Tuesday, March 28, 2023

It's Passiontide, so time to think again re the cross and the resurrection (1/3)

What happened on the cross when Jesus died? What is the relationship between the scriptural accounts of the raising of Jesus from the dead and his subsequent encounters with disciples (with their messy, difficult if not impossible to resolve inconsistencies) and the risen Jesus (i.e. with the fact that Christian witness, from the Day of Resurrection until now is that Jesus has risen from the dead). 

These questions continue to be raised because we continue to work out in each generation what it means to read Scripture and to live lives as sinners (in need of the cross) and as believers (convinced that we may be a people of hope for an always better future because Jesus has risen from the dead).

So, a few reflections today, next Monday and Easter Monday.

First, I note some links in comments above re theories of atonement as well as reference to an article in our Diocesan magazine, AnglicanLife (not yet online).

Then, in an "I've been thinking" mode, a thought or two about "penal substitutionary (theory of) atonement."

In favour of this theory is all that we read in Scripture about the possibility that God will send (Old Testament, especially Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12) and has sent (New Testament, e.g. Romans 3:21-26) one who will bear our sins and the punishment for them in our place.

Something I have noticed, contra those who (understandably in today's world) feel diffident about ascribing notions of anger and wrath to God is that there are many references in the Old Testament to God's wrath against unrighteousness.

Against this theory, or, at least, against this theory receiving a focus such that other theories of atonement are maginalised rather than being held together, is concern that we avoid anthropomorphising God so that God becomes the angry father of our own lives who dispensed way too much corporal punishment on us and our siblings. Or, as the cell group leader in my Christian Union in my first year at varsity memorably said to me, 'We mustn't think of God as waving a cricket bat, wanting to hit us, and Jesus steps forward and says, "Don't hit them, hit me instead".'

Why might we continue to explore what it might mean that God is wrathful against wrongdoing and Jesus' death on the cross in some way (according to some theory of atonement) removes that wrath from the equation while simultaneously changing our status from wrongdoer to rightdoer?

One reason, it strikes me, is that we humans, even when we have done our best to eradicate notions of penalty from life (a jail sentence as a penalty for breaking the law becomes a place of rehabilitation; corporal punishment, detentions for breaking the school's rules gives way to something constructive for the community life of the school; etc) are still determined to punish people!

Unfortunately, with various ramifications for the quality of life in Aotearoa New Zealand in respect of free speech, civility in the public square and de-powering polarization as a force to divide us, during this past weekend a visiting speaker, Posey Parker, led to an enormous amount of violent talk/words on placards as well as to actual violence. A flavour of what happened is captured in an article by Rachel Smalley who makes the important point that what is at stake these days is whether women are being silenced or not.

What is going on here?

I suggest something deeply "penal" is at work in such events. 

On the one side, the sheer act of inviting a provocateur such as Posey Parker, knowing this will bring out the worst of certain kinds of supremacists, in an unholy alliance, is an act of punishment towards those who are different, in this case the trans community. It is simple analysis of our society to recognise that the trans community are vulnerable enough in everyday life without organising rallies and visiting speakers to enhance this vulnerability.

On the other side, the resort to violence, whether of language or of actual acts of violence, is an act of punishment against a range of people who, whether or not they agree with everything Posey Parker says (supposing she even gets to say something!), wish to make a protesting point that concern for the trans community should be held in tandem with being able to (e.g.) refer to women as women and girls and girls. Effectively the counter-protest against those aligned with Posey Parker at the weekend was a punishment for daring to think differently in the public square.

Imagine this is Jerusalem in the build up to the final Passover for Jesus. He dies on the cross bearing the penalty for all sins: be wrathful against me, his death says, and not the trans community; and be wrathful against me and not those who think differently to the current "establishment" - let my death take away your anger and malice, and let me set you free to be reconciled to one another.

Ok - a lot, lot more goes on in the actual crucifixion of Jesus: the transaction in the event of the cross concerns God's wrath against wrongdoing and God's action to reconcile us to himself. But can we better understand that God might be wrathful against wrongdoing when we reflect on the one thing both sides of the conflict at the weekend shared: a deep belief that their wrath was justified because what "the other side" were doing was utterly wrong?

Though I appreciate that - in human terms - substituting the analogy between God and an angry human father for an analogy between God and an angry human mob might not be much of an improvement!

Monday, March 20, 2023

Nostalgic for a different era? [Updated]

(1) Nostalgia for a different era of Anglican evangelicalism: Quite often I find myself thinking thoughts which are less than well formed and then - courtesy of the breadth and variety of the internet - discover someone has written them up for me better than I could do.

In this case my half-formed thoughts have been about what has changed for Anglican evangelicalism from former to present days (at least in the English stream enjoyed by Australia and New Zealand as well as England). Once upon a time, evangelicals were a minority within the church, sometimes a somewhat maligned and marginalised group. On the minority aspect (but not the maligned or marginalised aspect), when I was a child my father was the vicar of the only evangelical parish in one of our dioceses.  That others around us did not share our views, including the bishop, and so forth, seemed not to matter much: it just meant we needed to work on our mission as we understood and hope one day others might want to join us. It did not mean departure.

Thus it was good to read recently something written by Charles Read, a priest in the Diocese of Norwich, who offers some autobiographical reflections here and includes this:

"I hope you might see the fact that evangelicals like us were happy to be who we were in a church where we were a minority, and where we did not expect to find bishops, archdeacons or diocesan staff who shared our theological views. We just got along with such people, and in the parish we got on with preaching a message of God’s love and salvation open to all, if they would simply turn to God and accept Jesus as their saviour."

But here, for example, is a very recent statement of the opposite, of the unhappiness of an English evangelical Anglican parish which feels out of step with their bishop(s):

"St Ebbe’s clergy have already declared that we are in impaired communion with the bishops in our diocese, which means that we will not welcome them to preach, confirm, ordain or conduct our ministerial reviews, and we will not take communion with them. The PCC has also taken action to ensure that any money we pay within the diocese is distributed via the Oxford Good Stewards Trust and is only used for faithful gospel ministry and essential administrative costs. We will be working closely with others, especially within the Church of England Evangelical Council, to discuss what other actions we can take, either individually as churches or together, both to distance ourselves from false teaching and to promote the cause of the gospel. As a larger church, we are especially conscious of our responsibility to help and support smaller evangelical churches, as well as faithful clergy and laity who are in the especially vulnerable situation of serving in churches where their congregations are divided or against them on these issues.

The debate within Synod, and the decision it made, bear witness to a division which goes far deeper than that over the particular presenting issue. There are now two distinct groups within the Church of England. One has chosen the way of compromise with the world and disobedience to God’s word; the other is determined to stay faithful to Christ, whatever the cost. It has been very encouraging to see deepening bonds growing between orthodox Anglicans, from different evangelical and other orthodox ‘tribes’. In the months, and no doubt years, ahead we will be seeking to build new structures that will, God willing, enable us to maintain distance from those who have gone down the wrong path, while working together with orthodox Anglicans in the cause of the gospel."

Given that, once upon a time, at least in my memory, Anglican evangelicals felt no particular need to leave their English/Australian/New Zealand churches, even though we worried about the lack of understanding of the gospel by diocesan leaders and other parish clerics. It was asserted that they were preaching "churchianity" rather than Christianity. From some preachers there were jibes against other parts of the church such as the (not particularly empathetic) quip (against Anglo-Catholics): "we are saved by grace, not by grease". Then, when it came to which Anglican missions were to be supported or not, we distinguished between those missions we understood to preach the gospel from those who didn't.

We didn't leave over these differences.

Try as I might, I cannot see wherein "That Topic" we have some new "gospel" grounds to justify setting up some kind of new Anglican church or network of churches or (as a recent commenter here proposes) a "realignment" of the Anglican Communion.

(2) Nostalgic for a different era re money and preaching?

Very occasionally, when moving outside my normal preaching "zone" (i.e. working in the Diocese which provides me with a stipend), I receive a small honorarium. Very tiny relative to figures cited below. 

If I were smarter, I would change my name to "TD Jakes" or "Brian Houston" ... as The Other Cheek points out in an expose of eye watering, I could buy a house with that kind of honorarium honoraria over the Ditch.


"In his speech, Wilkie details payments made by Hillsong to guest speakers. “For example, US pastor Joyce Meyer enjoyed honorariums of $160,000, $133,000, $100,000 and $32,000, and US pastor TD Jakes received $71,000 and $120,000, with a staggering $77,000 worth of airfares to and from Australia thrown in. In return, Mr Houston goes to America and receives—you guessed it—his own eye-watering honorariums.”

This system of payments – part of a round-robin of speakers visiting each other’s mega-church or conference – was overdue for exposure. 

Several of the Hillsong music leaders are shown as having huge US-based incomes. According to the Wilkie documents, three had an income of $1.3m. (Is this annual income, as the Wilkie documents suggest, or an aggregate figure? This requires investigation, so The Other Cheek is not featuring their names.)"

We live in expensive times. The same article goes on to report on a number of redundancies at Hillsong. 

I love (and will continue to love) a number of songs which originate in Hillsong worship. But what has been happening behind the scenes is a long way from the early days of Pentecostalism Down Under.

[Update] (3) Also Nostalgic for Rowan Williams and his intelligence brought to bear on seemingly intractable problems, for instance, as reflected on here.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Vale Fr Ron Smith (and other news)

Life is intensely busy. There was a trip to Auckland last week for a meeting of our House of Bishops and tomorrow another trip, this time to visit our students at St John's College. Various meetings. Some leading to more follow up work than others. There has also been a non-visit by me, relating to a significant event in the life of ACANZP ...

On Saturday I took a wedding, long planned in my diary. That meant I couldn't travel to Fiji for the ordination on Saturday of Sione Uluilakepa as bishop and installation as Archbishop of Polynesia. 

I am delighted that our Vicar-General, Mark Barlow was able to travel in my place, and, as well, another two clergy from our Diocese, the Reverends Leni and Kofe Havea were there as well. A pre-event report is in Taonga and I am sure a full report will be posted soon. There have been dozens of photos on Facebook already!

This morning, at church, I was very pleased to meet a regular commenter here, Mark Murphy.

Sadly, late on Friday, I learned that another regular commenter here, Fr Ron Smith died in the early hours of Friday morning.

Ron had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer some months ago. Initially he defied predictions of imminent demise but eventually the cancer won. At a recent service at his regular place of worship, St Michael's and All Angels, it was wonderful to be able to greet Fr Ron, but he clearly looked gravely ill.

Ron was in his 94th year, he was ordained deacon in 1980 and priested in 1981. He served in the Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch Dioceses, being a valued priest in the Parish of Christchurch St Michael's and All Angels since 1999. He was a regular commenter on a number of blogs, aside from ADU, and he wrote his own blog, Kiwianglo, which now has a final comment written by a family member.

Although Ron's comments here could be quite argumentative, and, in times past, prone to ad hominems which kept me on my toes as moderator, he consistently pointed all readers to the wide mercy and generous grace of God.

I will miss him. Please pray for Diana, his wife and their family as they prepare, along with his parish family, for his Requiem Mass at 11 am Saturday 18 March 2023 at St Michael's and All Angels, Oxford Tce, Christchurch.

UPDATE: Lovely tribute here from Bosco Peters.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

More on Anglican perturbations in 2023: what it is the issue at stake? [Updated]

As perturbations in the Anglican Communion continue, focusing on England (a recent General Synod decision) and across the Ditch (also following a recent General Synod decision), we might note the following:

Bishop Christopher Cocksworth writes carefully here.

Some more vigorous responses to the CofE GS are made from within/without the CofE:

St. Helen's Bishopgate, London signals a breakdown in relationship with the CofE. Note supporting bishops from GAFCON offer a few words via video.

CEEC of the Church of England responds to the General Synod decision.


Sam Wilson, an evangelical member of the CofE General Synod writes a letter to Church Times:

Of course an obvious response to such a letter is to assert that those signing are not evangelicals at all, possibly not even Christian, as Sam Margrave (also a member of General Synod) Tweets:


Meanwhile, perturbations continue in Australia:

A new congregation - the fifth - joins the Diocese of the Southern Cross in Australia.

[UPDATE FROM ORIGINAL POST] The Church in Southern Africa has not been able to agree on blessings, but can on prayers, per this article.

My own tiny Twitter contribution to being Anglican in our day, segueing off a comment by our own PM:

And, that, really, is my post this week in a nutshell:

That is, there are two kinds of Anglicans in the world:

Those who will walk together with those whom they disagree with and those who will only walk with those whom they agree with.

The issue is proposed to be one of concern about homosexuality but in reality, is not the issue, or question at stake, What it means to be a (Anglican/evangelical/conservative) Christian?

Will we love, respect and serve one another, despite differences in convictions as we read Scripture, or will we judge, condemn and break apart?

Incidentally, something similar re the question of holding together or dividing because of differences in views is going on in the Roman Catholic Church as the Pope attempts to hold the Roman communion together by ... restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass. So, Christopher Lamb:

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, etc. But, isn't the centre holding critical to the future of the gospel in our world? 

The Traditional Latin Mass is not God's preferred form of worship (cf. worship in Revelation involving "every tongue"). Dividing over questions of marriage, divorce, covenanted commitments between people is not something Jesus either taught or commanded.

If, to be honest, I feel somewhat despairing over differences and divisions among Christians in 2023, I am nevertheless hopeful for the following reasons:

1. There may be something deeper at stake than "differences over what it means to be Christians". Is there an insecurity in a rapidly changing world bearing less and less resemblance to the world of our sacred scriptures (whether we are Christian, Muslim etc) which is driving people of faith to seek security in the form of religion (such as the (unchanging) Latin Mass rather than the (changing) "modern" Mass or in a tight definition of holy behaviour (unchanged, it is put, since Moses and Jesus))? What if the divisions among us rest on differences in what enables us to be secure in the love of God? If so, there is always the hope of pointing people to Jesus as the only rock and anchor of our faith.

2. Focusing on differences only has so much energy. Of course for some people such energy lasts a lifetime (of an individual, of a denomination). But for many of us, we cannot live on the continual edge of conflict, and the Christ in us drives us towards peace and not war. Notwithstanding the awful state of division among us, will we see in our lifetimes some rapprochment? I am hopeful. Always!