Sunday, July 14, 2024

On Bible translations

A recent visit to a local Christian bookshop is one provocation for this post. Another is reading Peter Simpson's Colin McCahon: Is This the Promised Land? Vol. 2 1960-1987 (Auckland University Press, 2020) on NZ’s (arguably) greatest artist, Colin McCahon, and seeing the impact the New English Bible translation made on him and his religious paintings.

Taking the bookshop first: I am bewildered by two observations looking at the Bible section of the bookshop. 

1. The available Bibles are dominated by (i) fairly recent translations published by North American publishers and (ii) the ESV (which is not so recent, and is a certain form of conservative Christianity’s go to successor to the KJV/RSV/ASB line (both evangelical and - in respect of some parts of the English-speaking world re "lectionary Bibles" - Catholic).)  

2. Thus very good English translations (such as NRSV, New Jerusalem Bible, Revised English Bible, Good News Bible, NIV, New Living Translation) are hard to find (at least in this particular shop). 

(Obviously such observations will vary from store to store, from Protestant store to Catholic store and so on.)

Apart from the obvious commercial consideration (a publisher will make more out of their own “brand” of translation than out of another translation that they (presumably) pay royalties on to the copyright holder of the translation), why would the English-speaking Christian world - at least as measured by what a bookshop thinks it can sell most of - move on from the translations I list above? What on earth is wrong with:

- NRSV: best, modern, scholarly, appreciated by Catholics and Protestants, inclusive (great for congregational reading in worship; better than ESV on that score) translation ever?

- New Jerusalem Bible: learned, readable, scholarly Catholic translation, widely appeciated by Protestants as well?

- Revised English Bible: updated successor to the fine New English Bible (more on that below) and with good ecumenical scholarship behind its updates?

- Good News Bible: brilliant translation within confines of deliberately limited vocabulary; and when supplied with Annie Vallotton drawings, the best ever illustrated Bible, and not particularly needing updating even as English speech has changed over the 50+ years since it first appeared?

- New Living Translation: fresh, vibrant English, easy to read - potentially the new Good News Bible of its day?

- NIV: ok if all the above impress you but you are keener on a translation skewed favourably by its evangelical translators, then this is for you and for me?

(I would be happy to put The Message in the list as well. There weren't many copies of it available in this store …!)

It is not as though, before we get to the actual plethora of very recent translations or current availability of diverse forms of publication of the ESV, that the English-speaking Christian world has been short of great translations. Who would need more than the six I list above to choose from?

Apparently we all do!

What is wrong here with even more choice in 2024? Arguably, nothing! Choice is good. The paper Bibles are printed on will be just the same amount of paper whether we have a choice of six translations or of sixteen (assuming something of a consistent rate of purchases among Christians). Etc. It does make it harder to have a sense of a common reading of Scripture together - though it could reasonably be argued that if we are not all reading the NRSV in church then we do not have a common reading whether the range beyond the NRSV is two or ten or twenty versions.

We might also add that the Bible has always been a “contested space”. Even when there was no translating going on, just copying of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic texts in pre-printing press scriptoria, we know that various scribes sought to improve the text before them with the odd extra clarifying word or the subtle change which harmonised one text with another or made some difficult to understand sentence less difficult. Then when (in the English speaking world) translations took off, the much loved 1611 KJV was the outcome of several esrtwhile attempts through the previous century to form a widely agreeable text for the whole of the then English-speaking world.

Once, several centuries later, the stability and continuity of the KJV was no longer fit for a now changed English language, it was always unlikely that a “revised version” of the KJV would satisfy all across the UK/Commonwealth and USA, across Catholic and Protestant communities, and across theologically diverse congregations. Thus by the time the 19th century Revised Version gave way to the post WW2 Revised Standard Version (with various other Catholic and Protestant translations popping up through the first half of the 20th century), the character of 20th century English was ripe for the 1950s (JB Philips New Testament), 1960s (NEB New Testament, Today’s English Version (Good News Bible) New Testament, The Jerusalem Bible), 1970s (completion of NEB, GNB, emergence of The Living Translation) and 1980s (NIV, The New Jerusalem Bible).

If, then, within the particular “contest” of the diverse character of English (incuding the diverse character of its speakers: first language, second language; “American” v “British”; “popular” v “academic”), to say nothing of diverse nature of desired translations (word for word, meaning for meaning, somewhere in between), we allow that there was never going to be a “new KJV for the 20th and 21st centuries” which swept all other “wannabe” dominant Bibles before it (and, we might note, even the so-called New KJV has not particularly dominated the field of modern English Bibles), the question remains: do we need all the translations currently available? 

(My associated question: are we seeing the sweeping aside of wonderful translations in favour of North American publishing houses turning a profit on their “house” translations which have nothing much to commend them, relative to what is already in existence?)

Yet, without particularly wanting to support the most recent of translations and the publishers behind them, might we note that there has been an unhelpful tendency on the part of the major players of the mid to late 20th centuries to adjust/update their translations so that no particular moral authority exists anywhere in the English speaking world to stop others coming forward with new translations?


While the NEB, dating from the early 1960s/70s, had some old fashioned English, so could have been updated by its publishers (i.e. the REB), has the REB met any particular need for a solid, academically very sound translation not already met by the NRSV? (And, the NRSV is better at inclusive language that the REB!)

The Bible Societies, while still publishing the Good News Bible, felt it had shortcomings in the market for “limited vocabulary” English Bibles, and so published the Common English Version (CEV). But was it really needed? Many years later it seems that the GNB is still around (albeit very, very hard to find in the Chch bookshop I mentioned above) and the CEV is … not so much.

Then what about the NRSV itself? Recently, its progenitors determined it was in need of an update, it seems in an even more inclusive direction re its language, so we now have the “NRSVUE” (NRSV Updated Edition). Well, OK, but if body A thinks an update in a particular direction of an existing translation is needed, why shouldn’t body B think a new translation is needed in another direction? What is wrong with some stability of availability of a translation? The KJV was available for some 270 years before the Revised Version came along. The NRSVUE has come along after some 30 - 40 years of the NRSV!

Put another way, could all Bible publishers, societies and committees just stop bringing out new or updated editions of their English versions! Let a season of settlement enter into our English speaking world. In 2100, let the wise owls of Rome, Geneva, Oxbridge, Harvard, Toronto, Melbourne, Dublin and Auckland get together and sift through the current practice of the congregational and individual reading of Scripture to determine, say, the top four versions, and then whether any or all of those versions need updating. Let’s then just publish those versions for the next 270 years!

How about that second provocation for this post?

For those unfamiliar with NZ art, Colin McCahon was (even in his own life-time) and is (in his works which live on) one of our foremost artists and probably our foremost "religious" artist, noting that a considerable portion of his prolific output of paintings focus on Christian themes. In the second volume of Peter Simpson's biography of McCahon (splendidly illustrated with reproductions of his paintings), he describes McCahon discovering the then still fairly new New English Bible New Testament (pp. 95-99), and cites from a 1969 letter McCahon wrote:

"Have you looked at the New English Bible (Oxford-Cambridge 1961) WOW. It says lovely things - like - Mary went to the place where Jesus was - " [ p. 96]

Simpson then references five works of McCahon's each of which consisted of a biblical text, worked from (in McCahon's words) "my rediscovery of the meaning of the story of Lazarus," i.e. from John 11 - these works themselves forerunners of much larger 1970 paintings. (See also Simpson's exposition on pp. 144-147.)

But, relative to this post, let's take the words noted above, "Mary went to the place where Jesus was" (John 11:32). In the KJV (which presumably was the translation McCahon was familiar with prior to his being gifted the 1961 NEB New Testament), these words are rendered, "Then when Mary was come where Jesus was". The freshness of the NEB is immediately obvious, and raises for the reader the life-giving thought, Might I, like Mary, go to the place where Jesus is?

But here is the thing, when I went to check my own NEB New Testament re these words, I could not find them. Instead, John 11:32 reads, "Mary came to the place where Jesus was". Subtlely different! What gives? On closer inspection, I have a copy of the 1970 Second Edition. Changes here and there have entered in, in the space of nine years. My point here is not to evaluate whether those changes are good, bad or indifferent. (The Greek points more to "came" than to "went to".) My point is that "we" keep changing the English text of Scripture, even within the tradition of a particular translation, and, so, the likes of, well, me, can scarcely complain when I go into a bookshop and see a bunch of new translations!

The NEB, incidentally, is a great translation - it has a feel for the English language which other translations - including the Revised English Bible do not have. Hard to get hold of a copy!

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Paul Liberated from Misunderstanding (Part 2/2)

Continuing from last week ... BJ = Beyond Justification and CDP = its authors Douglas Campbell and Jon DePue and JT = Justification Theory:

In the end I think I have two big questions about BJ (aside from anything else I raised last week):

1. Is it plausible to read Romans and Galatians as a debate between Paul and one of more Jewish Christians distorting the gospel (rather than a debate between Paul and the Judaism or Judaisms of his day)?

2. Is there a difference between the God of retributive justice (wrongdoing deserves punishment) and the God of love?

1. There is an intriguing possibility that the answer to the first question is "Maybe for Galatians, but not for Romans." CDP answer affirmatively for both, however, and so I confine my remarks here to Romans, not being convinced that they have gotten Romans right, while accepting there is plausibility to their case re Galatians. In particular, Romans conjures up CDP's (as far as I know) novel proposal that when we get to Romans 1:18-32 we do NOT hear Paul speaking but the voice of "The Teacher" (i.e. the Jewish-Christian false teacher) coming through. I am not convinced as I am sure many others are not. There is no specific clue that between v. 17 and v. 18 we have a change of voice, that Paul is switching from what he believes to what another person believes. 

Sure, later in Romans 2 and beyond there are some questions Paul raises and responds to (which could indeed be the questions of an opposing interlocutor so that Romans includes the kind of debate CDP propose is there). But if Romans 1:18-32 is the voice of Paul, do we not have to engage with this God of Paul who is wrathful against wrongdoing and with the impact this makes on his understanding of the gospel? This engagement being especially through Romans 3 and 4, no matter how difficult it is to make sense of it. And, even if we broadly agree with CDP that JT is the not-quite-wholly-plausible theory that flows out of Romans 3 and 4, does this question not remain? It is quite plausible that Paul writing to Christians in Rome, sets out in Romans 1:18-32 what is a fairly unexceptional Jewish critique of the excesses of Rome's licentious culture? (Look to Jude, for example, for another NT example of such unexecptional critique). If the gospel is the power of God to transform the lives of sinners (1:1-17), then it is the power of God to transform all sinners, Jew and Gentile, averagely/morally good citizen of Rome and exceptionally immoral citizens too.

For myself I continue to think, in a pretty much standard Protestantish manner, that Romans 3 and 4 set out an answer to the following question: 

If, within the flow of Israel's theological understanding, from Mosaic law or Torah, through to first and then second Temple worship (the Judaic sacrificial system), we ask the question, relative to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, on what basis are our sins and their consequences before God removed from us and forgiveness and new life proceeds from an engagement with God's own revealed solution to the problem of wrongdoing? Then, according to Paul, writing in Romans 3-4, that basis is that Christ has fulfilled the law of Moses, and on the cross became both the ultimate and lasting sacrifice for our sins and thus also heralded the end of the application of Torah to human life. 

And, consequentially, in response to the obvious supplementary question, how might we gain the benefits of that sacrifice, the answer given (in Romans, Galatians, 1 Peter, Hebrews etc) is that we are asked to put our faith in Jesus Christ: we are not asked to do good works, to make an offering of money or meat or other materials. This is so, whether (again in fairly recent debates) we posit that "good works" (i.e. "works of the Law") means works which establish identity, such as being circumcised, or works which respond to the Law as the covenant between God and ourselves in which our response is marked by strict obedience to all the laws within Torah. 

Further, no matter how many times we translate "faith in Jesus Christ" into "the faith(fulness) of Jesus Christ" (noting a modern debate about the meaning of the frequent phrase pistou Christou in Paul's writings), we are left with instances when, clearly, our faith is invited by God as our response to the gospel of new life in Christ (as, in fact, I note CDP inter alia acknowledge also).

So, whether or not Paul has in mind a specific "teacher" - a member of  Jewish Christian group imposing its distortion of the gospel on Christians in Rome as well as in Galatia - he offers us, in all its complexities within the text, with all the tragic risks that it would in centuries to come contribute to a theological/cultural anti-semitic outlook, a theology of salvation which is utterly Christian (i.e. focused on Jesus Christ and what he has done for us through death and resurrection and through release of the Holy Spirit). This soteriology stands its ground distinctively in the face of counter claims based on Judaism or Judaisms of his day, and proposes that in Christ, all who avail themselves of the salvation he offers, are entering into the true fullness of God's plan for the Jews, notably into the true fullness of God's promises to Abraham himself. Put a little differently, Paul in Romans takes on "all Judaism", whether the Judaism of Jews or the Judaism of a particular Christian Jewish teacher, and highlights the fulfilment of promises to Abraham and the goal of laws revealed to Moses being the son of David, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

2. Is there a difference between the God of retributive justice (wrongdoing deserves punishment) and the God of love?

Now this question could have mountains of words written in an attempt to answer it when that attempt is to provide a full and final theological coup de grace of an answer, drawing across the whole of Scripture. This is not that. 

Here I simply observe that the Old Testament is full of God commanding just living with reference to punishment for failure to obey (law), wrathfully speaking against injustice (prophets) and reflections on the collective punishment (exile, destruction of Jerusalem) of Israel/Judah for its disobedience which permeate historical and prophetic books in the OT. 

This is the theological background to Paul's engagement as a Jew (a Pharisee no less) transformed by Christ and now writing to Jewish and Gentile Christians about the gospel and its meaning and application in contexts where arguments between Jews and Christians, and between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians abounded. 

It is quite reasonable to expect that what Paul writes will incorporate the "God of retributive justice" into his new understanding of the "God of love" - of the God who loved us so much that in Christ Jesus God's Son, he became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), made us alive when we should be dead "through our trespasses" (Ephesians 2:5; cf 2:1-10), and became "a sacrifice of atonement by his blood" (Romans 3:25) saving us "through him from the wrath of God" (Romans 5:9). Thus and so can Paul also boldly declare, concerning the God who is love, "God proves his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8) and that nothing can separate those in Christ from God's love in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:28-39).

In sum, I do not think, within Paul's theological writings, within Romans in particular, a neat cleavage can be made between the God of retributive justice and the God of love.

To conclude: BJ is not the final word of clarification on what Paul writes to Christians then and now about matters of salvation, justification, theology and, thus, also christology. If we have misunderstood Paul (and BJ totally nails the depth of the challenge for anyone past, present or future to make the claim of "finally, we may understand Paul completely"), then Campbell and DePue have not yet liberated Paul from misunderstanding. Their best point, IMHO, is that any "justification theory" (let alone the specific "Justification Theory" they oppose) must embrace the whole of Paul on God's transformative work in Christ - through his death, resurrection and unleashing of the Holy Spirit. And wherever we arrive within that embrace, it must be devoid of antisemitism of any shade, implicit or explicit.

Monday, July 1, 2024

Paul Liberated from Misunderstanding - Do Campbell and DePue Deliver? (Might be Part 1/n)

As usual, if you do not like this post, before you even read it, there are some alternatives :)

1. What to make of Matariki? Archdeacon Lyndon Drake makes a good point here about spirituality in NZ.

2. A correspondent has alerted me to a wonderful video-coffee with ++Rowan Williams and Sr Vassa. This description may, or may not entice you to view/listen: "Sister Vassa is an Orthodox nun and liturgiologist in the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR). Like Rowan himself, she has been outspoken against Kirill's advocacy of war in Ukraine and strained relations with other Orthodox. Against this background, Rowan defines orthodoxy, reflects on mediating That Topic, comments on an alleged clash of civilizations, and advocates candor within church unity about what is unholy."

Now to this week's "post proper":

Beyond Justification: Liberating Paul's Gospel by Douglas A. Campbell and Jon DePue (Cascade Books, 2024)

This book is a popular version of a long academic-standard book by Doug Campbell (The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul, Eerdmans, 2009.) That longer book is well reviewed/discussed (for example here and here) and I acknowledge insights from those reflections, but, generally, my frustration(s) here and in futue posts with the popular version are my own!

Now, generally, when anyone says (something like), "Look here, Christians have misunderstood X for 1900/2000 or so years, but I have discovered what X really means," we should be very suspicious. There is nothing true which is new and nothing new which is true - and all that!

However, there is a case for saying (with the author of 2 Peter 3:15-16) that Paul is difficult to understand in places, and that through the 1900+ years since he wrote, there has been much discussion, most notably in the context of the Reformation and its aftermath as to what Paul's words mean for the contemporary church (in the context of contemporary reflection on relationships between Jews and Christians). 

The Reformation's aftermath remains with us as, for example, in 20th and 21st centuries, we continue to dialogue Anglican-Catholic, Lutheran-Catholic, Reformed-Catholic and so forth, and as we have the New Perspective on Paul and, now, Campbell and DePue, who could be said to propose a New New Perspective on Paul. Or, alternatively, as various scholars propose a new "originalism" about what Paul really meant. 

So, a starting point here is not to dismiss this book (or its larger precursor) on the basis we might dismiss other theological claims which seem to amount to, "I, Peter Carrell now know what no one else before me has known." Rather, let's join the fray and ask, with many well-known and not well-known readers of Paul's epistles, "What did Paul mean when he wrote Romans and Galatians and in the context of those epistles in particular, developed his theology of salvation in which we are justified through the death and resurrection of Christ?"

For ease of writing I am going to abbreviate the (popular) book title to BJ and the authorship to CDP.

CDP advance a complex of theses in BJ. My summary (which is "my" summary of the complex amlagam which is BJ) is this:

1. That Paul's soteriology (or, gospel) is "participatory, resurrectional, and transformational" - God draws us [participatory] into new life in Christ made possible through his death and rising again [resurrectional], in which we are empowered through the Spirit to live a life pleasing to God [transformational]. Concimitantly the God of this gospel is the God of love who has loved us from before the foundation of the world, never stops loving us, and never stops drawing us into the loving life of God. And, 

1A: this gospel is not "the gospel of justification" or "justification theory" [JT] which posits a God of retributional justice who requires our punishment unless it is borne by another, i.e. Christ dying on the cross, and who seeks "faith" from us instead of "works". For this gospel, passages in Romans 1-4 and Galatians 1-4 appear supportive, but it is then hard (so CDP argue) to make sense of the participatory, resurrectional, and transformational passages in Paul's writings, notably in Romans 5-8, and in epistles such as Ephesians. In fact, on CDP's count, only about 10% of Paul's writings support JT and faithful interpretation and application of Paul's writings should work with the other 90% (if not the whole 100%) of his epistles. 

2. That JT (and even recent attempts to revise it through scholars such as E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn, and N.T. Wright) have either harmed Jews through the Christian era, leading most horribly and tragically to the Holocaust, or, in respect of recent revisions, insufficiently improved the situation for Jews for the present and the future: Jews in one way or another are replaceable by Christians in our various understandings of Pauline soteriology. By contrast, 

2A: BJ leads to an understanding of Pauline theology which avoids diminution, let alone denigration of Jews, or even denial of the right of Jews to exist.

3. That JT rests on a misreading of Romans and Galatians because there has been a failure through centuries and centuries to recognise that Paul is not contrasting his gospel with Jewish soteriology generally (in popular summations: faith v works, grace v law, the cross v temple sacrifice) but with a specific teaching of Jewish Christians who influentially proposed that Christians should abide by the requirements of Mosaic law. 

In other words, Paul doesn't have "Jews" or "Judaism" or "Judaisms of the so called Second Temple period" in his sights, but a very specific opposition to his participatory, resurrectional, and transformational gospel. That is, Paul has an opposition internal to the fledgling Christian movement in his sights, and not Jews who remained external to this movement. 

In support of this thesis, BJ provides an alternative reading of key passages in Romans and Galatians, effectively meaning that, with some adroit imagination (where no other clue than BJ's thesis exists) or some reasonable presumption (e.g. where Paul proposes a question and then answers it, the question could reasonably be the question of an opponent), these passages are Paul's dailogue/debate with a malignant distortion of the gospel, and not with Judaic thought generally.

Now, this might be enough for this week's post save for a few final notes.

A. I am completely with BJ in understanding that Paul's gospel is participatory, resurrectional, and transformational. Not only is this coherent with the "whole" of Paul's writings, it is also coherent with, say, Johannine theology, and with my own preferred understanding of the eucharist in Anglican theology.

B. I think worrying about outcomes for Jews may distort how we read Paul, and this may be the case in BJ. We SHOULD worry about outcomes for Jews for any theological work we do, but we should take care we are not attempting to rescue Paul (or others such as Luther or G.K. Chesterton) from anti-semitic charges we would prefer them not to be condemned for. Let's read Paul and then work out mitigations afterwards to any unsatisfactory readings we arrive at. Or, more simply, I think BJ would be a better reading of Paul if its concerns about BJ's outcomes re Jews were tackled at the end of the book and not at the beginning.

C. (A personal note.) It has been a privilege in my life to have once known Douglas Campbell (when I began theological study with Otago University in 1984, he was a graduate in Dunedin working in my local parish church between the end of Otago's [southern hemisphere] academic year in 1983 and heading to Toronto for postgraduate study in September 1984). I hold him in the highest regard as a person and as the possessor of a luminous mind. 

While I do not know Jon DePue and never met E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn was my doctoral supervisor and I have had a few face to face engagements with N.T. Wright. I do not believe that if Sanders and Dunn were still alive they would not have a robust response to the critique CDP mount against them ... and I look forward, in hope, to Wright's! (If he has already responded to the earlier book, let me know in a comment here.)

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Weekend news and views

If last Sunday, on Chatham Island, was brilliant weather wise, this Sunday, back in Christchurch is, well, miserable: wet and cold.

But yesterday there was some cheering news: our Synod, meeting in a special one day session, agreed to some changes re thye Cathedral Reinstatement Project - an injection of funds (subject to satisfactory sale of the Transitional Cathedral) and a reduction in scope of the Project (particularly to reduce our commitment to the building being 100% of New Building Standard, now down to 67% NBS). An RNZ report is here. We still have a mountain to climb for the Project to succeed but yesterday was an important step up the steep slope.

This morning my eye was caught on X/Twitter by an article about a famous NT scholar, Geza Vermes, published in Church Times. Well worth a read for those interested in the question of what "the Jewish Jesus" means - a question which Vermes refined with acute insight, out of a fascinating personal spiritual journey.

Reading this short article links to some reading of my own through the past couple of weeks: Beyond Justification: Liberating Paul's Gospel by Douglas A. Campbell and Jon DePue. I haven't finished this book yet and hope to review it on here in due course. But a strong motivation through this book is that Christianity (especially Protestant Christianity influenced by what they call "Justification Theory") might review and revise its attitude to Jews and Judaism.

For what it is worth my hunch is that my review will be along the lines of "love the conclusion, disagree with the pathway to it"!

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Lovely day

I am writing from the Chathams - from Chatham Island (also known as Rekohu or Wharekauri) to be precise - there are a number of small islands hereabouts but only two are inhabited - the other one is Pitt Island.

The Chatham Islands are one of the parishes for the Diocese of Christchurch and, while easy to get to due to a regular plane service, they are not easy to get to when it comes to booking a spot of several days not only in my diary but also in the diaries of parishioners, themselves often busy with things here and/or travel to New Zealand. The plane trip is 2 hours +/- depending on whether departing from Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland airports, and which direction the wind is blowing - our actual flight time the other day was 1 hr 40 min.

We have one church here, St. Augustine's, which is at a small settlement called Te One, about 3 km from the main settlement of Waitangi. There is also a vicarage on the same property as the church which ensures accommodation for visiting priests and bishops! 

For this visit I am accompanied by the Reverend Mike Hawke who will be involved with the parish in months and years ahead as a visiting priest, succeeding the Reverend John McLister.

The primary reason for visiting at this time of the year - mid June, winter - is that it works for the Preece family to gather to participate in an event this afternoon when we formally unveiled the memorial stones for two members of that family.

The Reverend Riwai Preece was our last resident priest on the island (1990-2015). Mr Bunty Preece, his brother, was mayor here, a farmer here and notable at the time of his death in 2018 for being the last surviving officer of the famous WW2 Maori Battalion. 

It was a privilege to be part of this afternoon's ceremony along with about 60 others. A sumptuous afternoon tea followed - including crayfish, groper wings, and weka [yes, legal to eat on this island, in case you are wondering].

Amazingly, after a raw and wintry day yesterday, with the sea foaming, the wind roaring and rain falling, today was gorgeous: sunny, warm, and hardly any wind. God be praised!

Our morning service was delightful and we managed to do ordinary but important things (apart from the service itself) such as pray for the new vestry, pray for Mike Hawke and his ministry here and dedicate a refurbished window (thanks Halswell Men's Shed!).

The epistle today, 1 Corinthians 5:6-10, challenged us about aspiring to please Christ above all, and to walk by faith and not by sight. The gospel reading, Mark 4:26-34, brought the kingdom of God to our attention. What is Jesus doing in our lives? What is he saying to us? What is he calling us to do?

Walking by faith and not by sight has a certain irony for Chatham Islanders at present. There have been troubles recently re sea transport of goods to the island, with one sharp consequence being that there is no petrol for sale here. Diesel is for sale still. Bottled gas supplies are running low. Boat troubles also mean that farmers have uncertainty about getting their cattle and sheep to meat works in New Zealand. Everyone believes the situation will come right before absolute crisis is reached, but no one can see clearly when the solution will chug into the harbour!

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Nothing Post!

I cannot squeeze time to post this week, apart from these few sentences. Weekend events and prep work as I write in the weekend itself. Then, Monday to Wednesday, our Clergy Conference is happening. Thursday some travel begins.

Prayer - as always - appreciated! 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Was Jesus mad? Did his erstwhile supporters, even family gaslight him?

If you don't like the look of this week's blogpost, then how about reading Edward Feser's fascinating post insteadfascinating post instead? He talks appreciatively of one of my favourite philosophers!

Was Jesus mad is a question which arises from this coming Ordinary Sunday 10's gospel reading? 

Mark 3:21: When [Jesus'] family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." [NRSV; other translations, equally possible re the underlying Greek, have "He has gone mad."] 

Neither Matthew nor Luke follow Mark on this particular note, which, arguably, was embarrassing for followers of Jesus.

This Markan passage also raises the question whether people around Jesus, possibly even his own family, were gaslighting him (i.e. making statements about him which may have unsettled him and paradoxically may contribute to a person accused of madness becoming convinced that they are mad!)

For those unfamiliar, gaslighting has been defined in this way: "Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse or manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim’s mind. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their own judgment and intuition." As an aside, some diocesan training the other day, looking at bullying, also discussed gaslighting.

In at least one sense, Jesus was "mad". If we define "mad" as "at odds with the widely accepted norms of society, going against the grain of culturally acceptable behaviour", then Jesus as "mad": by this time in Mark's account of his life's work, he had taken on the role of God in forgiving a paralysed man his sins, he had called people to leave their safe and secure jobs to follow him, he had confronted demons and delivered people of them, he had healed people and he had generally defied the religious (i.e. cultural) authorities of the accepted Jewish way of life, especially in breaking sabbath keeping rules. The passage which follows Mark 3:21 involves a severe charge against Jesus that he was himself an agent of the devil (a charge which even Matthew and Luke do not shy away from reporting).

Two thousand years later we think Jesus the man was full of sound wisdom and good life guidance, and his healing work led ultimately to the medical systems millions if not billions around the world benefit from, and the first followers have become the well-known, well-established church of God with its footprint in nearly every country in the world. Jesus, from this present day perspective was not and is not "mad" but a very normal bloke!

Nevertheless, there is a lingering question prompted by Mark's account: was Jesus someone who we would not feel that comfortable around? Yes, we would be drawn, like the crowds, to his genius as a teacher-communicator, and to the stories of his miracle working prowess. Yes, we might be inspired to follow him, leaving our nets etc. But might we also wonder who he really was? What his "deep" agenda actually entailed? Whether there was something very odd about this charismatic-yet-enigmatic figure?

Of course Mark does not exactly shy away from Jesus as a figure with several if not many layers to personality and agenda. He emphasises the "messianic secret" - the fact that Jesus' had a deeper agenda than people assumed at first sight when encountering him. He presents a Jesus who is all comms and public relations with the crowds and yet likes to withdraw and be alone. From near the very beginning of his Gospel, Mark develops the "dark theme" that Jesus will die, that his crowd-pulling ministry will lead to death - and death at the baying cries of pretty much the same crowd. 

And, let's be honest with ourselves as readers of Mark's Gospel: in the Gospel passage for this Sunday, Mark 3:20-35, Jesus is a "maddening" man: he puts his family into second place, if not cast to some outer place, owning to a new family, the ones who do God's will as better than the natural kith and kin to which he belongs, and which Jewish law bound him to support and cherish. 

Of course, we read this passage with all the perspective of post-resurrection readers: God worked out a plan for the universes through Jesus, a plan which puts all "normal" human relationships into perspective, and a plan which calls out the deepest and most long term allegiance to the key agent of the plan, Jesus the Son of God!

Monday, May 27, 2024

How was that then?

The Tikanga Pakeha Conference and the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui which followed it are done and dusted. It was lovely meeting in Havelock North and Hastings respectively for these hui.

Taonga has reports on various proceedings of note here, here, here, here and here.

I am especially pleased that at our third attempt, Tikanga Pakeha, via our Conference meeting, has agreed to a nomination for our new Senior Bishop and Archbishop for our whole church, ++Justin Duckworth (Bishop of Wellington), and that Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Pasefika confirmed that nomination during our meeting in Hastings.

The life of the church presses on - the real work of the church not being synodality but is our day to day witnessing to Jesus Christ as the hope of the world and the bread of life, On that score, one of the high points of our proceedings was a session with Fr Greg Boyle and Steve Avalos - their stories being testimonies to the life-changing power of the Gospel of Christ, with specific focus on transforming members of gangs in LA.

The film of their session - the session in which they appeared - can be seen here. Further reporting on the remarkable story of Fr Greg's life and ministry can be found here and here.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

It's that time again!

Yes, General Snod/Te Hinota Whanui is meeting again - we began this afternoon - Sunday - as I write, with powhiri, hakari and eucharist at Omahu Marae (near Hastings). The Synod sessions are being held in Hastings.

Taonga can be kept in touch with through this week as it reports on the deliberations of the Synod.

A preliminary report and timetable of some key events is reported here.

Incidentally, while on the Taonga site, a report is here of the farewell for my colleague, Bishop Steven Benford from the Diocese of Dunedin.

I also see a link there to a story of Christians being killed in Gaza.

Back to the Synod: as usual we have had a meeting of the Tikanga Pakeha Conference beforehand - in lovely Havelock North. Always good to meet with old synodical friends and to make new ones.

Or, noting developments in the Roman world, should we talk about synodality friends?

Short post this week but there is a lot going on.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

What to do about Gaza ... etc?

Angels should not rush in where fools do tread! Hopefully I am not a fool and I am sure I am not an angel. But, perhaps, it is time to put some thoughts about the situation in Gaza/West Bank/Israel into this blog.

The Anglican angle here is that our Anglican brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Jerusalem are deeply caught up in care and concern for Christian brothers and sisters in this region of God's world, and, viewing messages from (e.g.) the Dean of St. George's Cathedral, Richard Sewell, and visitors to the cathedral, Anglicans have a special anxiety about how Palestinians are being treated as the war in Gaza continues and as the disturbances on the West Bank continue, mostly under-reported, as far as I can see, as so-called "settlers" are violent towards West Bank Palestinians. (Such quick observations are not the limit of the Anglican angle - but let me press on.)

Perhaps the first thing to say is that most of the world have no idea what it means to be Palestinian and to live in fear of what Israel or Israeli individuals or groups (e.g. incursions into West Bank) may do next to impose control on ordinary Palestinian lives, let alone control and restriction on expanding such ordinary lives (e.g. through travel, securing employment, developing businesses). Ditto re what it means to be Israeli (especially Israeli Jews) and to live in fear of what a future coherent, well armed, widely backed by regional powers Palestine might do by way of giving effect to the aspiration to cleanse Jews from the Middle East - to say nothing of fear of rockets from Gaza and southern Lebanon, and bombs and so forth, should the walls which prohibit movement of Palestinians in Israel came down. Most of us have no idea about what the climate of fear is in the background or foreground to everyday life in the Middle East. We do not (it seems to my notice) understand the deep commitment of Hamas to obliterate Israel as a state and to drive the Jews within away to some other (unknown, improbable) "homeland." [It is not from Poland that most Jews in Israel descend! And, many Jews in Israel have descent - via intermarriage through generations - with Jews actually indigenous to the area.] Nor, do we understand what it is like to fear that Israel is genocidal in its current intent to get on top of Hamas - because it is not only destroying Hamas soldiers but also ordinary Palestinian people.

Nevertheless, the second thing to say is that all of us who are not Palestinian or Israeli belong to other countries who are implored, both by high level officials and by lobby groups/protestors to give voice to some possible solution to the situation, whether it is voting in the UN for (say) a ceasefire, a two state or one state solution, recognition of the statehood of Palestine, denouncement of the alleged war crimes of Israel, and so forth. Neutrality is an option for many of us as individuals, but not for our governments who make decisions whether to vote for this resolution or that, and, depending on capability, may also choose to export arms to one or other side or both, and to make some sanctioning step against, say, Iran/Russia/China or, conversely, the USA, or some multinational company such as Coca-Cola, Pesi, McDonalds. More simply: those who do not understand what it means to live in the Middle East nevertheless are invited - frequently through many years of this conflict - to support a solution to the problems those living in the ME face. 

Yet, what is that solution to be? Recently our government voted with most of the world on a UN resolution supporting Palestinian statehood (I do not have the exact wording of the resolution in front of me and no time to look it up!). Cue protest that such a move basically was a resolution supporting the existence of Hamas - a terrorist organisation with its terrifying agenda for the future of Israeli Jews! However, not to promote some kind of “two state” solution is to ignore the plight of Palestinians, in Gaza and the West Bank, who long - as any of us would - for clarity, certainty and safety in independent, unthreatened statehood. And, yes, in case your fingers are itchy over the keyboard, I entirely get it (as I am sure our government gets it) that any such statehood must also be unthreatening to Israel itself.

Put alternatively, the space in which one might, whether as an individual or as a state government propose some way forward, is fraught. As a bishop I have had correspondence from brothers and sisters in Christ through the past six months which amounts to (a) how dare you and your fellow bishops give comfort to Hamas, or (b) how can you support Israeli genocide by not calling for an immediate ceasefire, or (c) it is unbelievable that you bishops have not made a statement about the situation (we have: the first, way back in October was scarcely noticed and not remembered; the second, more recently in late March, better noticed).

Nevertheless, fraught though the space for comment is, I personally cannot escape the following:

- there is no way forward without the states around Israel, including Iran, and Palestinian entities themselves recognising the right of Israel to exist as a state (whatever borders might finally be agreed to be the borders of that state);

- it is unrealistic to work on a one state solution (i.e. A state where Israeli citizens and Palestinian citizens freely mix and mingle and vote in democratic elections to choose a government which fairly leads all peoples within the state of (for want of a better working name) Israel-Palestine). Perhaps one hundred years from now that could happen (along with a united Ireland and a united Korea, but in my lifetime, that ain’t gonna work);

- a two state solution is therefore required and should be the aim of all participants in the matter (currently, at best, it is the aim of most participants - it needs to be all).

- whatever merits Israel may have in its current drive to obliterate Hamas with willingness to kill innocent Palestinians along the way, it surely only stokes future resentments which will harm the points above for a long, long time.

I pray for a just and permanent peace for the Middle East, and for the well-being of the Anglican church there.

Monday, May 6, 2024

From Bethel to Rome?

Continuing Reading Genesis, a purple patch of a book, but some parts are deeper purple, I found this, pp. 126-27:

"Theology is the study of God; anthropology is the study of humankind. Why are we so brilliant? Why are we so self-defeating and self-destructive? How is the diversity of languages to be accounted for? How do tribes and nations form and spread themselves over the earth? What constitutes a religious culture, and how does it perpetuate itself? These are all questions of anthropology; using the word in the modern sense. The Hebrew Bible raises them and responds to them in its own terms. The questions themselves indicate where the interest of the text lies - with humankind, God's image, among whom words like justice and righteousness have meaning, as they do when they are used of Him. Modern anthropology has tended to build upward or outward or downward from reductionist definitions, humankind as naked ape, as phenotype of the selfish gene. Biblical anthropology begins with an exalted conception of humanity, then ponders our errors and deficiencies and our capacities for grace and truth, within the world of meangingful freedom created for them by an omnipotent God. This seems paradoxical, but sustaining paradox is the genius of the text."

In other words, Genesis has a lot going on it - not merely a history (let alone a science) of the creation of the world and the beginnings of humankind - but a theological anthropology/anthropological theology which not only tells us about (say) why we are so brilliant or so self-destructive, but also who we are in the purpose of the world, which is a divinely appointed purpose, both permissive of human choices which potentially could defeat the purpose, and intrusive of human life so that choices we make are woven towards fulfilment of the purpose. Abraham and Sarah do produce a child; that child's grandchild, Jacob, does become Israel; Israel both begins in the promised land and by the end of the book is out of that land. Yet, the story at its settled end is incomplete relative to God's determination. We are an exalted part of creation and beset with self-imposed humiliations, none of which deters God from gracing those made in his image.

A different focus on humanity these days concerns gender identity. Ian Paul on his blog Psephzo posted recently with a blog titled "Gender Identity and the Christian Vision of Humanity." He begins in this way, which includes citations from an important British Catholic bishops' document:

"Last week, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales issued a pastoral document on the question of gender identity in the light of biblical and theological understandings of what it means to be created male and female in the image of God. It is a fascinating, clear, refreshing and helpful statement, and like all Catholic statements is relatively concise (at 11 pages) but achieves a lot in that space. There have been some interesting reactions to it, and it tells us a lot about what it takes for a denomination to speak well into this complex and challenging issue.

The document is called Intricately Woven, a title which draws on Ps 139.13–15, which the document starts and ends with:

For you formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb, I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

This is powerful language to draw on, since it combines the pastoral and theological issues which meet in this discussion—the truth that we are creatures, created by God in the image of God, so there is a givenness to who we are (note the passive tense of ‘woven’), and the reality of the experience that human life is complex and at times puzzling. Both these realities are attended to through the document.

It is striking that, in contrast to other statements (including those from the Church of England) in this area, the bishops are clear and unapologetic about their challenge to a major aspect of contemporary culture—an absence in other places that the Cass report lamented.

The document, titled Intricately woven by the Lord: A pastoral reflection on gender by the bishops of England and Wales, emphasises that all are welcome in the Church, but says that the sexual identity of an individual is not a purely “cultural or social construction.”

The document refutes the idea, proposed by Gender Identity Theory, that everyone has an ‘inner’ gender identity, which sometimes fails to match the biological sex of the individual. It upholds the value of the body and importance of sexual differentiation.

The bishops assert that we are all created in the image of God, with a dignity given to us by our creator and stresses that leading people to the fullness of life in Christ is a journey rooted in truth as well as compassion."

Now the point of my drawing attention to the blogpost and to the document it refers to is not to engage with the question of gender identity - I do not have time, etc! But I am happy to note (with Ian - we do not always agree) that Catholic engagement with such matters often leaves Anglican engagement with the same looking decidedly thin gruel.

There is, of course, with the last cited paragraph in the excerpt above, a common stake in the ground with my citation from Marilynne Robinson's book: "we are all created in the image of God" and that is the starting point for all Christian anthropology.

Naturally, you are wondering by now, how I am going to get from Bethel (an important place in Genesis) to Rome? Fair question. Christian anthropology is concerned with human unity and human unity is, or should be modelled by the church. So, naturally, we look to Rome this week because last week that was where ... Anglican Primates met.

A very good article about the meeting is provided by The Living Church's Mark Michael. Read it to see interesting matters - how many provinces were represented? Apart from the actual numerical answer (30), we might answer the question with "less than ideal" (since the maximal answer is 42). And, perhaps, more interesting, a scheme to have an "alt prez" to the ABC seems to have been stopped in its tracks. Good, I say.

But the question of unity is not only about whether the Anglican Communion is united, it is also about progress in unity of all Christians. In Rome this question focuses on unity with Rome. The Vatican Press reports on a meeting held by Pope Francis with the Primates here.

Pope Francis does not disappoint and offers some lovely words of encouragement:

"The Lord calls each of us to be a builder of unity and, even if we are not yet one, our imperfect communion must not prevent us from walking together. In fact, “relations between Christians... presuppose and from now on call for every possible form of practical cooperation at all levels: pastoral, cultural and social, as well as that of witnessing to the Gospel message.[2] Our differences do not diminish the importance of the things that unite us: they “cannot prevent us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ by reason of our common baptism”.[3] In this regard, I express my gratitude for the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission over the past fifty years, which has made great efforts to overcome various obstacles that stand in the way of unity, in the acknowledgment, first and foremost, that “the communion already shared is grounded in faith in God our Father, in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit; our common baptism into Christ; our sharing of the Holy Scriptures, of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds; the Chalcedonian definition and the teaching of the Fathers; our common Christian inheritance for many centuries”.[4]"

Perhaps the best sentence (highlighted for me in a Tweet I saw) is this:

"It would be a scandal if, due to our divisions, we did not fulfil our common vocation to make Christ known.

May we fulfil that common vocation! 

Monday, April 29, 2024

Newest Reading Oldest Story

So, confession, I have never read any of Marilynne Robinson's novels. Probably doesn't make me a good person; may make me a bad person. Perhaps one day I will get around to it. But - and maybe this makes me a strange person - when I saw that this very famous, very much appreciated novelist (and Christian Calvinist) has written a book Reading Genesis, I knew I had to read that book. This is a post en route, as I haven't finished it yet.

Essentially Marilynne sets down her thoughts on reading the Book of Genesis in one long 230 page chapter. The second chapter of the book is a copy of the KJV of Genesis.

Now this is a stone thrown in the literary millpond because it has been noticed. The New Yorker, for instance, has gotten up a review and it is, in the language of North America, a doozey. James Wood flays God (or, at least the God of Genesis, Job and other parts of the OT) alive. That God if real is not a good God; and likely if not certainly is not real because, well, Genesis (and its OT colleagues) is just interesting human thoughts about a human invention of Something which is actually nothing.

John Stackhouse, North American theologian (and, yes, I am aware there is considerable uneasiness about this man), tackles this review and slates it as appallingly bad and essentially a vehicle for "hatred." It is a lovely essay and has a bit of whimsical bite to it as the Chicago v Harvard card is played. (Let's not angst over the state of US universities on ADU just at the moment ...).

What I love about what I have read so far is that Marilynne - I feel like her intimate writing demands a personal response to her first name and not surname - juggles the raw humanity of Genesis (some appalling things are done by human beings to human beings, discreditable people are graced by God, rather than not worthy people rewarded for perfection) and the sublime divinity behind and within Genesis (God is completely God, creating, working out God's divine plan, seeking beneficent outcomes for creation). 

In sum, God works providentially: things happen in our world under and not apart from God's watchful eye; often we cannot make sense of things, but one day we will; God is trustworthy; and definitely not capricious or chaotic (like the gods of Babylon). This is the Calvinism Marilynne admires and it is indeed admirable in her telling as she reads Genesis.

A flavour of her approach - finding God's providentiality at work in the world, understanding that Genesis has its particular character on contradistinction to Bablyonian myths - is found in this paragraph (p. 28):

Humankind are very marginal in Enuma Elish, servants of the gods in the sense that they perform the labor involved in building their temples and feeding them. The second narrative in Genesis with its anthropomorphisms seems meant to invite comparison with such myths, It says no, in fact it is the Lord who has created a habitation for humankind and it is He who provides food for them. Humankind are the center of creation. They have no competitors for God's attention. He is present with them in what must be a desire to share the pleasures that are intrinsic to Creation, for example, the evening and the morning. Their disobedience is a failure of trust in His benevolence toward them.

One reaction I have had reading to date is that Marilynne challenges me to find the grace of God at every turn in the Old Testament - grace understood in a New Testament sense (i.e. that God is actively for us before God activates laws to govern us). Put differently: the Old Testament seems very similar to the New Testament when Marilynne reads the former with the eyes of the latter. I (and - it would seem - other Christians) find that difficult to do.

Of course there are various things going on as this reading of Genesis unfolds: for example, although Marilynne doesn't specifically engage with the "creation v evolution" debate, her consistent reading of the first chapters of Genesis as a reconstitution of Babylonian myths - a wholly new version of how the world began and how disaster (Flood) struck it, renders that debate irrelevant. Genesis is a theology which sets out to set aside another theology (of Babylon): in this theology, Genesis tells us who (the one) God is and what this God offers and seeks in relationship with humanity, and this telling involves depicting this God in respect of his work as Creator, as the one responsible for the inception of the world and the peopling of it. The most important thing we are told about the origin of life is that it is "good". Details about days and domes of water and ribs and what have you are incidental to this disclosure of who God is and what attitude God has in disposition to the world. By all means debate "creation v evolution" but have the debate in the scientific lab, with telescopes and  microscopes, and in reviews of Darwin, Dawkins and co - do not involve the first chapters of Genesis in it.

Incidentally, a wonderful insight of Marilynne's is simply that Genesis is theology. It is not a writing on which theology is based and from which theology proceeds. Genesis is theology. It is (in my words, inspired by hers)) a word (logos) about God (theos); it is a word about God which denies another (Babylonian) word about God/the gods; it is a word about who God is in relation to people thinking about God and seeking to articulate something about God. We may read Genesis as history or story or both, but it is, in fact, a book of theology - theology expressed through stories. And it is a theology of the God who is compassionate, just and merciful (i.e. consistent with the NT God who is love).

Back to James Wood's review: his point, made countless times by countless others through history, is that there is no God, just human creativity imagining who God might be (and then, he asserts that if Genesis and the remainder of the OT is among the best of such creativity, this "God" is not much chops).

That's gotten me thinking - aided by my reading Marilynne's Reading - that the critical consideration we (Jews/Christians) bring to all debate about God is that - respecting the plausibility of the thesis that the OT is simply an extensive rendition of an exclusively human invention - nevertheless we claim that the God we speak about has spoken to us. There is a God and this God is not a figment of human imagination because this God has revealed himself to humanity. To be sure, how we have written down our experience of God is shot through with human reflection, anthropomorphisms, counter-thrusts to the thoughts of other societies (such as Genesis's anti-Babylonianisms), but it is not reducible to mere human thought. Both Testaments are testimonies to the speech of God to humankind. Our bubble of creative thought has been pierced by direct speech from God.

Marilynne Robinson gets this!

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Still the Easter Season, so Resurrection Narrative thoughts

Hard not to think about what is going on in Scripture in respect of history when Christmas rolls around, and then Easter. The Gospels do differ!

Christmas: Mark and John opt out od details re birth of Jesus. Matthew and Luke unite on Mary, conception by Holy Spirit, Joseph as husband of Mary, birth in Bethlehem, notable visitors. Nazareth as place of upbringing of Jesus. Pretty much everything else differs. Why? Is it different perspectives (Matthew sees things through Joseph's eyes, Luke through Mary's)? Is it differences in historical details, Matthew and Luke each in touch with different versions of the history? If so, what is contradictory and what is complementary? Some great difficulties to explain such as Nazareth being a place from which the Holy Family comes to get to Bethlehem (Luke) and to which the Holy Family flees, via Egypt (Matthew). Are differences theological? History combined with fables - common history to Matthew and Luke with different fables, all to make differing theological points?

Easter is a bit more complicated because, aside from the four gospels (none opting out on the resurrection this time), there is Paul's handed down account in 1 Corinthians 15. And where the four gospels have some things in common, they all differ from 1 Corinthians in several respects.

The four gospels have in common that women discover the empty tomb (Matthew, Mark and Luke: women plural; John: a woman singular (but a named woman who is part of the group in each of the other gospels).) Paul mentions no women explicitly - perhaps women are implied by his mentioning a group of 500 people seeing the risen Jesus. Nor does Paul mention the empty tomb explicitly but it seems reasonable to conclude that he does think the tomb was emptied by the raising of Jesus from the dead. We might note that all four gospels ascribe the tomb's provenance as associated with Joseph of Arimathea.

The four gospels also have in common appearances of the risen Jesus to disciples: in Jerusalem (Matthew, Luke, John); in Galilee by implication (Mark); in Galilee (Matthew, John); not in Galilee (Luke, who mentions Galilee but in a strange way, putting these words in an angel's mouth, contrary to what Luke would have read in his Markan source, or, even, if used, his Matthean source: "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee," (24:6).) It is as though, Luke, who has a strong attachment to Jerusalem as the locus of critical action in the Jesus movement, cannot omit Galilee as a reference in the resurrection narrative he tells, but also cannot have any resurrection appearance further away from Jerusalem than Emmaus, seven miles away.

Putting the four gospels together, they focus on places, events, and encounters: Jesus is buried in a tomb, women go after the Sabbath to visit the tomb, and discover it is empty. Messages are given to them by an angel or angels. Appearances of the risen Jesus subsequently take place, or are predicted to take place: to the women, to disciples among the Eleven and to disciples not among the Eleven.

By contrast Paul's narrated history concerns encounters: Jesus appeared to both key leaders among the disciples, to groups of people and, last of all, also and in a similar way, to Paul himself.

Is there a competition going on? Do the gospels (all almost certainly written after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians) seek to put Paul right? Are the accounts complementary? All good questions but perhaps the thing to look for (similarly to Matthew and Mark and their birth and infancy narratives of Jesus) is this: what are the four gospel writers and Paul trying to convey theologically to us about the way they tell the history of the resurrection?

Let's face it: each account has an oddity or three in their reports to us. 

If Mark is first gospel account, then in 16:1-8, he narrates no appearances. Obviously there were appearances (see Paul in 1 Corinthians; try to explain why Mark would write his gospel if there were no appearances). 

Matthew has "colour" no one else has (earthquake, soldiers guarding the tomb) and seems to be at pains to rule out the possible explanation the tomb was empty because the body was stolen. 

Luke has the Emmaus story not found elsewhere, omits, as we saw above, reference to appearances in Galilee, and, perhaps most odd of all, tells a story in Luke 24 which could all have taken place in one long day and then, in Acts 1, tells us the same story as far as appearances go too place over 40 days. Luke seems to be at pains (similar to John) to verify that the risen Jesus has a new material body (whatever else was new, different, amazing about it), that could eat and drink as per human normality

John cuts the group of women down to one woman, Mary Magdalene; has the Doubting Thomas scene no one else has; and gives us a wonderful fishing trip in Galilee, omitted from all other accounts. John's risen Jesus gives final teaching and a commissioning to his disciples in keeping with the Johannine Jesus, and somewhat different to the commissionings in Matthew and Luke, and particularly different when we compare the "Johannine Pentecost" with the "Lukan Pentecost."

What Paul reports misses, as we noted above, any direct reference to women being the first witnesses to the resurrection, and lays out a sequence of appearances to disciples difficult to square with the sequences given in any of the four gospels, through for all five accounts, Peter is important!

In the end, in 2024, as I reflect on these things, I have been struck by the core details of the gospels' narrative: early on that Sunday morning, one or more women went to the tomb in which Jesus had been buried, and discovered the tomb was empty. Subsequently Jesus appeared to disciples, female and male, in Jerusalem, its surrounds, and in Galilee.

Thursday, April 18, 2024


It is likely not the right thing to do, to blog here about this and that around Anglican Communion traps, and say nothing about what is going on locally!

We have a long running story about the reinstatement of our Cathedral (in the Square), which has involved considerable twists and turns. That story is well told in this Newsroom article (unfortunately may be behind a paywall - though not at the point when I looked it up, 14 April 2024).

Ever since I became Bishop-elect (August, 2018) I have had considerable involvement in the unfolding story (not having had involvement before then, save for being a member of the 2017 Synod which voted for reinstatement.) My involvement has sometimes been stressful but mostly has been an amazing experience of working with incredibly able people and I have learned so much from doing so.

Recently, however, the Cathedral Reinstatement Project (as we call it) has faced a very specific challenge: how are we actually going to install a new foundation for the cathedral, in the light of some new knowledge - since we have been able to enter the inside of the cathedral, from March 2023 - about the ground conditions and the actual design of the foundations of the walls (which differ from plans drawn up in 1881)?

We spent about six months reassessing the situation, including a new timeline we need to plan for and our revised estimate of costs. Then, on Saturday 6 April 2024 we announced our revised situation, with an associated report by NZIER on the benefits of reinstating the Cathedral.

Our revised estimated cost for completing construction is $248m, which, after further fund-raising of $26m, and a contribution of $16m I hope we can agree to as a diocese, leaves a shortfall of $114m.

To descibe this as a difficult or challenging situation is an understatement!

Anyway, the week since has been stressful, including an interview on Friday which led to this article, headed (helpfully - thank you, Press), "We cannot do it alone." 

The week has also been supportive and prayerful - many lovely messages and many people, across our diocese and beyond, praying much! (Thank you everyone.)

There have also been many views put forward, about what we should have done, or should not have done, or should do.

What happens next? Let's see!

Can we avoid mothballing the cathedral? I hope so!

Watch this space ...

Monday, April 1, 2024

More on Easter? You can't have too much, right?

Very interesting post here, if only as a story of conversion (or here). The convert is Paul Kingsnorth and he says something very inspiring about Easter! My bold:

"In the church, this Resurrection is the biggest, most astonishing, weirdest thing that’s ever happened to humanity. And it is exactly something that happens when all hope is gone, when your Messiah has just been crucified and buried. Then this astonishing, impossible, and unexpected thing happens, which not only brings him back, but also completely rewires your understanding of what the world is and how it works. And that’s what my coming to Christianity did to me. And every Easter—or Pascha, as we call it in the Eastern church, which is a corruption of [the word] Passover, actually—the story deepens for me. It’s interesting because I used to think that you become a Christian and that’s that and you’re sorted. But it’s not that. It’s the beginning of a journey, and every year the journey gets deeper. So every time you go through this cycle of 40 days of fasting and then a feast at Easter, something else deepens. It’s like you just dropped a couple of inches deeper into this thing that you’re in. And as I say, the world changes shape. So that is the kind of steady hope, and it’s always there. It doesn’t matter what humans do, and not everything is under our control. And that’s okay. There’s always something else. There’s always somebody holding you. That’s how it feels. And it’s rather wonderful. It doesn’t remove the struggles from your life, but it means that they’re in the bigger context of you always being held and watched by something much bigger that’s happening. So yeah, Easter is a pretty wonderful time."

Incidentally, the whole post above is a tribute to the old saw that familiarity (with Christianity in Western culture) breeds contempt (or longing for anything spiritual/religious other than Christianity).

American bishops have something to say here. Quite a lovely conversation on a leading US TV show.

Michael Jensen - leading theologian [IMHO] within the Diocese of Sydney - has written engagingly on Easter here. He makes a link to the current phenomena of conspiracy theories - there were a few back in the day about the Christian claim that the empty tomb was due to resurrection and not anything else.

Of course we shouldn't forget ... Judas. And, given a few posts here and there about universalism, focusing on Judas and his "future" after betraying Jesus is quite a test case for why we think, or do not think universalism might be a theological thing. Edward Feser strikes a blow against universalism.

ADDENDUM: Can we resurrect Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch?

We have hit a bump in the road to reinstatement of our Cathedral. A bump which might might be an impenetrable wall. Read here, here and here.

Is +Tom right (on the resurrection)?

Bishop Tom Wright (aka Bible scholar, N. T. Wright) has an Easter column in Time magazine, cannily titled in this year of the American election (i.e. if Trump wins, is this the last American election?), "The Link Between The Resurrection and Elections."

I am not too worried here about the link to elections but I am interested in what +Tom says, and it is Easter, and I need to blog on something! So, why not?

+Tom has considerable prior publications to his name re his understanding of "resurrection" in relation to human life in its present and future forms. His general thesis is described in this column as follows (with emboldening = my emboldening - the key aspects of his thesis):

"So what does "resurrection" mean? Most people today assume that it’s a fancy way of saying "life after death." That’s certainly what I would have picked up from that funeral service. But "resurrection" never meant "life after death," or "going to heaven." Plenty of people in Jesus’ day believed in "life after death," in some form, but were still shocked by talk of "resurrection." That’s because "resurrection" always meant people who had been physically dead coming back to a new life—a new bodily life. Whatever we might mean by "life after death" (the Bible actually says very little about that), "resurrection" is a further stage. It’s life after "life after death." Wherever Jesus was after his horrible death, he wasn’t raised again until the third day. "Resurrection" is the final stage in a two-stage post-mortem journey. With that, a new world is born, full of possibilities. 

Jesus’ risen body was the first element in God’s long-promised "new creation." A little bit of God’s new world, coming forward from the ultimate future into our surprised and unready present time. And launching the project of new creation that continues to this day.

Most people in our world, including most churchgoers, have never heard this explained. This robs us, as individuals, of our ultimate hope, leaving us with "pie in the sky when you die," which was never the original Christian vision. In particular, it robs us of the motivation to work for God’s new creation in the present. And that means public life—justice, politics, voting—and all that goes with them."

"Here's the point: Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t mean, "He’s gone to heaven, so we can go there too" (though you might be forgiven for thinking it meant that, granted the many sermons both at funerals and at Easter). It means, "In Jesus, God has launched his plan to remake creation as a whole, and if you are a follower of Jesus you get to be part of that right now." What God did for Jesus, close up and personal, is what he plans to do for the whole world. And the project is already under way.

How does this work? One way of putting it is to say that God intends to put the whole world right in the end. This will be a great act of total new creation, for which Jesus’ resurrection is the advance model. In the present time, though, God puts people right—women, men, children—by bringing them to faith in Jesus and shaping their lives by his spirit. And he does this so that they can, here and now, become "putting-right" people for the world. In the future, God will put the world right; in the present, God does put people right.

And the "put-right" people are called to be "putting-right" people, Sermon-on-the-Mount people, lovers of justice and peace, in and for God’s world. They are to be signs of the new creation which began with Jesus’ resurrection. They are to produce, here and now, further signs of that new world. The church as a whole, and every member, is called to become a small working model of new creation.

And that new creation includes (what we call) social reform. Check out the relevant biblical passages. The Psalms sketch the ideal society: in Psalm 72, the No.1 priority for God’s chosen king is to look after the weak, the poor and the helpless. The prophets add their dramatic pictures, as in Isaiah 11 where the wolf and the lamb will lie down together. ... Already in Jesus’ day some Jewish teachers were interpreting Isaiah’s picture of the peaceable world in terms of warring nations finding reconciliation. Jesus announced that the time had come for this new way of peace. St Paul picked up that theme, seeing the church as, by definition, a multicultural, multi-ethnic society, without social class or gender hierarchy, as a sign and foretaste of the coming new creation of justice and peace.

The tragedy in the western churches is that, by misunderstanding "resurrection," both the "conservatives" and the "liberals" have robbed themselves of the whole message. The conservatives, eager to tell people how to go to heaven, regard any attempt to improve the present world as a distraction, not realizing that with Jesus’ resurrection the new creation has already been launched. The liberals, having long been taught that science has disproved Jesus’ resurrection, dismiss its importance and pursue their own vision of social improvement."

So, there is a lot to like here, that is, to agree with. Resurrection as a concept is not the underlying foundation to a "life insurance" coupon which we obtain by (say) baptism, or conversion to Christ, or both, and then when we die we present the coupon and receive "eternal life" or "life in heaven." Resurrection is a "first" sign of a new world coming - a new creation, the new heaven and earth, the kingdom of God (fully and finally realised. We ought to live - the action points of the gospels and the epistles agree on this - in a manner which reflects both God's commands concerning love, justice and good relationships (family, employment, etc) and a new "way" - of love so great enemies are loved, mercy so wide it is like God's own mercy, and relationships which so bind us together that we are the (single, united) body of Christ on earth. All such living, according to the New Testament, is anticipatory: we live now how we will live for ever. We live on earth according to the will of God in heaven. Or, when we pray the Lord's Prayer we should consider how we might contribute to answering the prayer!

But is Wright right on his emphasis on resurrection not primarily being about the general human notion that there is "life after death" meaning a continuation of our lives after death in some kind of new "space" (heaven, hell, purgatory and (hopefully!) heaven, some other liminal space, perhaps en route to some goal such as nirvana, or reunion with our ancestors)?

From the citation above, with my emboldening, is Wright correct to talk about life after life after death, or a two-stage post-mortem journey?

"It’s life after "life after death." Wherever Jesus was after his horrible death, he wasn’t raised again until the third day. "Resurrection" is the final stage in a two-stage post-mortem journey."

For instance, is this conception of life beyond our human death compatible with (let alone demanded by) all that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15?

Writing in verses 17 and 19, Paul says,

"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. … If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19)."

Paul seems pretty keen on the life to come and sees no "two stage post-mortem journey."

The Book of Revelation, with its (at worst) confusing conception or (at best) complicated conception of how "the end" will unfold (various stages (?) of judgment, a first and second death, etc), is not that supportive of a "two stage post-mortem journey".

Of course, +Tom may be right in what he says - between what Jesus says about life after death, what Paul proposes (and not only in 1 Corinthians 15), and the Book of Revelation, various scenarios are possible - meaning conceptions conceivable by us with our current space-time view of the world, physical life, etc. Even though here I am arguing that I cannot see that his case is clinched by what we read in the New Testament, it is not necessarily disproved by what we read. 

All talk in the New Testament about what lies beyond death is at its most certain/consistent when it speaks of (a) retributive justice for wrongdoing (b) a new life bound to Jesus Christ. What might also be the case - the nature of heaven, the nature of a new heaven and a new earth, some form of heavenly city, hell as a place of eternal punishment or of destruction of the soul - seems less (much less?) consistent across the whole of the NT.

On one thing I agree with +Tom: the resurrection begins "a new creation" - a point I made in my sermon yesterday at the Transitional Cathedral - viewable here. Even if the sermon wasn't up to much, the music was outstanding in its celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord!