution of criminals was accepted. Currently capital punishment is no longer possible in some jurisdictions in which Christianity has and may still provide a dominant religious influence on the framing of laws; but some strongly Christian jurisdictions, notably the USA make capital punishment an option. Such legal support for killing another human being seemed unquestionable as a clear outcome of (e.g.) Romans 13. Yet such clarity has not prevailed everywhere.

There has been and continues to be greater unity among Christians on the question of abortion, that is, on the question of not killing an unborn child. But, even on abortion, differences prevail on the question of whether access to abortion (whatever Christians think about abortion) should be a legal possibility for those who wish, for whatever reasons, to secure an abortion of their unborn child. Scripture is unclear on the degree to which being against killing means one should be against legal access to abortion (e.g. if one's support for access to legal abortion presupposes illegal abortions will be procured).


The approach I am taking above involves great clarity about Genesis 1:27-28. Men and women are made in the image of God, what does that mean for reading, interpreting and obeying Scripture in 2022?

I think it also involves questions of justice: what is fair and consistent treatment of another human being? Is an enslaved human being (no matter how well looked after) being treated fairly, given that an enslaved human being means another human being (i.e. the enslaver) is treated differently? Is it fair that men may speak out loud in church, but women should be silent? Or, that women, otherwise gifted and able to teach, may not teach because they are viewed as inherently untrustworthy relative to men?

Nevertheless, all said above is prolegomena to detailed, depth consideration of the issues I have referenced with just a paragraph or two above.

The argument above is pretty simple: that we should recognise that Scripture may not be as clear as we either think, or would like it to be, on matters involving humans relating to humans.

Whether this makes any difference to arguments on That Topic is the discussion! Even this week I have had engagement on Twitter with a leading English evangelical in which his thesis amounts to: Scripture is clear on That Topic, end of discussion; but not clear on the ordination of women, so we may so ordain. So, please don't assume that my "prolegomena" above settles anything on That Topic or another issue. 

But if my prolegomena prompts any reader to think again about Scripture's perspicuity in general, re human relationships, my post for this week's job is done!


Father Ron said...

Dear Bishop Peter,

I'm interested in your use of the word; perspicuity, (clarity of purpose?) - especially in view of the fact that quite a bit of Jesus' teaching was delivered in parable form. This form of teaching was obviously not very welcomed by the Scribes and Pharisees, who possibly thought of it as being too undisciplined and capable of interpretation. What they obviously preferred was absolute clarity. However, as you indicate here, even the Scriptures themselves are not always precise in their instruction for matters that involve the behaviour of human beings.

The Decalogue, however, is pretty clear as to a basic discipline for believers. The historic creeds, also tell us about the basis of our faith, e.g; the Trinity, the humanity/Divinity of Christ, The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, etc. Christian Ethics, however, do seem to have morphed into what we might call 'Situation Ethics', which take into account the ongoing revelation of the social and biological aspects of modern life.

The problem is, do we believe that the conception and Incarnation of Jesus as God's Word-made-Flesh ought to have made any real difference to the ancient Jewish understanding?

Anonymous said...

Ten thoughts.

(1) It would be less dangerous for the Communion if archbishops of Canterbury stopped, to use Sarah Coakley's phrase, "wallowing in weakness." We may someday need for an ABC to exercise the traditional discretion that ++ Justin keeps denying that his office has. Lee Gattis is right about that.

(2) Jesus said, "You are servants no longer but friends, for a servant does not know what his master is about." Thus for a magisterial Protestant, revealed dogma controls the ethos, ethics, and so action of disciples. Otherwise, their doing and not doing lacks the fully human intentionality of moral action generally and of friendly life in Christ especially.

(3) For this reason, no trustworthy guidance circumvents teaching about kingdom and new creation through strung together bits of scripture (eg slaughtering Amalekites, plucking out eyes, castrating oneself, etc).

(4) Rather, to test a rule for disciples, those who are illumined by the Word begin with Jesus's kingdom and new creation, and then show how a suggested discipline supports life attuned to them. This is the obvious, organic Way.

(5) Discipline throughout the Body is centripetally tethered by universal dogma and the unity of creation, but centrifugally fitted to place, so that it is intelligible, and to case, so that it is pastoral. Thus the inspired authors wrote with precision about Ezekiel's duty to warn individuals, St Peter's *binding and loosing* with the keys of the kingdom, and St John's recollection that sins forgiven or retained on earth are forgiven or retained in heaven.

(6) "He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." Indeed, Jesus himself has said that he has all power in heaven and on earth. That sounds like the only supreme authority that can possibly be, either behind the hedge or over it. And as we have recalled, he has delegated this in the ministry of binding and loosing.

(7) The episcopate, and so the Communion, rests on that authority. Without self-contradiction, Lambeth Conferences cannot impose uniformity where God in holy writ has commissioned subsidiarity.

(8) The ancient and divine order of the Communion is undermined today chiefly by those who zealously promote norms not well correlated to the kingdom and new creation, whether these are rationalised with bare prooftexts from the Bible or with merely permissive canons approved by synods. Both have a purpose but neither suffices as the Way revealed by God for souls.

(9) God willing, the Holy Spirit will give the bishops more consensus concerning the wisest dispositions of the several kinds of cases of conscience occasioned by That Topic. The Holy Spirit ignores human majorities and timetables.

(10) Those who believe in scriptures or church but not in God will yammer on in their confusion. Lord have mercy. Others with more holy fear will let bishops be bishops (and Archbishops of Canterbury).

We might best attend to what Jesus taught about the kingdom, what St Paul taught about the new creation, and the new Jerusalem that St John saw descending from heaven to earth like a bride to het husband.


Anonymous said...

Peter, it has been instructive to see the evolution of your social thought over the years, from a conservative evangelical viewpoint to one that is essentially inoffensive to that of the typical agnostic New Zealander (now the majority in the Shakey Isles).
Your long post seems to make the Counter-reformation's very arguments against the Reformers on the claritas sive perspicuitas Scripturae, but ending up at a different destination.
Perhaps you could write your next post on salt and saltiness? I can recommend some helpful reading from the former Episcopal Bishop of Newark.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Bishop Peter, God did not create man in his own image. It is quite the other way about, which is the explanation for the profusion of gods and religions, and the fratricide both between and amongst faiths, over the centuries. One does wonder how civilisation has been stymied in development!

Anonymous said...

"Christian Ethics..."

Classical or scholastic Protestant theology treated ethics as a subtopic of dogmatics or systematics. So God's will for our lives was usually integrated into the loci for creation, *ordo salutus*, and eschatology. This is similar to the treatment in many Protestant catechisms, such as Luther's Small Catechism where the Decalogue is explained as an account of the world to come.

After Kant, the classical tradition culminated or suspended, leaving theological reflection on quotidian life without a churchly home. Thus academic chairs of a new field called "Christian Ethics" were endowed in the mid-C20, and their incumbents navigated a zigzag course between academic moral philosophy and the lives then being lived in liberal churches.

"do seem to have morphed into what we might call Situation Ethics"

At the University of Virginia, Joseph Fletcher (TEC) wrote a little book called Situation Ethics. Faith in Christ motivates altruism-- "act with love in every situation"-- but it does not pattern behaviour. The book was meant as a corrective to arid rationalism and a step toward a bit more Jesus in Christian ethics, but it was widely dismissed as too shapeless to ground any character, let alone one identifying with the Crucified.

That rejection set the stage for a wider reading of Elizabeth Anscombe's (RCC) famous argument in Modern Ethics: ethicists had failed because they were proposing moralities of law without belief in, or serious reflection on, a divine Lawgiver. She suggested that a return to the Aristotelian and Thomist ethics of the virtues would be better grounded and more adaptive.

Alasdair MacIntyre's book After Virtue took this up to become the most influential book on secular ethics from the 1980s to the present. His Virtue Ethics are not strictly speaking Christian, but relying as heavily on St Thomas as they do, they beg for adaptation.

Anonymous said...

Many fruitful careers have been devoted to that task. Two bear mention here.

In Stanley Hauerwas's (TEC) Community of Character, a narrative of Christ crucified informs a churchly ethos of the pauline virtues. When first published, Hauerwas's books startled Protestants with what I have been calling here a high hedge: only a rather serious Christian could possibly have the identification with Jesus to live this ethos out.

Indeed, one of Hauerwas's most famous essays argued that homosexuals were more praiseworthy than churchgoers because the community lifestyle of the former was so much more concretely value laden that the United States Army was afraid of it. To be salt and light for the world, believers need churches so soaked in the story of Jesus that they are not afraid to differ from their neighbours.

Linda Zagzebski (RCC) is a moral philosopher whose Divine Motivation Theory posits that worship of a divine exemplar changes the worshipper's emotional constitution thereby inculcating the motivations of virtuous action. She acknowledges that the Incarnation was the armature on which she built her system, but hypothesizes that something like this may also be at work in other religions with a human focus of devotion (eg Buddha, Muhammed). More recently, she has extended her exemplarist moral theory into the virtues of mind to construct an epistemology.

Zagzebski is an academic moral philosopher at a state university. Her work directly connects the being of a god to worship of that god to a god-shaped inner transformation of the worshipper that patterns the latter's behaviour into an ethic recognisably of that god and no other. For the love of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, why oh why can't more preachers do that?

A certain skill in dealing with what emerges is part of the concept of a virtue. A virtues ethic, although grounded, is inherently more dynamic than a rules ethic.

"social and biological aspects of modern life"

"And I saw that there is nothing new under the sun."

"...ancient Jewish understanding?"

There were many kinds of Jews. But only two survived the loss of the Second Temple (AD 70) and thrived in the diaspora. One kind (Pharisees, rabbis) had already mapped Temple piety onto rituals in daily life (cf St Mark vii). The other kind (the Way, fathers) had mapped the functions of the Temple onto its meetings with the Messiah. Both were ready to carry on without the complex and its sacrifices.

After it was destroyed, Jews of pieties that had depended on it joined the rabbis and the fathers. However, in large Roman cities the communities overlapped as many families never chose one over the other. For centuries, a crowd in synagogue on Saturday was also in church on Sunday. In the C4-5, harsh things said by each of the two sides seem to be aimed at getting these double-dippers to choose a religion and stick with it.

Why couldn't they all be one community of YHWH? Just as the great rabbi Akiva had believed that the rebel Bar Kokhba was the divine messianic figure of Daniel vii 13, so rabbis could understand Jews who believed that this mysterious figure was Jesus. However, some apocalyptic piety acceptable to the rabbis was presumably beyond the pale for the fathers. And to the rabbis, Daniel 7 had no third throne for the Holy Spirit.


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you Ron, Bowman and William for your thoughts - much to ponder, and to learn.

William: it is an honour to have re invigorated the Counter-Reformation, all by myself! I don’t think any of the positions I gave some paragraphs to above represent any kind of change from my conservative evangelical convictions of decades. I am still against slavery and presume you are too! For me conservative evangelicalism is about reading and studying Scripture and re-reading and studying Scripture: digging deeper into its meaning, ensuring, as far as possible that the whole of Scripture is read, not just one’s favourite passages, always centred on Christ and him crucified, risen, ascended and glorified. In that reading and re-reading of Scripture I keep learning things, and some views change. I am more aware of the complexity of Scripture than I was 40 years ago. For instance, the Old Testament raises many questions about the theologies within it. Who tells the more accurate history of Israel, the Deuteronomist or the Chronicler? What is wisdom literature’s attitude to the Law? Etc. Why are there four gospels and what are their respective theological emphases? How do any or all cohere with the gospel according to Paul? Can we find a close correspondence between Luke’s Paul and Paul’ Paul?

Then, of course are the questions Bowman raises here and at one point above seems to raise the point of natural law in relationship to Scripture. Yet is some kind of situational ethic also in the kingdom of God a Christian ethic as we negotiate the evolution of life?

Anonymous said...

Natural law? Impossible before about April. Scholasticism is enjoying a modest revival in all traditions including our own, but it is not clear to me that the restorers have satisfied the old critiques or the postmodern condition. *Motivated reasoning* from zealots forces one to weed before gardening.


Anonymous said...

There is a Reformed teeter totter that I try to avoid: biblicism sliding into rigourism v. refexive rejection of "traditions of men."


Father Ron said...

Dear Sisters and Brothers; after viewing the excellent BBC filming of H.M. The Queen's Funeral service at Westminster Abbey. I have realised how a well-conducted Funeral Service can have the power to invoke, and renew, faith in Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Saviour of ALL who look to Him for these gifts of The Living God. The simple address by the ABC was to the point and inspirational - in which the problems, as well as the virtues, of the Departed were aired and duly celebrated. My own funeral will not be quite as formal or grand - but it will include a Celebration of the Life-Giving elements of Christ in the shared Holy Communion, which He gave to us as the guarantee of our continuing life in God, through Baptism and Eucharistic sharing
Thanks be to God for Her Majesty's testimony of Faith that has inspired may others to believe.

John Sandeman said...

Author John Dickson comments that the bible lit a slow-burning fuse (in Philemon) that would eventually destroy slavery. So perhaps we need to lay to humankind's obduracy the persistence of human bondage, not the scripture. And having abolished it, trans-Atlantic slavery was a reinvention of a practice that had been done away with. What other truths of scripture have we willfully ignored?

Father Ron said...

Certainly, John, most of the Church has evolved past, for example, the dietary laws and strictures against women being fully employed in the mission of the Gospel (BUT, maybe in your eyes these may not be 'truths of Scripture'?). This does beg the question of what we are to regard as 'the Scriptures' - as being 'from the mouth of God' for all time.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi John
I completely agree that Philemon is a slow burning fuse of a bomb under slavery. But it is a slow burning fuse etc and not a direct prohibition of slavery.

Mark Murphy said...

For the oppressed, slow-burning fuses is justice delayed and denied.

Anonymous said...

Have I missed something?

Upstream, some in and out of the Communion have objected to the participation in Lambeth Conferences of bishops from churches that permit blessings of SSM. Justin Welby, of course, invited them.

According to Gatiss, Welby notes: "their 'long prayer' and 'deep study' and their view of scripture and of Christ."

That is, Welby defended the participation of those bishops by defending their *epistemic virtue*. Faced with an unavoidable problem, they acted faithfully and well in seeking to know God's will concerning it. Which Lambeth Conferences also occasionally do.

In the matter of SSB, the objectors believe that these churches have reached mistaken results. But Welby implies that, even assuming (for the sake of argument) that they found the wrong solution, the proper way these member churches sought God's will warrants confidence that their bishops will also discern properly at Lambeth Conferences. Hence there is no reasonable objection to the participation of these bishops.

Gatiss himself: "glaringly obvious deviation from historic Christian orthodoxy"

On this occasion, Gatiss is appealing, not directly to scripture but to tradition. Why? Sidestepping both SSB and Welby's defense of member churches, Gatiss seems to complain that anyone in the role of Archbishop of Canterbury ought instead to have enforced "historic Christian orthodoxy."


G: He says it's raining. I think it's not. I do not trust him to know the weather.

W: But he has looked at the clouds, and stuck his tongue out. That's how we know whether it is raining or not. Surely you can trust him to know the weather.

G: Your job is not telling me whom to trust. Your job is pointing out that people are not believing the official forecast.


Each is making a sophisticated argument, albeit not with a theorem.

Neither argument seems to be about the scriptures or SSB.


Anonymous said...


I would be delighted to think that increasing use of the word *orthodoxy* showed that the blessings of cheerful dogmatism were being more widely enjoyed. But I'm not because I don't because it doesn't. What has actually spread is the habit of appealing to tradition to support claims that used to be argued more directly from the scriptures.

Moderns spoke as though evidences were immediately self-evident, and so deployed bits of scripture to prove things. But postmoderns see that data become facts through interpretation. Data still matter so scriptures still matter, but one cannot show how in any particular case without reference to some body of interpretive precedent. Tradition.

Saying that a conclusion is *orthodox* can be an appeal to catholic orthodoxy :-) But often it is just an insinuation that *people like us have always thought as I do so you ought to agree with me* :-(

What is only insinuated is not well argued. But it is not the dead horse of *nuda scriptura*.


Peter Carrell said...

Appeals to “historic Christian orthodoxy” (alone, without added explanations) do not work well).

It’s the Lambeth Conference of1122 and the ABC is criticised for welcoming Scriptural studying bishops who both support the filioque clause and who do not support it, following a well-known bust up in 1054. “He should only have invited those who maintain historic Christian orthodoxy.”

It’s the Lambeth Conference of 2032 and the King as Supreme Governor of the host Church of England is invited to address the conference but the Church Society rounds on the ABC for issuing the invitation. “The historic Christian orthodoxy on remarriage after divorce which prevailed at the time of the 1958 Lambeth Conference (circa the time when the Queen forbade her sister marrying a divorcee) should continue to clearly guide the ABC’s decisions.”

Anonymous said...

"Appeals to HCO (alone, without added explanations) do not work well."

No, they don't. What added explanations might supply is a road from the creed with which we are baptised through a traditional heuristic for the matter at hand to a customary practice.

Father Ron said...

There can be living words written by people today that echo the basic message of god's Love in Christ we are told about in the scriptures. Here are some words for today, from our friend:


“When faced with concrete and urgent needs, we need to act quickly. How many people in our world look forward to a visit from someone who is concerned about them! How many of the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned and refugees have need of a look of sympathy, a visit from a brother or sister who scales the walls of indifference! … Let us carry Jesus within our hearts, and bring him to all those whom we meet! In this beautiful season of your lives, press ahead and do not postpone all the good that the Holy Spirit can accomplish in you! With affection, I bless your dreams and every step of your journey.”
Pope Francis

Unknown said...


Out and about, I meet people with three approaches to Doing What Jesus Would Do Today.

Some people try to emote as they think Jesus would have emoted and to act accordingly. In the abstract, this is much less crazy than it sounds to a rationalist. At a glance, its main defect is that it reduces the whole of moral life to rather rare crossroads decisions.

And it puts a greater burden on an emotivist's understanding of Jesus than it can usually bear. With only a passing knowledge of scripture, they merely project their own rather conventional ideas onto a caricature and then read them as The Very Will of God. About which they are emotional and in conversation unreasonable.

Resiling from that are the legalists. Again, not crazy. But again again, this is dependent in principle on a broader and deeper engagement with Jesus-in-Israel than scavengers for rules usually have.

And there are not enough rules to sustain an ethos equal to the richness of human life. It is paradoxically irresponsible to be fastidious only about the few clear rules. Legalism is perfectly adapted to a culture of careerism and consumption.

Lately, academics on the Way-- those I know anyway-- have more or less accepted that, while there are a few divine commands, serious disciples are mostly cultivating the virtues of Christ in all that they do. They are not always better acquainted with the Jesus of history, but they may be better informed in daily life by as much as they do know. And nothing in consciousness is beyond the reach of a virtue ethic, so one cannot be deluded into thinking that a few scruples makes a fine life.

But the self comes into view. Narcissism may be more a hazard here than in the other two.

Anonymous said...

What is needed is self-unconsciousness which is the essence of humility and virtue itself. (From “I will lift up mine eyes’ by Glenn Clark).

Father Ron said...

With all due respect; what is needed is a personal relationship with Christ - available through His own recommended reception of Him in Baptism and Eucharist - all the rest is theory. (Do this to remember me)

Anonymous said...

I couldn’t agree more, Father Ron, that is basic! But I found, having a personal relationship with Christ through baptism, Eucharist and surrender to him as Lord, I still needed help to understand how that is worked out in everyday life. Glenn Clark’s book on prayer that I mentioned was a key to that understanding. But I am glad you pointed out the basis of life in Christ.

Unknown said...

Exactly right.

Again, exactly right.

(Happily, Father Ron is easy to remember.)


Father Ron said...

"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
God's mercies never come to an end.
New every morning, new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness, O Lord! Great is your faithfulness"

Mark Murphy said...

I think we get into problems and become counter-productive (to the Gospel) when we insist that our saving relationship to Christ need take on this or that particular form.

I guess we all have lines in the sand past in terms of a *true relationship* that is truly with *Christ*, though I am inclined to hold such knowing much more lightly.

For myself, the sort of "personal relationship with Jesus my Saviour" that many speak about and promote has never sounded like my own experience of Christ.

Anonymous said...

"...insist... our...saving relationship... to Christ... need... form"

Sharing can be fun, but insisting is work. Why do people do that when they could be eating ice cream? The motivation is often more interesting than the content of the insistence.

Israel had a religion of nation, clan, and territory. When Jesus reshaped that into into a congregational-and-personal one, it became universal. Or, if you prefer, once Jesus made it universal, its inevitable form was persons-in-congregations. Either way, a dialectic.

There is saving and there is more saving. God inducts babies into the next aeon well before they have realised any cognitive capacity for relationship, human or divine. But each, meeting God and others on the bustling streets of the New Jerusalem, will change from glory into glory in a more or less distinct way.

Dogmaticians stay cheerful when they remember St Luke ix 49-50. A church is better in every way when it has fewer heretics because with more clarity it is more in Christ and so is more alive. But a church that is altogether heretical can, despite stumbling in dimmer light, still have an allegiance to Christ, one that God occasionally uses to cast out demons. If this were not true, then the Creator's ongoing activity would not be the bedrock story of all lives and the Western religions would be false.

Some persons are somewhat estranged from groups; some groups are unintelligent about persons. The former can be stupid about forms; the latter about needs. Stupid? Yes, precisely. Each extreme has a bit of true knowledge, and they are understandably excited about it, but not knowing what they do not yet love and so cannot yet know, they are therefore somewhat reckless with it. This is a fault of human nature in this aeon.


Anonymous said...

Yes, sorry Mark! My motivation sprang from a strong Baptist evangelical background with an anxiety about ‘being saved’ that is counterproductive to the wonderful wide work of God in infinite ways in people’s lives. Now, when I pray for someone’s salvation, I leave it to God to provide the ways and means through whatever experience he chooses.

Father Ron said...

Sadly - as we ae seeing on local TV programmes here is New Zealand; even the most diligently Evangelistic 'Christian' communities are not immune to 'the sins of the flesh'. Gloriavale - a socially isolated and yet dedicated such community - is now revealed as having the very same culpability for concupiscence (albeit, heterosexual) as any secular institution.

What this does signify is that any insistence on personal purity may just not be secure ground on which to judge other people's moral conscience. We really NEED a redeemer!

This does bring into the argument about 'SIN' the reality of Jesus' warning to the Law-abiding Pharisees: "Which of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone". The beauty of the Christian Faith is that it prescribes the perfect medicine for our tendency to imperfection: "Jesus Christ died to Save Sinners". Alleluia! ("I came not to save the righteous, but sinners" - Jesus)

Anonymous said...

If the wicked sinners of Gloriavale do not believe that Jesus died to save sinners, then in what sense are they evangelicals?


Anonymous said...

There were many kinds of 'douleia, "servitude", in the ancient Greco-Roman world and the careful reader with historical awareness will learn to distinguish among debt-slavery, indentured service, penal servitude, and the status of prisoners of war, and not confuse these with the chattel slavery of the American South or of Brazil. Some familiarity with the writings and debates of Bartolomé de las Casas on the rational humanity of the New World "natives" would not go amiss either.
Or one could simply watch on youtube the lecture on the subject by the evangelical biblical scholar Dr Peter Williams of Cambridge University.
If "douleia" signified an unalloyed evil, it is impossible to understand why Paul would boast of being a "doulos tou Christou".
Of course, the truth is that "doulos" had a range of meanings in the NT, just as much as the word "servant" (servus), which is how the late Queen described her life's work. The word can carry positive as well as negative (oppressive) connotations, and I'm sure your own preaching is alert to this differentiation. Exegesis is different from trying to score rhetorical points in a world that is biblically and historically ignorant.
In short, the Bible's attitude toward "douleia" is mixed because "douleia" had a mixed character in the ancient world. Rarely if ever does it denote the slavery of the New World. But for the avoidance of doubt, let us be clear that the New Testament never considers bond-slavery to another as a positive good but something to be overcome if possible.
Are you really opposed to "slavery", Peter? Then I hope you are never buying anything from Communist China (or from Pakistan) and are resisting the ever growing presence of the CCP in the South Pacific, and its embrace by the NZ Government. What was that rubbish about "the dragon and the taniwha"?
If you have come to reject the Reformers' belief in the "claritas Scripturae" and thus in practice the sufficiency of Scripture as the guide for the Church (the point of my reference to the Counter-Reformation - for what good is a supreme authority if no one can agree on its teaching?), then you are shut up to one of these conclusions:
1. The Bible is a mixed bag of falsehood and truth and I (or someone else) will decide which bits are true and which are false (broadly the liberal Protestant position I see you moving towards); or
2. The impossibility of deciding what is true (broadly where Welby's public agnosticism about the ethical character of homosexual relations has led him, absurdly affirming contradictory ideas - Lee Gatiss is on the money here); or
3. The need for a definitive magisterium (whether individual or ecumenical) to determine the true meaning of Scripture- as a voice to be obeyed, not refuted (as Kantian- and modernist-inspired liberal Protestantism does).

As for Welby and his theological incoherences, it is obvious to Gavin Ashenden, Michael Nazir-Ali, Peter Foster and other Anglicans who joined the Ordinariate what he is doing: playing the long game of Fabius Maximus Cunctator. I don't think the Global South will buy it.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William,
Perhaps there was a form of slavery in which no human was bought or sold by another human, and the owning human was autocrat over the future of the owned human; and, no doubt there were slaves whose owners were kindly and upon retiring at night the slave could muse on how much better their life was in (say) Rome than in (say) the drought stricken edge of a north African desert.

No, I wouldn't buy a product which I knew to be made by slaves. I rather assume that you and I actually have a similar approach to slavery.

As for Paul and all of us who identify as slaves of Christ: we have been bought with the precious blood of Christ, will obey him for ever, and seek no freedom other than that which Christ grants us.

Whatever the Reformers said about the clarity of Scripture, they had considerable disagreements, including at their Puritan/Radical edge, whether the Bible clearly taught that what was not addressed in the Bible was not permitted. Thus the 39A rightly focus on the sufficiency of Scripture for salvation (A6) and tacitly admit via the existence of the Articles that other matters need clarifying.

I am actually in agreement with you that a magisterium is needed, but I use a small "m" deliberately as there is a danger with a (the) Magisterium that it will promulgate something in one era which needs walking back in another era. One thinks of the adverse opposition to "Modernism" a century or so ago and the difficulty of maintaining that opposition as 20th century theological developments unfolded.

By "magisterium" I mean the continuing subjection of proposals to scrutiny, to debate, and to discussion in both the pews and the forums for academic discussion so that, in time, consensus emerges. Christian attitudes to slavery being one such example.

We will get there on women in leadership, homosexuality etc, though it may take a while, especially if initiatives by Germans and Belgian Catholic bishops are sidelined!

Anonymous said...

Peter, the principal argument among the Reformers - Lutheran, Zwinglian and Calvinist - was on the nature of the eucharist and the presence (or absence) of Christ. This is not an issue that Anglicans seem to have resolved, although I suppose most Anglicans today are Zwinglian.
None of the Reformers (magisterial or radical) ever imagined that homosexual relations could be godly because they all read Scripture the same way on that matter. And they were correct. Only by doing grave violence to the text could you read it otherwise. Luke Timothy Johnson is very clear on this. Of course he doesn't accept the Bible's teaching on homosexuality, but he has no doubt what it teaches. And I could cite many similar examples.
"We will get there", you say. But where is "there"? The truth? How will you recognise the truth when you find it?
I fear what you have failed to see in your desire to accommodate homosexual relationships within a Christian community is that it cannot end neatly there. If you accept homosexuality, you have to accept same-sex parenting and surrogacy, and transgenderism as well. You need to look at the big picture - and who is painting it.
Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Hi William
Most Anglicans in my experience are not Zwinglian!
Yes, the principal argument was over the eucharist, but there were arguments over orders of ministry (see difference between Scottish Presbyterians and English Anglicans), over the organisation of society (see difference between Luther and Munzer; and less volatile differences within Swiss Reformers (among whom, for this point, I include Calvin)) and over how holy and/or pacifist we all needed to be (cf developments towards Puritanism, Mennonitism, etc).
The current dispute in global Christianity (noting, yet again this morning, further sympathetic remarks via a Catholic prelate) over homosexuality is not - of course not - over how the Reformers or Counter-Reformers read the Scriptures; and even though for some today it is a dispute over what the Scriptures are perceived to say today (i.e. what they directly address), there is no question that our minds are focused on what it means today to engage with members of church and society who are homosexual. Today there seems little dispute that prison is NOT such an engagement worthy of Christian backing - that is progress somewhat contrary (I imagine) to what the Reformers and Counter-Reformers thought.

I don't even suppose that you would want to go back to the days of imprisoning people for sodomy! What has led you to support this modern or post modern enlightenment?

Father Ron said...

Dear William, from your constant proclamation here, one might think you, yourself, might be the real 'Magisterium' - obeying neither the Calvinist/Protestant, nor Roman Catholic models you seem to want to represent. One day, William you may have to make your own choice - not following different magisterial edicts, but admitting that you are a law unto yourself.

As for your continuing campaign against the gay community, you realise that you will have to answer for yourself - for your very own conscience - when the time comes for divine judgement.

Jesu, Mercy; Mary, Pray for us Sinners. (Jesus said: "I did not come to save the Righteous!")

Anonymous said...

Quite a shoal of red herrings you have landed there, Peter. I have never understood the purpose of the criminal law to be to make us saints - that is the function of the Church - but to protect us from the grosser expressions of our sinful nature. You cannot outlaw hate or lust (though some postmodern post-Christians appear to think otherwise). What has led you to support the modern or postmodern enlightenment of licensing and taxing prostitution instead of outlawing it? Was it the persuasive words of Tim Barnett, guided no doubt by Jonathan Kilpatrick? And can NZ ensure there is a regular supply of needy Asian girls to keep the sex industry functioning well? (Who ever said we don't believe in slavery now!)
As you know, homosexuality was not illegal in the Roman Empire and neither were gladiatorial combats, prostitution, slavery, abortion and infanticide (or exposure of newborns).The western world has managed in the past 50 years or to get us a good way back toward the conditions of the late classical world, largely by shucking off Christianity.
I don't know when homosexuality became illegal in the Roman Empire (if it ever was) or more likely in the successor kingdoms of medieval Christendom, but I imagine it was around the same time that abortion and infanticide were being criminalised for the first time, along with killing men for entertainment (read the account of Alypius in book 6 of Augustine's Confessions). And now we grow yet closer to the pagans: abortion to birth and passive infanticide is the law in several US states (urged on by that "Catholic" President), medical suicide comes to NZ, an epidemic of gender confusion spreads among tenage girls. All these are the fruit of the rejection of Christianity, not a smarter grasp of its tenets.

Of course it is difficult not to go with the crowd. Are you really listening to Scripture (which was written in ordinary language to ordinary people and is easier to understand than some obfuscators claim - what kind of people do you think Jedus was speaking to, after all?). Or are you trying to be acceptable to a post-Christian nation? A tough choice but not a new one.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Ice cream, gentlemen? It would make everyone more cheerful, and that would be the end of angry quarrels over rigourism that get foggier the longer they meander on.

Lee Gatiss seems to disbelieve in the *principle of economy*. I myself take that to be both dominical and received catholic orthodoxy.

When one so disbelieves, then one has no earthly remedy for perplexity whatsoever. So one reads the Bible etc with a certain hostility to ambiguity. And one is resistant to facts of life that draw its readers into dilemmas not somewhere settled in advance by some text.

This is as old as Hippolytus's bitter criticisms of Pope Calixtus. And they were far closer to the inspired authors than we are.

+ Peter's OP pushes back against both of these disbelieving proclivities. He almost goes on to say there that reading the Bible in denial of its deep tensions and surface inconsistencies is just bad reading. If one truly believes a text is inspired, how can one read it that way?

I will go on to note that nobody read Israel's inspired writings in only that way until modernity, and that professional scholars today no longer do. Jesus's own handling of scripture and indeed received law was not like that of modern rigourists.

Are these rigourists still catholic Christians, albeit mistaken? Or is something driving their rejection of *economy* that is finally more at home in say Judaism or Islam?

It is hard to know because they are slow to take up the loci that convinced the fathers and Christians after them of the standard view. Until they do, ice cream.


Anonymous said...


Imagine that a scroll found in the Negev next year turns out to be the oldest manuscript of Genesis in existence. And it is odd. The Spirit still broods upon the waters, but in the next verse God says, "Let there be Law!" After other variations, Eden is said to have just one Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and a beautiful inscription of the Law.

Peter Carrell said...

I love ice cream, Bowman!

In the context of your critique of my theology and theological outlook, it is quite reasonable to ask of you whether your being against jailing homosexuals is due to modernist or post modernist thinking on your part.
I note that you avoided answering the question.

For the record:
- I do not support the legalisation of prostitution; (though I do support the taxation of income with consistency and universal application);
- I did not support the End of Life Choice Act; (and work done since passing that act on how, nevertheless, we might pastorally respond when a person makes a choice permissible by that act, has been significantly, and appreciatively influenced by the work of the NZ Catholic bishops on the matter).

Finally, it is a red herring of your own to talk about Scripture being written in ordinary language so it should not be read as obfuscatory. In a previous comment above you have already acknowledged the importance of (in the RCC case) the Magisterium to guide readers; and you are surely knowledgeable enough to know that the koine Greek of the NT (to say nothing of the complex history of textual transmission of the OT writings) is more than capable of obscurities, to say nothing of ambiguities.
What, after all, is the meaning of the simple word “rock” in relation to apostolicity???

Anonymous said...

Peter, I didn't think your question needed a reply, since I thought it obvious from even a cursory reading of the New Testament that rejecting a behaviour as sinful and unfitting for menbers of the New Creation doesn't necessarily entail that it should also be a crime. If homosexuality should be a crime, so should fornication - and adultery. I am sure you think fornication and adultery are sinful. Do you favour imprisonment for these sins? I assume your answer is no.
(But interestingly, there have been times - not so long ago - when adultery was subject to criminal sanctions. But other than the military, where adultery is a serious violation of the military code, such a law would only make sense today in a conscious theocracy, which doesn't exist outside the Vatican.)
I am a bit surprised by your last paragraph: as one brought up in the evangelical fold that stresses everyone reading the Bible for themselves, do you not believe that the person of reasonable intelligence is capable of understanding the central message of the Bible by himself? This is not to deny the presence of mysteries or textual uncertainties, but simply to say that the Bible is not a mysterious code with a hidden esoteric message (as gnostics believed with their bizarre system of secret beliefs) but literature written in everyday language that diligent, intelligent readers can understand in its natural sense, whether they are Galilean peasants listening to Jesus, or folk in Corinth or Rome reading Paul's letters. This is what the reformers meant by the "claritas Scripturae", though this did not dispose of all difficulties. Calvin never claimed to understand the Book of Revelation but he thought the New Testament, intelligently read, was a sure guide to Christian living. Was he wrong?
I note that you have failed to respond to my point about Luke Timothy Johnson who (along with Bill Loader, Walter Wink and many others) says very openly that the Bible nowhere - nowhere - approves of homosexual conduct. But this does not bother Johnson, Loader, Wink et al because they believe the Bible is a human document mixing truth with error, and on homosexuality they judge it to be ethically wrong. Isn't this actually the position you have now arrived at? Why not just follow Johnson and Loader's conclusion?

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Hi William
I have already made the point above about the clarity of the Scriptures re salvation; but even evangelicals dive for their commentaries when coming across a tricky bit of Scripture and have our authoritative commentators to whom we appeal in exegetical arguments (John Stott etc). I don't think what i have said anywhere here implies that I think Scripture to be some mysterious code etc and am not sure why you have introduced that thought.

I agree with scholars you note that the biblical six texts are against homosexuality, at least in forms known in the ancient world (noting continuing exegetical arguments over the precise meaning of, say, malakoi and arsenokoites). I don't think Scripture mixes truth with error in the way those scholars say, because an all too human document. I do think we now face a situation which Scripture does not directly address; just as we face marital breakdown situations which Scripture does not address; and developments in the social recognition of women and their capabilities in teaching and in leadership which are not clearly addressed by Scripture; and we thus are finding new ways forward as God's church.

Anonymous said...

Already in its opening chapters, such a future oldest Genesis would be very different from the one we have known for many centuries. It would launch the saga of the canon on another trajectory.

Journalists would interview prelates, theologians, believers, sceptics to learn how the startling discovery had changed their views. But the news would be this: few minds changed.

Most would have been thinking, praying, and living as though the received Genesis were the discovered one. As many do today.


Anonymous said...

So, Peter, are you saying "Scripture condemns Homosexuality A but today we have Homosexuality B which the Bible didn't know about, and this is an ontologically and ethically different thing"?
Is this correct?
If so, what are these two different Homosexualities and how is Homosexuality B different from anything the ancient world knew?
This is the nub of the question. I don't think Johnson, Loader, Wink et al are uninformed about first century sexual behaviour in the Greco-Roman world (homosexuality is everwhere in Greek literature, very often positively depicted as superior to heterosexuality) and it slips into the Latin poets), so what have they missed or mistaken in their exegesis? What does a scholar like Robert Gagnon get wrong about the Bible or the Greco-Roman context?

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Hi William
At no point does the Bible discuss the question of the status before God of two people of the same sex in a civil marriage.

Anonymous said...

Peter: is that a serious rejoinder? The answer to that is very simple: Christian marriage in the New Testament is a bond between a man and a woman instituted by God from creation. See the words of Jesus, Lord of the Church, in Matthew 19.4-6. If you want to know what marriage is in the eyes of God, you can go no further than the words of Jesus,
Human beings can come up with endless ideas of "marriage": Caligula and his horse, Nero and his slave, group marriages, fixed term "marriages" (Mexico City) etc. None of these are marriages as God intended, so I do not see the point of your comment.
You haven't said what is different about homosexuality today compared to the first century or what the Bible isn't addressing. Please enlighten me.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Father Ron said...

Dear William, underneath much of your anonymous catholicity; have you ever really understood the inner meaning of the Holy Thursday antiphon? :-

"Where charity and love are, there is God"

Now, this sentiment ties in neatly with your assumption of 'Pax et bonum' but, sadly, not with the tenor of the message you constantly give to us. Frankly, the dissonance sounds like cracked cymbals and gongs. Clarity is SO important.

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William
Read my comment again.
At what point do I deny that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman?
I am asking whether God condemns two people, unable to enter marriage between a man and a woman, who determine that they are incapable of celibacy (an incapability that the Bible recognises when the Apostle says it is better to marry than burn).
I am asking whether the church should be seen to be condemning two such people, especially when many many families now include in their family network loved members who are living in stable, faithful, permanent, loving partnerships.
I think my question is one being asked by Catholic prelates, including the Pope himself.

Anonymous said...

If more comments like William's 7:05 had been posted a few years ago, debate on That Topic would have been much less muddy and tedious.

In the 1970s, proponents of SSM answered straightforwardly: homosexuality was bad in a pagan society, hazardous to the mission of ancient Israel, and redeemable in the post-pagan Church. The Bible's positive moral teaching is for the extended Judaic family; its references to homosexuality are merely tactical. In solid modern churches, it was thought, SSM would help to conserve precisely the Bible's family ethos.


Already then, proponents assumed that homosexuality is not chosen. Had they anticipated the rise of neuroscience, they would have expected that persons with SSA could be morally certain of that fact.

Old Objections.

Some (eg Robert Gagnon) were otherwise committed to a Reformed theology that could not stomach the distinction proponents drew between permanent moral teaching and situational guidance in the Bible. If they did so, consistency would have demanded a re-engineering of their theology as a whole.

More broadly, some construed Christian morality to be mainly prohibiting actions that are well-defined and intrinsically evil. For example, a medieval tradition (cf Alan of Lille) has seen sodomy as the quintessential example of an evil act. They resisted the notion that any act that was evil in one context (eg cult prostitution in Israel) could be good in another (eg a civil union). Had they granted that sodomy was an exception, consistency would have induced doubt of all their other evaluations of acts they deem evil.

New Objections

In the half-century since, many are less confident than the proponents that their churches are either post-pagan or solidly Christian. Moreover, they see homosexual practice as carrying an ideology hostile to the Judaic family into churches. So whilst they might grant that proponents have made a reasonable hypothetical case, it seems foolish to adopt SSM in the secularised West of today. To do so safely, churches would need a much higher hedge than the churches of five decades ago.

(A paradox of this position: the churches worldly enough to want SSM are not really capable of supporting it, and Benedict Option churches that would not even consider it are the ones equipped to do this especially well.)

To some, the assumption above is a condition and so a restriction. They see the point of blessing civil unions of male homosexuals who rarely doubt their sexual orientation, but they deny that this exception is open to many lesbians or any bisexuals or transgendered persons. Prima facie, gender fluidity is incompatible with the lifelong permanence of Christian marriage.

New Resources

The original arguments for SSM were ad hoc historical glosses on the scriptures. Today these can be tested against a long recovery from *the eclipse of biblical narrative* and a certain neglect of the Judaism of Jesus that reduced happy warriors to swapping projections into prooftexts.

As noted farther above, serious thinking about moral philosophy has broadened beyond the search for rules to a retrieval and rethinking of themes nearer to NT themes of allegiance, holiness, gifts, vocation, life between aeons, etc.

Law-driven theology is a hardy perennial, but ressourcement of patristic tradition and opening to Eastern Christianity have made Law much less load-bearing even in Western theologies.


That Topic is a branch of the Grand Topic: how should churches **consciously** respond to secularisation? On the ground, synods seem incapable of reflecting critically on the life-world that they think that they are obliged to represent. That makes it more unusual than it should be for prelates to say clear things about life in an unbelieving world. When this is not addressed explicitly, disputants on That Topic talk past each other, make uncharitable assumptions, etc.

It is more holy to eat ice cream.


Anonymous said...

It must be wonderful - if a little lonely - to live on Olympus and see what we benighted Lilliputians can't. But if you must speak in tongues, remember that the Apostle says you must provide an interpretation. Idioglossic expressions like "extended Judaic family", "happy warriors" and "ad hoc historical glosses" might sound profound (and intimidating to some) but they don't convey anything to most readers (to be fair, I don't know how many read this blog - only five or six regularly comment) or stand up to close scrutiny. I always encourage interlocutors to write more simply and directly, to tackle arguments, not persons, and to resist the temptation to psychoanalyse the assumed motives of others. The reference to Robert Gagnon is entirely offbeam. Better to read his book than to presume to know his secret thoughts,
Similarly, the claim that "the churches worldly enough to want SSM (whatever that means) are not really capable of supporting it" is puzzling in the extreme. You have SSM in spades in the Episcopal Church. How on earth is it not "really capable of supporting it"? Of course, what you *don't have in TEC is families and children. The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, for example, is now down to about 75 parishes, less than half the size it was 30 years ago, and those who remain are long past childbearing. Is that what you mean - that TEC is rapidly dying off? That has been obvious for a generation. Why not connect the dots and conclude that its "theology" isn't really cutting it?
Of course TEC is not alone in its demise. The Church of Scotland , the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Wales are also in remorseless decline. What do they have in common theologically?

Peter, I wrote a considered reply to Ron Smith's words to me on divine judgment but you didn't publish them. I think Ron's questions to me deserve a reply,

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Dear William
I have searched high and low for your reply to Fr Ron's comment and I cannot find it.

It is generally my policy to publish comments rather than not publish them.

Sometimes it turns out they have not been emailed to me by Google and they are sitting on the blog site "awaiting moderation" but I cannot find your comment anywhere.

Anonymous said...

"I have searched high and low for your reply to Fr Ron's comment ["on divine judgment"] and I cannot find it."

Perhaps a confused angel took it to St Peter instead of + Peter?

We could pray for its return.

"It must be wonderful... in common theologically."

If one knows one does not understand a comment, then why not eat ice cream rather than try to confect a reply to it? It's the happier way to live.


Father Ron said...

Dear William. Perhaps you don't need to re-submit your answer to my basic question, above. I'm sure most readers will have some idea of your automatic reaction. Happy Michaelmass!

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, I awoke yesterday wondering where the story of war in heaven fits into the matushka doll series of nested stories that is the traditional faith.

For many, it is nowhere in the plot: Jesus's exorcisms are mainly "miracles," the cross is not the battle with dark powers of which the fathers wrote, and baptismal language about standing under the Lord's banner is solemn frippery. For them, reasonable confidence in the regularity of matter, forces, etc preclude thought that an angelic realm, where it to exist, could be consequential in our world, and if serious moderns are to be Christians, they must demythologise. Folk religion that takes the Bible's spirit language literally seems grotesque rather than faithful.

But I have become sceptical of the scepticism. Much of it seems not to have understood the Bible's ancient Near Eastern thought world, on one hand, or the character and limits of empirical study of nature, on the other. Its notion of heaven is Epicurean rather than Judaic, and it confuses an experimentalist's avoidance of explaining things with purposes with an actually anarchic and purposeless cosmos.

A Christianity without angels can seem disturbingly incoherent. The preference for an entirely ethical theory of the cross points to a wider inability to construe the Bible's language about bondage to evil. What to it is salvation?

Faith without angels seems to exist only on a moral plane, and only as an elaborate motivation for behaviour that is rationalised from godless principles. That thins the life of the Body to the meetings and memoranda of a Bureau of Public Morals where bored bureaucrats fight with irrational zeal over whether to enforce private morals or public ones. Personally, I would not need help like that, and know none who do.

So I have always found it wonderfully visionary that amid so much aridity there are, not alas here but happily there in Christchurch, churches in the patronage of St Michael and All Angels.

A belated Happy Michaelmas to you and to all at ADU!


Anonymous said...


When markets change, CEOs face the Innovator's Dilemma. If they offer new products to meet their new markets, they will have sacrificed their share of the old market and alienated their favourite customers. Yikes!

But if they do not, their companies will be selling buggy whips by the autobahn. Worse, there is no guarantee that the still viable markets will be as large and profitable as the old ones. Unsurprisingly, those favourite customers and their allies in companies become professional enemies of innovating CEOs.

In the West, Bureaus of Public Morals face this dilemma. People who want to buy morals can get them more cheaply elsewhere from political parties etc. Meanwhile, a small postmodern market for Christian identity is emerging, but it can only be satisfied by undiluted religion that moralists, no matter how progressive or conservative, like much less than their pet causes. It is hard to give up a large but declining market for a tiny but growing one.


Anonymous said...

I like that analogy thanks Bowman. I have just read ‘Reading the Bible with the Damned’ by Bob Ekblad, who led Bible studies in a prison on a regular basis. The inmates were astonished to find that God was interested in them and came to them where they were at, regardless of their behaviour. Most instructive!

Father Ron said...

Dear Bryden, thanks for your reflection on the place of angelic watchfulness in the Kingdon of God. People will often speak of another human being is an angel - a messenger of Good, from whatever origin. It seems instinctive. I have always had an inclination to believe in God's Providence as an angelic mission - from God's-self to us earthly exiles. Having visited the Island of Patmos, my faith was quickened in the Cave of the Revelation to St. John The Divine.

Sadly, we humans are often loth to consider the purpose of angels - the sort who ministered to Jesus in His Passion. The great mystics (one of them; our own Anglican Dorothy Kerin*, who founded a ministry of healing at Burrswood, in the U.K., which I visited in 1971 with a party from the Institute of Christian Studies at All Sants, Margaret Steet) were deeply aware of the presence of angels, often speaking of them in their writings.


Father Ron said...

Sorry folks. I gave you the wrong link in my previous comment.

You can find out more about the subject by clicking on 'Dorothy Kerin - Burrswood'
Well worth a visit!

Anonymous said...

Moya, marginal persons I've known have always thought of religion as adults had presented it to them as children, which is to say before the explosion of interests, thoughts, and emotions that made them adults. And because those adults were usually seeking to control them to simplify their own overwhelming lives, God is described less as a regenerative Creator than as an invincible Enforcer.


Anonymous said...

Oh yes I can see that! I have just finished ‘The Phenomenon of Man’ by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. A regenerative Creator indeed!

Anonymous said...

"A regenerative Creator indeed!"

What stimulates God's love for sinners (eg Jesus dining with prostitutes and tax collectors)? It seems that it cannot be an affinity with them that is analogous to that of two like-minded enthusiasts for the same art or music. Even were such an affinity possible, sin will have destroyed it.

To Martin Luther (Heidelberg Disputation, 1518), it is God's regenerative creativity that motivates his salvation of sinners. Sin is indeed a destroyer of souls, but the Creator *as such* is invested in the compassionate transformation of what he is making. Moreover, that saving regeneration makes his penitents into *little christs* who have an analogous desire to further the Holy Spirit's work in regenerating others.

Exploring this, Tuomo Mannermaa and his students were able to show that Luther had taught a theory of *theosis* that has strong affinities with the Eastern patristic doctrines that Donald Fairbairn outlines at the link I sent you last spring/fall. (Curiously, this was news to everyone except some American Lutherans out in the Great Plains who had retrieved this theology a century ago from the Weimarer Ausgabe of Luthers Werke. Long winters make good scholars.)

I like this. For three reasons.

(1) An evolutionary natural history reminds us that Israel's basic intuition was that YHWH is the Creator of all. Perhaps that natural history has come to light because we especially need the reminder to adore the Creator and care for his endangered creatures?

(2) Luther applies that intuition both to justification and to theosis. This supports a Protestant faith from within a neo-patristic milieu nearer that of the scriptures.

(3) If one is regenerated as a *little christ*, then expanding compassion is intrinsic to one's salvation. Those led to expect a more selfish salvation could benefit from this elegant clarity.


Anonymous said...

I had to look up ‘theosis’ and appreciate it as I think the purpose of salvation and sanctification is to make us like Christ, who reserved his most serious judgement for the religious people and their hypocrisy. I like ‘little christs’ and was reminded that I heard once that Obadiah 21 could be translated “Little saviours will come to Mount Zion… and the kingdom will be the LORD’s”.

Anonymous said...

Ron Smith warned me above (September 27, 11.16 am) to beware of divine judgment for my beliefs and what he called "my campaign against the gay community".
I thanked him for his concern for my soul and asked if he, a liberal Anglican, actually believed in hell.
I asked this because most theological liberals I have encountered over many years are universalists who don't actually believe in hell and I wondered if he differed from them in this regard, and if so, why. Does Ron think that because God is love, no human being can be lost forever? He can answer for himself.
If there is no hell, there is no judgment to fear.

BW: eat all the ice cream you like, if it helps your sanctification (and your digestion). But if you actually want to be understood instead of trying to impress people with a pastiche of allusions and references from your reading which are not as coherent as you imagine. I have read too many doctoral dissertations in my life to confuse obscurity with profundity.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Peter Carrell said...

Hi William
I have no hard data on whether theological liberals are universalists or not but I wonder if you accept that not all universalists are theological liberals? I am thinking of David Bentley Hart who is a universalist but not, as I best understand these matters, a theological liberal!

Father Ron said...

William, you ask if I believe in Hell. My short answer is to echo what is contained in the wisdom of an age-old hymn of the Church:

"To turn aside from Thee is Hell. To walk with Thee is Heaven".

I do believe that Hell can be experienced here, on earth.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter - I can tell you first that in my experience, theological liberals are either overwhelmingly universalists or (perhaps more commonly) they don't actually believe in life after death (extinctionists). Some are genuinely agnostic on this (as they are on whether Jesus rose again bodily). The words of Christ as recorded in tbe Gospels are, of course, never dispositive for them because they have an attitude (or "hermeneutic") of suspicion toward the Bible.
Secondly, I know that the Eastern Orthodox are pretty murky on this question and it is hard to get a definitive answer from them.
Third, David Bentley Hart is a strange character. Yes, he is Eastern Orthodox, not a "liberal Protestant", and I read his "Atheist Delusions" with enjoyment and profit despite (or maybe because of) his propensity for rhetoric, invective and caricature of points of view he doesn't like - something he has in common with N.T. Wright, whose overlong books are always insightful but marred with hyperbole and strawmen. But Hart's recent work "You Are Gods" led to a sharp exchange with Edward Feser, who saw signs of pantheism in it. The details are in Feser's website, along with a discussion of Hart's universalism.

Ron: you have studiously avoided answering my question on whether hell (Gehenna) exists for some who have died impenitent of grave sin. Is that because you don't know or because you think eventually every soul will be reconciled to God? What does a human soul have to fear from the Judgment of God after death: purgation or eternal separation?

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

"Christ... reserved his most serious judgement for the religious people and their hypocrisy."

If by "the religious people" you mean the Pharisees, Moya (?), you may enjoy testing that proposition against the history of the C1. Such testing views the cartoon villains of myriad sermons, not as medieval stereotypes still popular at ADU, but as reformers in the world of Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate who ultimately succeeded.

To a Jew of the time, how did Israel's relationship with YHWH then stand?

What reform did the Pharisees actually prescribe to repair that relationship?

Why did some serious Jews find that prescription plausible?

What were Jesus's *theological* objections to it?

Why did he express them in the way that he did?

Why were Jesus's disputes with Pharisees especially remembered and recorded?

How is Jesus's objection integral to the NT?

Why did most Jews nevertheless choose the rabbis over the fathers?

Who are these Jews to us today?

We do not, after all, understand any belief that we cannot imagine as a change in the way people lived before it.

Readers of The Phenomenon of Man seem to be busy thinkers, so you likely have other things to read about and think through. Among all the puzzles there are, how important to you is this one?

However you solved it, you would surely see Jesus speaking as more than a commonsense moralist scolding obvious inconsistency and conventional cruelty. A secularised churchgoer who clings to this hem of his garment may fear exchanging the civic moralist for a mysterious saviour. Especially now when, in some places we know, even those urbane platitudes are suddenly controversial.

But for a disciple, it would be sheer gain to make sense of the actual Jesus's mission in time. Without that insight, how can we know our own calling in him?

As a bonus, solving this puzzle could give your concept of the movement that evolved into rabbinical Judaism-- and incidentally canonised our OT-- better grounding, more nuance. Thinking through churchly matters, sublime or ridiculous, it can be clarifying to port them into a Judaic frame of reference and back again.

Should you take up this puzzle someday, it would be delicious to read your solution.


Anonymous said...

"I do believe that Hell can be experienced here, on earth."

As tourists occasionally do.

But wait. Jesus spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and probably some Greek. *Hell* is a Germanic word...


Father Ron said...

William, as a good Anglo-Catholic, I believe in the Apostolic Creeds. I am not asked, therein, to believe in Hell. I am aware that most Roman Catholic have been inculcated with a great fear of their possible residence there, but I have more faith in the goodness and mercy of the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are ALL sinners, but thankfully, Christ has redeemed us. If we don't want that redemption, then I guess God won't force it upon us. Does that help? God does not draw us by fear, but by faith!

Peace and All Joy this Francis-tide!

Father Ron said...

Dear William, I had to smile when I read this contribution from you on this thread:

"Third, David Bentley Hart is a strange character. Yes, he is Eastern Orthodox, not a "liberal Protestant", and I read his "Atheist Delusions" with enjoyment and profit despite (or maybe because of) his propensity for rhetoric, invective and caricature of points of view he doesn't like - something he has in common with N.T. Wright, whose overlong books are always insightful but marred with hyperbole and strawmen"

Could you, perchance have been gazing into a mirror when you wrote this with tongue in cheek?
Are you, by any chance a 'Closet Protestant'?

Anonymous said...

Pharisaism as a renewal movement was not a bad thing in itself, any more than that we should despise zealous self-discipline. Don't we praise athletes and other super-achievers today? The heart of Pharisaism was the ideal that the Jewish layman should live as a priest, taking upon himself "the yoke of the law" and observing ceremonial and marital purity, and rigorous care over tithing. No doubt, as we read in Matthew and Luke, it numbered not a few who were harsh, exclusive, hypocritical or materialistic, but those failings can be found among the non-religious moralists and the religious alike. The Pharisees also included Saul who considered membership a kind of earthly badge of honour (Philippians 3) - but worthless compared to knowing Christ.
The gravamen against the Pharisees was really their failure to see the work and summons of God in Jesus, to recognise his prophetic and messianic mission, while other needy sinners readily recognised the grace of God in his words and works. Jesus also took a more 'elastic'view of the Law, or maybe we should say dominical, conscious of his own 'exousia' as the Son of God and the Lord of the Sabbath.
Discipline and devotion are good but only as a response to God's grace in our lives. The Nichomachean Ethics is a remarkable work and justly celebrated as a foundation in virtue ethics, but it isn't the Gospel. Only the Holy Spirit makes us holy.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Ron, I don't know if you are familiar with the works of David Bentley Hart and the Catholic Thomist philosopher Edward Feser (and why should you? There are many legitimate cliams on our attention and tine) but I was partly echoing Feser's criticism of Hart, with which I agree. Have you ever, maybe even once, engaged in rhetoric and caricature of a viewpoint you disagree with, maybe even accused another of "campaigning" against others? Or questioned a person's motives and character rather than his arguments (the ad hominem fallacy)? The whole cancel culture is posited on this, and it is a particular temptation among academics in the humanities whose primary tool is words rather than equations and chemicals.
As for N.T. Wright, many people, both Catholics and evangelicals, have applauded his defence of the historicity of the Gospels and the bodily Resurrection of the Lord against the Bultmannian historical scepticism that prevailed among Protestants for much of the 20th century. You can see many plaudits for Wright from Bishop Robert Barron, for example. But Wright is also tediously longwinded and half of his books (the "popular" ones at least) are taken up with attacking caricatures of non-academic preaching or promoting his own ideas as if they were more original (or exegetically certain) than they really are.

I notice that you still haven't told me whether you believe anyone will go to hell after death or what you think I or you have to fear from God's Judgment. Will it be eternal condemnation or a time-limited purgation? I really would like to know your view.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh