Monday, February 6, 2023

Christian Marriage (1 of 2)

As usual, this post (and next Monday's) is not primarily intended to rehearse familar arguments on That Topic - arguments familiar from many posts here at ADU through the past fifteen years. It is intended to explore the situation/debate the Church of England finds itself in, and the situation the Anglican Communion finds itself in as responses are made to recent news in England, especially as the CofE General Synod meets soon and the ACC meets soon after in Ghana.

So the English bishops have published their decision about the blessing of same sex couples (but not their relationship per se) and people are ripping into it, for example, here from a conservative point of view, with no less than 8 reasons why the proposals are undeserving of acclamation. 

Then, one famous London parish, having already announced that it is in broken fellowship with the CofE, has updated their concerns in a letter to the Bishop of London. Of course views opposing the several conservative takedowns of the decision can also be found, arguably led by Jayne Ozanne

And, with an intriguing phrase when discussing sexuality, there is a charge that the English bishops have an "Orwellian position" on these matters. Excoriation of English episcopoi unites the condemning critics but won't unite the church!

A considered conservative view from within the CofE house of bishops has been published by Bishop Ric Thorpe - here. Needless to say criticism of this is observable on social media. (For a considered critique, you may wish to follow a thread on Twitter which begins here.)

Also put out by another bishop, Jill Duff, is this.

Then there are exchanges I see which go like this:

A: It is not very loving to argue against the bishops' decision and deny blessings to LGBTQi couples. How dare you?!

B: It is not very loving to disregard the teaching of Jesus. Are you a real follower of Jesus?!

Quo vadis?

Several thoughts.

1. There is a lot of material (see above, e.g., re the +Ric Thorpe-led view) which restates the doctrine of marriage for men and women, for people able to enter into heterosexual marriage. That is helpful - to be reminded what is taught in Scripture about marriage. 

1b. It may or may not be necessary to do so to keep marriage ringfenced for heterosexuals only, but the implication here is that there is no need for discussion about how the church responds to and supports 

(i) any same sex couple who wish their partnership to be affirmed in the context of church (in this case, in the state church of England); 

(ii) same sex couples in which one or both partners are members of the church and who wish their partnership to be affirmed in the church; 

(iii) the question, if "marriage" is to be denied to a couple, there is any "status" possible in the eyes of the church for two people not in heterosexual marriage who yet wish to make a lifelong commitment of love similar to the commitment made in marriage. 

2a. Is it plausible, is it reasonable for a significant part of the Anglican church (in England, elsewhere) to effectively say, No. No. And No? On what basis in the teaching of Jesus can we say that Jesus teaching against divorce between a man and a woman married to each other was also making a pronouncement about the desire of two people of the same sex to live out a public partnership of self-giving love to one another?

2b. In another words, it appears challenging to find discussion in the current situation of the CofE of BOTH "Yes, this is all that Jesus and Paul say about marriage between a man and a woman, and it is good" AND "Yes, we have a reasonable hermeneutical task before us in order to respond with care and consideration and formal respect to couples who are not composed of a man and a woman."

3. Yet, taking a different line, is there too easy an assumption that because the majority of Brits want it, because parliament is cross the state church of England is not changing its doctrine of marriage to explicitly permit the marrying of same-sex couples in CofE churches, and because justice/love/fairness demand the arc of the universe and the CofE align, the bishops can easily, should readily agree to propose such change to the General Synod?

4. Taking up Dr Jonathan Tallon's thread on Twitter, noted above, (or his book which he links to, Affirmative: Why you can yes to the Bible and yes to people who are LGBTQI+), a lot depends on whether "marriage" in Christian understanding only applies to marriage between a man and a woman. Can we vary Christian understanding so that the definition of marriage focuses on matters of self-giving love, lifelong commitment and vows to such effect made before God?

5. And I note, you may have noted, that the Gospel reading for yesterday was Matthew 5:13-20, including:

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches other to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Who is great in the kingdom of heaven? (From above): A or B?

5. I see some angst over (and/or difficulty in explaining) the difference between "civil marriage" and "[Christian/church] marriage": is not marriage, marriage? Has not the church accepted that I am married if I am civilly married? The answer is, of course, Yes and No for the CofE. Remember: Charles and Camilla could not (at that point in time re divorce/remarriage/church] have their wedding in a church but they could in a registry office with a blessing in a church afterwards.

6. Cue - I think - merit in churches conducting no weddings (let the state register what the state makes laws about), but only blessings of couples who have married (and doing so at the bishop or priest's discretion re their own convictions). Might CofE, ACANZP etc yet end up like European churches?

7. Christian marriage as a concept can be surprisingly robust against change. Let me tell you a story from the annals of ACANZP. Some years back (the General Synod in 2004?) a proposal came to loosen the requirement that one of the parties to a marriage conducted by a priest or bishop must be baptised. The arguments, in my recollection, went something like this:

- priests and bishops are asked to conduct weddings of couples who are not in fact Christian (or only vaguely Christian) and, in a post-modern, secularised world, it is missionally appropriate to be able to say Yes and not No to such requests;

- but the requirement that one of the parties be baptised is a sticking point in a world in which young adults now turn out to have not been routinely baptised as previously in the days of yore = Christendom;

- ah, but doesn't that make the request for marriage an evangelistic/disciple-making opportunity so that it is for the priest or bishop to work with the requesting couple on how they might become Christian in order to enter as Christians into Christian marriage?

- and, while we all understand that many people say "I am Christian because I live by Christian values or similar", isn't baptism the basic, objective measure of who is actually a Christian?

- that is, we cannot easily move away from the requirement for baptism without undermining our understanding of the significance of baptism;

- well, said someone or someones, life is not always chronologically tidy, what if we agreed to an amendment such that we marry a couple where there is an intention on at least one of the couple to be baptised, even if the baptism takes place after the wedding?

Thus: Title G Canon III Section 1:6:

"The minister shall ascertain that at least one of the parties to the marriage has been baptised or is intending to be baptised provided that the minister may waive this requirement in unusual pastoral circumstances in consultation with the appropriate episcopal authority."

(Resolved in 2006 when I wasn't a member of our GS, so my memory of the arguments must stem from a discussion at the Synod before.)

Naturally we can have a discussion about whether this loosening of the requirement for baptism was or remains justified, but my point here is that, when the apparently obvious move in a changing world was to simply abolish any such requirement, close evaluation of the matter yielded a resilience to the doctrine of Christian marriage in our church.

Noting that what the English bishops have decided is understood to require no further synodical resolution, the question is in the air: will the CofE make yet make formal, canonical change to its understanding of the doctrine of marriage (as some are proposing)? We will watch with interest.

A week is a long time in blogging but I think part two of this post will look at the question of sexual differentiation in marriage and whether it is a sine qua non for "Christian marriage." But the most importance consideration, perhaps, will be whether we can be a church which can include those who understand faithfulness to Scripture in one way and those who understand it in another way. Let's see ...


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, for a rarely patient and cogent division of the question.

Marriage among Christians is like say family among Christians or states among Christians. Since non-Christians also marry, have families, and are governed, it is confusing or maybe unkind to say baldly that these universal institutions are Christian. But Christians do accept constraints in all three that materially adapt each to God's purposes through Israel and later in the Body.

For example, absent the constraints of monogamy and permanence, the polygamy of men and the hypergamy of women lead to the widespread sexual misery of ancient Roman society and much of the West today. Israel and the Body were meant to have an obviously superior peace between the sexes, not by having better temple rituals-- they had none; pagans had interesting ones-- but by living in the peaceable constraints revealed by God. And they did.

So the Body had marriage discipline without marriage ritual for a thousand years. Notably, these many generations married and begat but affirmed nothing and nobody. A desire to take a lover by the hand and demand that a congregation "affirm" the mutual feelings would probably have been inconceivable to them. It still seems odd.

Often, the English and others seem to be debating obliquely, not marriage, but establishment. Their common ground-- the CoE must be established (and other churches must be at least respectable); to be that it must be a chaplaincy to society at large; and to be that it must "affirm" sentiments approved by the public with satisfactory ritual. The quibbles are about the sentiments (do they include gay sex?) and the ritual (is the magic, if any, the same as that afforded marrying men and women?).

But the Grand Topic eats That Topic. If establishment (or respectability) is slipping away anyway, then no position at all may be better than either defended at the links.

Instead, it could make more sense to insist that well-grounded faith in Christ is *anti-fragile*. It does not need for its feelings to be "affirmed" by people doing that only ritually and only because their rules and social privilege oblige them to do so. If one truly needs that weakest of endorsements to wed, one lacks the grit and toughness for marriage by Jesus's difficult rules. One should wait until one has what it takes to start.

This sounds a little like Stoicism because Christianity is far closer to that philosophy than to the Enlightenment *cult of sentiments*. But it also sounds like the transformative love of the spiritual direction that disciples are seeking out today.

Some would rather lose their faith than lose their establishment. Can we imagine a scenario in which some unsentimental position like that is the consensus even among the worldly?

Yes-- that view emerges whenever the public at large is attracted to churches for their wise and skillful discipline. Since the C16, revivals of this have happened from time to time. And tellingly, to me at least, proselytizing for other faiths here up yonder stress the discipline-- Buddhist meditation and vows, Islamic prayer and dress, etc-- that they offer those adrift in Western *anomie* (Durkheim).

Think of the winsome evangelical curates serving distant rectors in George Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life. Our pendulum will swing back to them, faster perhaps in the postmodern void.

What will that mean for gay sex and magic weddings? Well, those decisions will be for others to make, and we have no influence on them.

But we can already see a more faithful common ground on which to debate them and take them.


Anonymous said...


1a. In Hellenising Palestine, Jesus's few words to Israel on marriage and divorce are social law enabling more Jews to marry and stay married for life. Easy divorce like that of pagans enables men of high status to have many women (polygamy) and encourages women to compete for a relatively few such men (hypergamy). In such a society-- many of both sexes can never marry at all, sexual impurity rises, and social inequality worsens. These outcomes are bad for each of the sexes and incompatible with Israel's call from God to be a good and just human society. To pagans in the wider empire, Jesus's followers were notorious for their rigorous chastity.

1b. It is not obvious that same sex couples must be supported in the solution to a battle of the sexes problem. But casewise, some might infer that Jesus himself would accept a similar solution to an analogous if anomalous problem for the sake of purity of heart. Call it civil union.

2a. With the hindsight of half a century, it is plausible and reasonable for Anglican churches distant from the sexual revolution of the 1960s to revisit (1a) with respect to heterosexual couples while supporting the inference of (1b) when consciously made by homosexual couples.

2b. This is the missing discussion. The obstacle to it has been an aversion to direct discussion of marriage as a remedy to perennial flaws in the two sexes. Such discussion was long hopelessly unfashionable-- it sounded anti-sex; it sounded pro-life; it celebrated self-control; it implied that distrust between the sexes is evil. But millennial culture online is much more frank about such things than churches have been. Let's talk.

3. Liberal democracies should maintain neutrality in matters of religion and culture; when they are not perceived as honest brokers, an opening is given to authoritarian populism, left or right. Churches should exercise their religious freedom by thinking independently of their states and by maintaining the anti-fragile integrity to thrive amid pluralism.

4. On redefinition of marriage, Tallon is mistaken. Definitional games about things that everyone understands are a corrupt and probably unforgiven abuse of magisterial authority. The revision is humane, but the point at which redefinition becomes the rationale for it is the point at which the ugly logic of power pushes the respect and empathy we need aside.

5. B. Whether gay or straight, real followers of Jesus will follow him in supporting an equitable society, peace between the sexes, and purity of heart.


Father Ron said...

Interestingly, the oddly-named 'Anglican Orthodox' Group in the U.K. (whose article is hosted by equally oddly-named 'Anglican Mainstream') has suddenly found common ground the Muslim conservative in the U.K. on the matter of Same-Sex Marriage. One wonder if both of these organisations which claim tentative allegiance to the Church of England are of the same mind with their Muslim friends about the Islamic execution of homosexuals? If so, then they are right outside the legal parameters of the justice system of the U.K.

Father Ron said...

I've just looked on the Opening Address of ++Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Church of England General Synod, from 6 to 9 September. I discern much wisdom being propagated in these paragraphs: -

"We constantly face this temptation – to make something of ourselves, or to seek to impose our own unity through rules, hierarchies and structures which become a way of controlling others.

The Church throughout history and in our day has so often given into this temptation to become turned in on itself, narcissistic, imposing unity through force, and losing sight of its divinely ordained call to bring every person to a saving knowledge of the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Unity that we ourselves conjure up has, as its first casualties, those who are different. Look at the church’s history of antisemitism, racism, slavery and collusion with evil structures of power. Look at how we have, and do, treat those of different sexualities. But to be such people – directed by fear of the outsider, those who are different – is to be those who simply live to establish our purposes and not God’s. We become the very image of the world around us, not the ikon of God."

God Bless the ABC and our Mother Church of England during this General Synod!

Moya said...

Thanks, +Peter, for a brave attempt to present the many different sides of the debate on marriage, over which churches are already splitting. It makes me wonder if the church as an institution is too unwieldy for the current social conditions? Somehow we need to be much more flexible but tradition is not conducive to that!

MsLiz said...

Dear +Peter, the 3rd hyperlink beginning 'broken fellowship..' seems to be a broken link!

Anonymous said...

Usages differ, of course, but Moya I usually think of tradition as supporting case-wise discernment and of institutions as reifying minimal order. The former is necessarily a creative principle; the latter a conservative one, and each needs the other.

(Kindly note that I am not here opposing tradition to reason and scripture. For that sort of discussion, the precise word is not tradition but *precedent*. In daily life, tradition comprises all three and more.)

That Topic stresses churches of many kinds, but not all of them in the same way. Methodists here up yonder recently agreed to split over a very different sort of crisis.

Following the traditional principle, bishops here and there were refusing to enforce rules that did not make sense of the facts of cases. That is, the received tradition about marriage turns out to have surprising implications when persons are, as Father Ron puts it, intrinsically gay. The rules do not cover this novelty, so by *economy* some bishops effectively set them aside in the unusual cases.

Their opponents replied with, at bottom, an institutionalist demand for uniformity in all things. In their view, churches are mechanisms in which all inputs have predictable outputs. No discernment, no economy, and so, as I see it, no tradition. But maximal order: all march lockstep.

In that case, and in a few Anglican ones, disagreement escalated to schism because the most combative on all sides have believed in a purely institutional order with no case-wise tradition at all. That leaves them unable to say that their agreement on a body of tradition unites them in the face of the inevitably diverse applications of it. Instead, each has a purely rationalistic idea of what institutional uniformity should look like.

Jesus did not found that sort of church. Indeed, he explicitly provided for one with human, spiritual discernment. Hyper- institutionalists ignoring him will break church after church until another kind of church rises to replace them.

The Orthodox are probably right that Western churches are as hyper-institutional as they are because inadequate faith in the Holy Spirit leaves them unable to see tradition as alive. Maybe the Pentecostals are also right that the reason for that rigidity is neglect of the spiritual sense.

Be that as it may be, a winsome case for peaceable churches cannot be made on institutionalism alone. The problem is in basic theology.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liz
The link does work [for me!!] but checking it has alerted me to the fact that that announcement dates from 2020 and there is a more recent statement. Thus I have adjusted that particular sentence.

Anonymous said...


Following patristic practice, I consider some things that we marginalize as *spirituality* to be *basic theology*. I'm not suggesting that a still better rationalism could correct the ones that we have, nor that even they would be church-breakers in churches where tradition is organic practice.

Even as some seek purely institutional integrity, societies like ours are rejecting that sort of religion. One can lose a war by winning a battle.


MsLiz said...

"Instead, it could make more sense to insist that well-grounded faith in Christ is *anti-fragile*."

"inadequate faith in the Holy Spirit leaves them unable to see tradition as alive."

"The problem is in basic theology."

BW, I'm interested in these things you're sharing - I'm wondering if there's anything you'd recommend, online or via other reading material, that would better help me understand the greater context of what you're referring to?

Anonymous said...

On the first, Liz, the ethos of consumerism is not the one that you would find in say Philippians. Faith is not a consumer good and churches are not customer service departments. The distinction that Villodas borrows between *being in the world for Christ* (not wicked, not good) and *being in Christ for the world* (good) is salient to the quality of soul that Christians should aspire to have, and to the ethos by which sound churches draw them toward that. While these are perennial realities, clarity about them is more important where the local society is thoroughly secular.

Following your interests, it may be worth your while to work through some account of secularity per se. Widely admired and even read despite its length is Charles Taylor's A Secular Age. Alongside that, four short books read in sequence would set the stage for your investigations of the US-- Fukuyama's End of History and the Last Man, Deneen' s Why Liberalism Failed, Bellah's Habits of the Heart, and Putnam's Bowling Alone.

The robust account of tradition that you find in my comments is usually attributed to the Council of Constantinople (381), both for the way it treats the earlier Council of Nicaea (325), and for its explicit recognition of the divinity and equality of the Holy Spirit. So you could begin your reading with the creed recited in the eucharist.

Three fathers of that council-- SS Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Basil of Caesarea-- wrote more or less extensively on the Holy Spirit. Because they all came from the same region in central Turkey, they are often called the Cappadocians.

Fun Fact: John Scotus Eriugena, an early Irish theologian (cf Periphyseon) usually associated with Celtic Christianity, was unusually proficient in Greek, traveled to Byzantine Athens, and shows familiarity with the Cappadocians and their great interpreter (cf Ambigua) St Maximus the Confessor. Maximus is often called the Father of Orthodoxy.

Edith Humphrey has an excellent short book on tradition (paradosis) in the NT.


MsLiz said...

Tremendous, BW ... thank you!!!

Anonymous said...


As you explore, Liz, one simple model of secularization worth testing has six parts.

(1) Liberal democracy and capitalism together promote individuality over bonds of social solidarity.

(2) Individuality thus established creates new publics without such entanglements as family and church.

(3) *Nominals* (churchgoers who only went because of such entanglements) turn to *nones* (persons who have consciously abandoned religious practice and institutions).

(4) *Disciples* (churchgoers who have intrinsic motivation to practice and so to go) become intentionally bicultural.

(5) Without nominals, there is much less need or support for churches so many close.

(6) The churches that remain and flourish are disciples' churches with new problems and opportunities that nominals could not have imagined or understood.

My comments here and elsewhere have been fixated on (6) for as long as I can remember. My 1970s classmates from the northeastern US were already then exceptionally observant kids navigating secular families and schools. To keep things smooth, friends I made at church would omit that detail in introducing me to parents who rolled their eyes at religion. That was four decades ago.

In the face of the obvious decline since then, happy warriors left and right have doubled down on signaling virtue to the secular publics and nominals-nones who ignore or dislike them. Charitably, they do not believe or cannot professionally live with the implications of (2), and will probably never fully grasp (6), let alone devote resources to it. Their penchant for partisan conflict is sin, but their inner resistance to change is just what we see in every other modern institution.

This is what brave + Peter is up against. Churches of (6) would have the common ground on which to recognise that some clear disciples among them are (in Father Ron's phrase) intrinsically gay. They would not need to do so for the sake of Enlightenment tolerance etc.

As it is, institutionalists ignoring (2) treat gay church members as pawns in debates about sexuality in society at large, and then accuse him of "defending an institution for its own sake." Log-eyed mote-picking, of course, but understandable in light of their journeys and commitments.

Happily, he and we believe in "the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father..." The broad outline of (6) is beginning to take shape. I like it better.


MsLiz said...

BW-Postscript 9:39 Ooh.. [long exhale]. Much food for thought, so much I have to learn! But I sense spaces opening up, if only dimly at present, where it's probably easier (spiritually) to breathe. Thank you.

Moya said...

Thanks BW for 9.39. Very helpful!

Mark Murphy said...

Yes thanks Bowman - your 9.39 is terrific!

Anonymous said...

Bowman, you propose a characteristically complex (and somewhat idioglossic) explanation for the current state of Christianity in the west, but you are missing the most important (and elemental) factors of all: the Sexual Revolution, which has transformed the mental and social landscape of *everyone for 60 years. Capitalism and liberal democracy have been around for a long, long time before church decline. A truer picture of how our culture's 'progress' has been charted by the Christian historians and academics Carl Trueman ('Triumph of the Self, 2000) and Mary Eberstadt. The chief points of their analysis:
1. Churches were actually *growing in the west in the 1950s (Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham, C. S. Lewis), PECUSA as well. Hollywood was producing reverential biblical epics (Ben Hur, The Robe etc). Communism was condemned as 'godless'.
2. American blacks faced discrimination (Jim Crow etc) but their lives were getting freer and more prosperous.
3. Then the Pill launched the Sexual Revolution and a raft of Unintended Consequences and paradoxes.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

4. The Pill was championed as allowing married couples to space their families and prevent unmarried pregnancies.
Instead, a society-wide change of sexual bevaviour gathered pace through the 1960s.
5. Feminists championed the Pill as 'liberating' female sexuality.
6. The ideal of virginity before marriage was abandoned.
7. Abortion did not decline, instead it became commonplace and the cornerstone of feminist politics.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Cont'd 2

7. Births out of wedlock did not decline, as the champions of the SR originally believed, but became the norm, especially for poorer people. Around 1965, about 25% of black American births were out of wedlock, now it's about 70%. The overall average is moving toward 50%.
8. Divorce levels mounted in the past 60 years, marriage became ever later for most young people - or no at all, as stigmas against cohabitation vanished.
9. Instead of liberating women, the sexual revolution became a charter for the male libido. No more shotgun weddings - if he got her pregnant, he could pay for an abortion. If she refused, well, that was her problem, not his. He would move on to another 'relationship'.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Cont'd 3

10. So two generations have grown up in much of 'the west' (Oz and NZ included) in which the most elemental of our drives, the libido, has been effectively decoupled from marriage.
11. At the same time, a new secular humanist ideology (with roots in Marx and Freud's anti-Christianity, mediated through the Vienna School, Reich, and even New Zealand's John Money, as well as Dewey's 'progressivism') became pervasive in the universities and from there trickled down into school education. As Carl Trueman has shown, "expressive individualism" became the new credo of the left, and American capitalism was happy to cash in on the pornification of culture (and thus far I agree with you, Bowman, on 'individualism' and the evils of American capitalism - but Wall Street is actually far worse than that). The essence of 'expressive individualism' is that the acme of human freedom is untrammeled sexual expression - provided, of course, there is 'consent'. Of course, this a destructive delusion (and sadly, too many find this out too late).
12. This is the actual background to the situation in which churches in the west have been in retreat for 60 years. People didn't wake up one day and say. 'By golly, Hume and Darwin have disproved Christianity!' By and large, older people didn't fall out of Christianity; rather, younger people, growing up in a world in which sex was separated from marriage by contraception, abortion and cohabitation-without-conditions, realised that this incompatible with being a sincere disciple of Jesus Christ. And so they dropped out - or were never really evangelised to begin with.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

Thanks all for open minds and curiosity, but please do test before you buy!

In haste, I mistakenly typed "secularization" at 9:39. It is more accurate to say: the atomization of society-- the dissolution of *secondary ties*-- is emptying churches of those previously bound to them by that *extrinsic motivation*.

That is, at least here up yonder, the rise of nones is one of several rising effects of atomization that have been carefully studied: rural suicides, mass shootings, political polarization, political violence, identity politics, etc. Equally, the shrinking of churches is similarly associated with the decline of service clubs, philanthropy, local political parties, voluntarism generally, and most famously bowling leagues. All of this fits the picture much research paints of a society with declining trust and rising incivility.

If that is the process reshaping the society at large, then its differing effects on religions and churches begin to make testable sense. Churches' own statistics are generally poor data, but even allowing for that United Methodists clearly began their decline decades before the growth of Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics stopped.

What could possibly distinguish those Methodists from both Baptists and Catholics? Finance. Explained in Anglican terms, most money that Methodists give goes directly to their diocese which then disburses it to the deaneries and parishes on the basis of need. So those Methodists were legitimately counting even close friends and relatives of enrolled members as constituents to maximize the funds they received back. When they began to lose a million members a year four decades ago, that was a leading indicator that the society as a whole and so all mainline churches were in trouble.

But Baptists and Catholics? On the ground, both are very motivated to see that their children and grandchildren are enrolled and participating. So a larger share of their membership is kept in church by the *primary tie* of the parent-child bond, and some of their recent decline may simply be due to the lower overall birthrate in the nation at large.

TEC and ACNA are both interesting but for the time being hard to interpret. An Episcopalian today is unusually likely to have been baptized in another denomination, but seems less likely to have children or to keep them in the fold. So TEC is a niche church unlikely either to grow much or to disappear. ACNA began with a very ambitious plan for church growth in a slice of the white middle class not often served by TEC, and tiny parishes have indeed been planted here and there. My question about both and indeed all denominations today is whether a more diocesan fabric would be more diaconal and sustainable than the parochial one inherited from the colonial era.

After the Treaty of Paris (1783), Rome quickly realized that old legal barriers to extending its hierarchy into the former British colonies had fallen away. But wisely, Catholics first experimented in Baltimore to find the proper shape of an American diocese, then replicated what had worked there from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In this, they followed a path taken by churches as different as John Wesley's Methodists and Joseph Smith's Mormons: city by city, evangelism builds diocesan ecologies of faith-based institutions as well as parishes. This has been more successful.


Peter Carrell said...

Thank you all for comments above and a deep level of debate and insights shared!


Individualism in our society arguably has deep Christian roots when we think of the way in which Jesus ministry to crowds kept singling out individuals for transformative encounters, underlining the point that God's love for the world was personal and not general.

I completely agree that the develop of artificial-and-reliable contraception (coupled with liberal abortion laws) has been a revolutionary factor in societal development in the world (not only in the West); but your way of putting this implies a better world in, say, 1850 and 1950, when, in fact, in past times there was much suffering, from women dying in childbirth through to people remaining married through years and years of bitter unhappiness.

You focus on libido suggests a unitary explanation for the decline of the church in the West. I see other factors at work. Here is one simple one: in my childhood, shops were shut on Sundays, little or no sport was played on Sundays, and "going to church" as a family activity had few alternatives. Saturdays were slightly different / better: we could play sport or mow the lawns! Since the 1970s the world at the weekend has opened up: shopping, brunch at the local cafe, cycling, mountain-biking, any other sport you care to name, or simply chilling out at home with an array of reading available on one's iPad ... the habit of going to church has many competitors, some offering a different form of socialization and some offering a stress-free way of chilling out/Sabbathing [there is no cringe factor over church music when staying home] ... and I do not think we can lay any responsibility for this huge change on possibilities for individual or familial choices on contraception.

As for Carl Truman: are we Christians any better than non-Christians re individual/self-centred choices ... as we change churches to find the one that suits us/go to the service at the time of the weekend which fits our busy recreational schedules? [!!!!]

Mark Murphy said...

This doesn't make any sense to me, William.

All of my non church going friends were born in "wedlock".

Planned contraception has freed so many women from grim lives of endless childbearing and family poverty. Ex-Catholic priests I know get this reality better than most.

Safe contraception is a huge step forward for developing countries on so many levels. My grandfather (50 years as a missionary in India) and parents (25 years) often attested to this.

Thank God for the condom: church teaching against it from sexless, sterile men is warped.


Is everyone assuming that church decline is a bad thing?

Anonymous said...

Peter: you misread me if you think I am saying the 1950s were a "better" world than today - although perhaps they were in some ways if we had some kind of "happiness index" for comparing different ages. Less stuff certainly - but fewer broken homes and much less solo parenthood. A lot less violent crime and robbery, too. I understand perfectly well why many conservative Muslims fear and hate western culture and many give their support to Islamic fundamentalism (from the frying pan to the fire).
Do you think young people today are happier than in previous generations? They certainly have more stuff than we did - and many more anxieties. The epidemic of gender confusion and self-harming among teenage girls is an instance of what I mean - to say nothing of the harm inflicted on boys raised without fathers today. In my view (following Daniel Moynihan), this is the no. 1 problem afflicting young black males in America and I wager it is similar in many ways for Maori boys today. If you want to understand school failure and trouble with the law, this is the first place to look. The sexual revolution has been devastating on the poor, who are the least religiously active demographic. Why are half of black babies aborted and why do black males make up 40%+ of the US prison population?
Personally I don't think it was bad that girls could refuse their importuning boyfriends for practical as well as spiritual and moral reasons, it wasn't bad that there were far fewer abortions then, and it wasn't bad that boyfriends took responsibility for getting their girlfriends pregnant. Very few women died in childbirth the 1950s, so I'm not sure of your point here. My basic point remains that sexual promiscuity and religiosity cannot easily co-exist in the same person. Muslims and Pasifika Christians understand this.
I do not disagree with you either that the secularization of Sunday had a deleterious effect on churchgoing anong youth - although smarter churches have always known how to work their away around that, through church-sponsored sport and afternoon and evening services catering for youth.
But here's the thing: children, and especially boys, are far likelier to attend church if their father does. A church that doesn't atract men - family men - isn't going to attract boys but will end up becoming another form of female socialising. What do the statistics tell you? What has happened to NZ Anglican youth?
As for Carl Trueman: I had a beer with him once and have read a fair bit of his stuff. I don't doubt that this doughty Presbyterian professor is a stern critic of American consumerism. Have you read his "Triumph of the Self"? Bishop Robert Barron (Word on Fire, youtube) is reading currently and will no doubt shae his reflections soon. I hope you will read Carl's book.

Pax et bonum
William Greenhalgh

MsLiz said...

Y'all are way more knowledgeable than me so I'm not arguing with anybody but I've some things to add.

William made much of the Sexual Revolution and its effect on society and I feel he's missed something hugely important. When I first started work, in a city public library in the early 1980s, I can remember the opinionated middle-aged female staff attitude to church-goers ... 'hypocrites' and 'do-gooders'. That's stuck in my mind, which leads me to the next paragraph.

I know how much I personally have struggled with reading about SEXUAL ABUSE IN THE CHURCH. I wasn't a victim but in all of my adulthood there seems to have been ongoing news about abuse and associated cover-up in a wide range of denominations. It's been like a constant theme in newspapers, a dreadful history across the globe and also including New Zealand, that's got repeated again and again. And of course more recently.. the accounts of historic abuse in native schools in Canada/USA. So if we're going to talk sex why hasn't church abuse even been mentioned?

The Church (and its institutions) for many decades has been seen as abusive, lying and unwilling to take responsibility for it's wickedness. Not only that, many male church leaders aggressively held on to power and male leadership supported only low-level female roles. Yet outside of church, women were taking on more and more responsible positions in society. Total disconnect!

Also abortion, that issue has just gone on and on, the whole of my adulthood. A lot of church people rabidly against it and recently we've seen how that's played out in the USA with women who need medical care suffering, even dying, due to draconian anti-abortion legislation.

The church has been incredibly slow to support environmental concerns (although Anglicans better on this than the church I grew up in), and often has given any kind of 'protest' the side-eye - especially protests that involve upset, angry people who aren't white.

I've seen all this stuff, on top of what I've already experienced being born into an evangelical family with a tragic history, and I personally for the most part, have given the church a wide berth. [We did for a time attend an Anglican church in Stoke, Nelson many years ago and the vicar's name was Humphrey. He and his wife were really lovely and we remember our time there very positively.]

What's got me interested in Church again? TEC with their emphasis on love of God and love of neighbour, and how they go all out to act on that in the messiness of real life - in striving towards understanding and reconciliation.

Bishop Peter, this point you made is really interesting: "Individualism in our society arguably has deep Christian roots when we think of the way in which Jesus ministry to crowds kept singling out individuals for transformative encounters, underlining the point that God's love for the world was personal and not general."

Anonymous said...

Mark, you may have missed my renarks (derived from American sociologist Mary Eberstadt) on the unintended consequences and paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution.
Yes, the oral contraceptive has led to smaller families.
But it has not reduced abortions. There have been more abortions than ever in the past 40 years. Do you applaud this?
It has not reduced illegitimacy: this is now becoming the norm in the western world. Is this a good development?
It has not reduced the sexual abuse of women; rather it has increased the expectation among men that women will be more sexually available to them without the inconvenience of marriage. Not exactly liberating.
You may be anecdotally correct that all your non-churchgoing friends were born to married parents. But maybe most of your friends and middle class and educated? One of the disturbing trends of recent years is that marriage is becoming the reserve of the better off and the better educated, while the underclass just shack up. Female contraception and abortion are now prescribed for the inconvenience of pregnancy, and failing that, the state will pick up the tab.
I encourage you to read the Anerican sociologists Mark Regnerus ("Cheap Sex: the Transformation of Men, Marriage and Monogamy", Oxford University Press 2017) and Mary Eberstadt ("Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution, 2012, and many lectures on youtube, most recently with John Anderson, former deputy PM of Australia). Bowman, you will find these resources very helpful, as well as Trueman's book.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Anonymous said...

"Is everyone assuming that church decline is a bad thing?"

Ceteris paribus, a society atomized to the extent of having frequent mass shootings, a very low birth rate, low voter participation, etc is less healthy than at least some societies that are not.

Less worship of God and more alienation is bad for those who are missing out.

Churches with less social catering and a richer inner life may be better for those who remain in them.

Not all assume that churches have failed if they do not dominate their societies.

But some may reasonably fear that their own churches are too weak to thrive without some informal establishment from the surrounding society.

And even nones who do not practice the faith of churches often rely on the social capital that those churches created.

Here up yonder, this sort of unraveling has happened a few times before, especially in the aftermath of war. After fraying somewhat in roughly the 1660s, the 1760s, and the 1860s, a later generation rewove the social fabric each time into new patterns that accommodated social change.

By the Founders' design, some degree of cultural pluralism is inevitable here with a limited state founded on rights (James Madison) and capital free for *creative destruction* (Joseph Schumpeter). This is why the United States do not have an established church, and why all the original states had disestablished their churches by the 1830s. As even in say the UK, the next social fabric will have to comprise more of those strands than the old Protestant establishment did.

Some American regions are close to having blood-and-soil nationhood of the European sort. It is too late for the United States as a whole to be that sort of country. Some are unhappy about that.


Anonymous said...

Liz, you won't ever hear me defending or minimising sexual abuse by clergy.
Or by school teachers or sports coaches or scout masters.
But somehow people keep sending their kids to schools, to sports clubs and to scout packs. Why is this? Why haven't they renounced them completely?
Maybe because they can distinguish the institutions from the offenders?
Sexual abuse of children by clergy and school teachers is the worst of sins. It has devastated the Catholic Church in Ireland and the United States, while the Dilworth school case has caused shock waves among Anglicans in NZ.
What do we learn from this? That religious people are hypocrites? Well, some are. Or maybe that people are complex, fractured sinners and we must never put people on pedestals?
I have mentioned before that in my youth I was something of a fan of James K. Baxter and I still appreciate his poetry. But the revelations of his sexual abuse of young women always disturbs me when I think of him now.
Similarly with Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche: a hero to many for his "spirituality" and care of the weak, now lately revealed as a serial abuser of women.
What do I take from this? To have a healthy scepticism about ourselves and to keep ourselves always under God's eye. St Paul is very clear that experiencing God's grace does not exampt us from perpetual vigilance.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

MsLiz said...

"perpetual vigilance" .. definitely Yes.

From Diane Langberg, christian psychologist for over 50 years.
~last two paragraphs from an article~

"Dear Church, as we follow Jesus in caring for the least of these, let us heed Aslan's words to the children he sent on a rescue mission in C.S. Lewis's "The Silver Chair:" "Remember the signs. Say them to yourself in the morning and ... at night and ... the middle of the night. ... whatever strange things happen ... let nothing turn your mind from following the signs."

May the crises of our day reveal in us signs of the character of our Lord made flesh. May others witness the sign of our great love and humble service for the abused and for our neighbors. May we, like Christ, embody the great love of our great Father to a traumatized world."

~in 'How Will the Church Respond? (pdf)

Anonymous said...

Liz and Moya, I think you may enjoy meeting Amy-Jill Levine--

She's best known as the editor of the The Jewish Annotated New Testament.


Mark Murphy said...

Perpetual vigilance? That's a traumatized state. Understandable if you're traumatized, but it's hardly something to aim for as a healthy ideal. It will keep you on edge, distrustful, and distanced from intimacy - for generations.

Less hatred/fear/mistrust of sexual energy and embodiment, an end to authoritarian theology and politics, a deep awareness of patriarchy, a full balance of masculine and feminine energies.....this is what I'd wish for

MsLiz said...

Hi Mark, I was thinking of "perpetual vigilance" being a good thing (for a non-victim) in the sense of being alert to potentially unhealthy situations. Alertness to interactions happening around oneself, where someone else who is vulnerable may be at risk. Some notorious abuse situations in a christian context had serious red flags (e.g male camp leader known to invite boys to join him in a hot tub for *individual* 'bible study'. William's context was more personal but I would've thought also true (especially for spiritual leaders who are looked up to and therefore need to be responsible in their relationships with others who depend on them). Isn't such alertness part of "a deep awareness of patriarchy"? I agree with your wish-list!

Anonymous said...

No, Mark, I was simply alluding to St Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 10.12-13:
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he wil not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way that you can stand up under it."
You Protestants know how Billy Graham ended his earthly race with a clean sheet: by never letting pride get to his head and by keeping his office door open.
Would that Ravi Zacharias and Jean Vanier had followed the same advice and not lived double lives! They harmed their own souls abd their many faithful followers.
A little more "mistrust of his own sexual energy and embodiment" and a godly understanding of how to relate to young women (as a father, not as a predator) would have given James K. Baxter a better legacy.
'Vigilance' just means keeping watch of yourself and avoiding self-deception. That is why examining your conscience before sleep should be the spiritual discipline of every Christian.

Pax et bonum,
William Greenhalgh

Moya said...

I have been following the different views with interest and was particularly taken with ‘being in the world for Christ’ (not wicked/not good) and ‘being in Christ for the world’ (good). [9/2 3.10am] If some of the fallen figures mentioned had remembered the latter, they might not have fallen! ‘Love does no harm to a neighbour so love is the fulfilling of the law’. Remembering I am in Christ always ‘for the world’ might be the vigilance I need.

Father Ron said...

Here's a little more wisdom for today from one of the wisest men of our age: -

"We need to believe that we Christians are called to cooperate with everyone, to break the cycle of violence, to dismantle the machinations of hatred. Yes, Christians, sent by Christ, are called by definition to be a conscience of peace in our world. Not merely critical consciences, but primarily witnesses of love. Not concerned with their own rights, but with those of the Gospel, which are fraternity, love and forgiveness. Not concerned with their own affairs, but missionaries of the “mad love” of God for each human being." - Pope Francis

Seen in this context, The Church needs to sharpen up (or maybe, soften) its Gospel message.

MsLiz said...

Friends, I have a Question if anyone is inclined to help.

On an older ADU thread Bowman briefly referred to Romans 5:12 and "eph ho". Using Google I managed to get a vague idea of the translation issue and east vs west difference.

Context: being bought up evangelical, there was quite an emphasis on sin. Death/Life was also in that learning, but the problem of sin was what I was most aware of, and that Jesus was the sacrifice for sin. I felt grateful for that but the knowledge failed to actually excite me. I also knew that because Jesus lives, we live and yet that somehow didn't really light up my life either.

But as I struggled with online explanations of "eph ho" I sensed a change in how I was understanding the gospel and other Bible verses. That the "good news" of the gospel is really all about humankind who are by default 'beings-unto-death' (because of Adam's failing) being given the opportunity to say 'Yes' to God's offer of salvation and thereby become 'beings-unto-life'. This change in emphasis in my thinking, from sin-focus to focus *more* on the passing from death to life, makes a huge difference!

[I found that difficult to put into words so I'll stop for now and post my actual Question separately]

MsLiz said...

Liz's Question (cont.)
//Thanks +Peter, I see you've already posted the first part!

Today I found an explanation of Romans 5:12 at StackExchange that seems helpful. It had a series of paragraphs accompanied by illustrations that you can click on (I love diagrams!). I've copied the main part of each paragraph below. But I don't have the knowledge to judge how 'good' the info is. Would appreciate guidance from wiser heads!

Ref: Please Note: You need to scroll way down near the bottom of the page

So.. for quick reference, here are partial portions of each paragraph:

[1] First, all are born spiritually dead because of Adam's disobedience in the Garden of Eden. This is Problem #1, which affects all human beings.

[2] Secondly, all people commit transgressions as they get older. This is Problem #2. All people commit sins because they were born in absolute cosmological separation from the life and presence of God through Adam.

[3] In order to deal with both problems, the second Adam, Jesus, was the sacrificial offering for the sins of the entire world, which addresses Problem #2.

[4] Finally, Problem #1 is solved for the sinner who repents and receives the free gift of eternal life (which is not like the transgression of spiritual death that is applied to everyone automatically in Adam).

Note: the actual verse as shown was from Romans 5:12 ASV
12 Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that [reason] all sinned:—


Comments? Would love to hear from you!

Anonymous said...

John Meyendorf--


Anonymous said...

For eleven ways to read *eph ho* in Romans v 12, see Joseph A Fitzmyer SJ --

Romans. Anchor Bible 33. New York, 1993.


MsLiz said...

I've looked at your first reference (7:16) BW, thank you!
This primary focus on death/life is a revelation.
If +Peter allows, I'll share my notes from that text via a separate comment.

MsLiz said...

Notes from BW's first reference, John Meyendorf--

~ "There is indeed a consensus in Greek patristic and Byzantine traditions in identifying the inheritance of the Fall as an inheritance essentially of mortality rather than of sinfulness, sinfulness being merely a consequence of mortality."

Adam's sin ushers in mortality / corruption / death.....
~ "means through which the fundamentally unjust "tyranny" of the devil is exercised over mankind after Adam’s sin."
~ "controlled by the one who is "the murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8:44). It is this death, which makes sin inevitable and in this sense "corrupts" nature."

Humanity isn't born guilty but is born mortal.
~ "sin is always a personal act"
~ "...neither original sin nor salvation can be realized in an individual’s life without involving his personal and free responsibility."

Death and Life.
~"The opposition between the two Adams is seen in terms not of guilt and forgiveness but of death and life."

~ "But the mystery [of baptism] is not limited to this; it is a promise of greater and more perfect gifts." note! 'this' being "the remission of sins"
~ "...baptism is liberation because it gives access to the new immortal life brought into the world by Christ’s Resurrection.


Anonymous said...

Liz, I'm not sure what your question is. But I imagine that others may be asking why this verse gets so much attention.

Julian of Eclanum challenged Augustine of Hippo to show some scriptural warrant for the theory of *original sin* from which the latter had critiqued Pelagius. Augustine replied with Romans v 12, a notoriously ambiguous verse.

Julian objected that Augustine was misconstruing the Greek text in translating it into Latin. Augustine replied that it was so translated in a baptismal rite traditional in Rome.

Lately, Henri Blocher (Reformed Church of France) and Gerald Bray (CoE) have offered defenses of Augustine's way of construing the text. Others with Reformed systems (eg Michael Bird) have sought to construct doctrines that can bear the load of *original sin* but with less controversial support in the scriptures.

Kindly note that Pelagius's teaching could have been inadequate or wrong even if Augustine's critique of it was unwarranted or lacked traction. That has tended to be the view from the East, which views their controversy as provincial and gathered a not at all augustinian consensus around the theology of Maximus the Confessor.


By the way, those searching Fitzmyer's commentary on Romans for his several construals of v 12 should find them on pages 413-417. If memory serves, he also treated this in his article on Romans for the first edition of the Jerome Biblical Commentary.


Mark Murphy said...

Thanks Liz. I'm enjoying listening in to your journey around this text as a microcosm for larger vistas and mountain ranges. Bowman is quite phenomenal in his capacity to provide the layers of tradition including from the East. How lucky we are.

Yet none of the textual interpretations seem right to me so far. Maybe I am a Pelagian.

MsLiz said...

Dear friends, I'll try to explain why this means a lot me..

I grew up steeped in the Billy Graham kind of evangelicalism. We humans had all sinned and fallen short, under the wrath of God and destined for eternal punishment.

I struggled to understand why, if God was so full of wrath, that he would also love us SO much that Jesus came in human form to die for us. It didn't really make sense - neither did I truly understand myself as being "beloved" (cf. TEC where there's much emphasis on belovedness!)

But if I understand what I've been reading above.. we didn't by default inherit some kind of despicable, sinful state because of Adam. We inherited mortality and separation from God (the consequence of Adam's sin) and because we find ourselves in this state, it's inevitable we'll also personally sin. There's a difference there!

Whatever transpired in the Garden of Eden, humans lost their spiritual freedom, becoming enslaved to the Deceiver - who rules through Death.

Having been deceived, humankind was doomed. Utterly helpless.

BUT we ARE the Beloved...

John 3:16, that glorious verse.. For God so LOVED the world...

Jesus the second Adam, took the punishment for our personal sins at the Cross, and for those who receive Jesus, God sees only the righteousness of Jesus in them. Jesus died, descended, vanquished Death, rose again victorious, ascended, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

The Kingdom of Heaven has come near!

Romans 1:16 "..the gospel.. is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.."

Jesus, in Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus, in John 4:14 ".. the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."


Through the new birth we're freed from the tyranny of Death. We are sons and daughters of the living God.. Amazing Grace!

1 John 3:14 "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death."

Galations 4:4-5 "But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.[


Moya said...

I am fascinated by Dr Amy-Jill Levine, thanks BW. [10/2 6.08]

MsLiz said...

Msg for BW : effectively you answered my Question anyway BW by giving me the Meyendorf text, so all good. My Q was whether what I'd already found/shared was 'good info'. My reading of Meyendorf bore out what I'd understood from the StackExchange explanation. Thank you.

MsLiz said...

BW: I joined scribd so I could get the Fitzmyer, S.J. doc and waded through to page 18 where I found re Romans 5-12...


Paul would, then, be saying,

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death
came through sin; so death spread to all human beings, with the result
that all have sinned.


~ How I picture it in my own words:

Adam's sin fractured our intimate relationship with our Creator, enabling Death to assume control over all mankind. Because of this we exist in death's thrall and therefore it's inevitable that each and every one of us will sin.

~ Does that capture the gist of it?


MsLiz said...

Dr Amy-Jill Levine via youtube.. very powerful!
~and incisive. Thanks for the links, BW

Anonymous said...

Liz and Mark, a retelling of the story of Eden may clear some cobwebs.

Adam and Eve are alive in the garden. They still tend the creatures there as the 'adam before them did and they still have an easy acquaintance with God.

They are not said to be immortal. Yet they will not starve to death. Needing almost nothing and already having that, they do nothing to fend off death. One could say that they live as though they were immortals.

Could they become actually immortal? Hypothetically, yes-- they could eat the fruit of the Tree of Life. But not experiencing mortality they do not yearn for immortality.

God warns them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They do this anyway. How does this change the situation? It changes them.

Now their minds have been corrupted by a knowledge that is beyond their created scope. That corrupt mind cannot have fellowship with God's mind. Immortality in that corrupt condition would make this estrangement permanent.

So now the Tree of Life is dangerous to them. They are driven out of Eden for their own spiritual safety.

Living in the world rather than paradise, they for the first time experience mortality as the struggle to sustain or at least reproduce the body. Adam works to eat, Eve gives birth to survive.

Because they were made, not for this struggle, but to know God and each other, they are not well adapted to existence away from his paradise. In particular, each of the means of bodily survival can become a snare of further corruption. of needing to do things to survive in the world that are however traps for creatures meant for paradise

Was there sex in Eden? Whether there was or not, Eve did not depend on Adam in paradise as she necessarily does in the world, and vice versa. If they do not reproduce, their life ends, but if they do, they experience the fear and suspicion that divides the sexes. This is very perverse since companionship was God's whole point in differentiating the original 'adam into a man and woman.

This human predicament is a thread through the first several chapters. In the world, Cain must sacrifice to maintain his relationship to God, but this opens his heart to envy. The people at Babel need to build shelter from the elements, but go on to erect a tower that challenges heaven.

Anonymous said...


You can release hungry mice into sand between sheets of glass.

Time after time, put something edible in a particular spot at the bottom. They will tunnel down through the sand to that spot until they find it. Every time.

Start over with the same mice, clean glass, fresh sand, and no food. They will tunnel through the sand to that empty spot anyway. Every time.

The needs of survival condition consciousness in mice and other mammals.


Now we usually hear the same story told in a more juridical way. God's warning is a command. Not heeding it is not tragedy but rebellion. Its main result is not the change in Adam and Eve but an affront to his honour. Expulsion is not protection but penalty. The penalty is emphatically deserved. God's motivation is not wise care for his creatures but maintenance of his own transcendence of them. In short, we hear a rendition of the story that resonates with the values of Roman and maybe barbarian justice.

But law in the scriptures, even when that is more clearly in view, is not always invested with the magical transcendence and necessity that it had in ancient Rome. For example, the Israelites conserved three versions of their covenant Decalogue. Clearly, law was important to their dealings with God, but just as clearly they are not doing law as a Roman praetor or later a papal canonist would have done that.

Christine Hayes Three Legal Corpora

Christine Hayes What's So Divine About Divine Law?

But Genesis generally and the opening chapters especially do not signal that they are about law. Even if they did, that law would have had the quite different legal values of the ancient Near East generally and Israel especially. Nor, stories being stories, do we need to choose between any legal signals that we do detect in these chapters and the cosmic tragedy that sets up God's call of Abraham. St Paul knew this.

So in eastern readings of Genesis and Romans, death is, not just flat-lined brain activity, but the layers of ways in which mortality conditions human consciousness every day. Conversely, life is not just continued animation of the body, but a quality of soul in which it has more of the edenic familiarity with God. Israel's story about Eden is a charter for the contemplative life.

Following Genesis and Romans, St Maximus explains salvation (Ambiguum 41) as the reconciliation in each soul of five schisms-- God and creatures, things invisible and things visible, heaven and earth, paradise and world, man and woman.


MsLiz said...

BW, amazed to find your latest comments. My OH left early this morning and I'd been using the extra time reading the Eden story again.. then found what you've shared here. Great stuff although I started to struggle about 3/4 way through (I haven't followed the links yet though). I don't recall hearing anything about St Maximus until you introduced him in this thread. This is all a steep learning curve for me so I think it's going to take a while for me to get to grips with it. Thank you!

Mark Murphy said...

Thanks for the Genesis reading, Bowman. That certainly clears away some pretty persistent cobwebs.

On the death/life theme as vitality rather than just immortality, I'm requoting Fox:

"Now was I come up in the spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God. All things were new and all the creation gave a different smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter. I knew nothing but pureness and innocency and righteousness, being renewed up into the image of God by Christ Jesus so that I say I was come up to the state of Adam which he was in before he fell.”. (George Fox)

Mark Murphy said...

And requoting Jung in relation to....

"Following Genesis and Romans, St Maximus explains salvation (Ambiguum 41) as the reconciliation in each soul of five schisms-- God and creatures, things invisible and things visible, heaven and earth, paradise and world, man and woman."


The idea of an unus mundus [one world] is founded on the assumption that the multiplicity of the empirical world rests on an underlying unity…Everything divided and different belongs to one and the same world…. (Carl Jung, Collected Works…)

I think you are correct in assuming that synchronicity, though in practice a relatively rare phenomenon, is an all-pervading factor or principle in the universe, i.e. in the Unus Mundus, where there is no incommensurability between so-called matter and so-called psyche. (Jung, Letters…)

Only numinous experiences retain their original simplicity or oneness which still gives us intimations of the Unus Mundus. (Jung, Letters….).

MsLiz said...

ABC Justin Welby, in a few lines from an interview via 'Vatican News':

"There is one Resurrection, which is the source of our life. There is one crucified God, which is the source of our forgiveness. There is one Spirit, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, which is the source of the life of the Church and our giftedness."

~sharing his thoughts at the end of the ecumenical pilgrimage with Pope Francis to South Sudan


Moya said...

Going back to your take on the gospel that you have discovered (and which appeals to me), I was reminded that Hebrews says it has ‘freed us from the fear of death’ through which the devil had enslaved us. Also somewhere it says, Jesus ‘brought life and immortality to light through the gospel’. Both seem to bear out that interpretation of Romans 5:12 and BW’s telling of Genesis 3.

Moya said...

That quote comes from 2 Timothy 1:10 and the whole verse is worth reading. Sorry I didn’t look first!

MsLiz said...

BW, it's challenging to get over my background's 'penalty' way of thinking!

But I think I'm getting an understanding of what you shared about A&E being banished from Eden for their own spiritual safety and protection.

After listening to the 1st Christine Hayes lecture, YouTube popped up another by her (on the OT) so I had a listen. She talked about Judah being conquered by the Babylonians in 586 and how it was unusual for a conquered people to survive as a separate entity. She explained how some of them believed in one God who's transcendent over nature and in absolute control of history. And how because of this they didn't view tragedy/destruction as either (i) a defeat of their God or (ii) a rejection of them by God - but as a necessary part of God's larger purpose or plan for Israel.

It was surprising to find myself listening to another 'punishment' event.. and how some of those who were conquered, in spite of their ordeal, had enough faith and vision to believe that eventually God's good purposes for Israel would still prevail - in the long term. And so their identity survived.

I enjoy listening to Christine Hayes.

MsLiz said...

Awesome, Moya! And I'm adding a *Question* at the bottom

Quoting 2 Timothy 1:9-10 (NIV)

"He has saved us and called us to a holy life — not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."

So.. "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,"

Q. What does this actually mean or infer? I don't get it!

MsLiz said...

The Hebrews ref Moya.. great to have it, thanks.

I was pretty sure when I put 'enslaved' in my comment (12th, 9.30am) that it was mentioned somewhere! Heb 2:14-15 (NIV):

[14] Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— [15] and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Anonymous said...

Liz, taming that "penalty way of thinking" may be all that you actually need. Some have a God-concept in which it is occasionally helpful to think that way; others have an allergy to it for which there is no medication.

What everyone should grasp is that just as Judaism is more than the trauma of the Exile, so Christianity is more than anxiety whether God is just toward the lost. Alister McGrath dates the latter question to the C13 West; the East never took it up, and Charismatics have firmly put it down. It's not in the creeds.

Christine Hayes is a talmudist, which helps in two ways.

For some reason, scholars are often clearest in explaining fields adjacent to their own research. For example, I've known biochemists who could explain cell biology more clearly than cell biologists and vice versa. I was lucky to start my academic studies of the New Testament with a patrologist who knew the languages, texts, and commentary to professional standards, but also had a certain independence from squabbles of the guild that loomed large at the time but are mostly forgotten today. He was better than others at distinguishing forest from trees.

A talmudist has the further advantage of knowing how Jewish scholars ancient medieval and modern have addressed questions that any reader of the Bible as scripture will have to ponder. Again, a little distance helps. It is because she also knows Moshe Greenberg that she is so clear in explaining Julius Wellhausen and Herman Gunkel. Daniel Boyarin and Philip Schaefer are two more scholars who put a similar range to interesting use.


MsLiz said...

Moya, great to have the extra verses! I'll include them in personal notes that I intend to put together. Found your Hebrews ref in chapter two.. thanks.

The death/life theme seems very strong in the Bible and it's like I'm reading with new eyes, I can only guess I wasn't very attuned to it before!

Anonymous said...

Liz and Moya, you may also wish to log passages on--

(a) forgiveness of sins.

(b) release from bondage to the power of ...

Richard B Hays notes that, although we usually present the faith in terms of (a), St Paul more often mentions (b).