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!

Monday, March 25, 2024

On Presidency of the Anglican Communion

Look, if you do not want to read another post on the Anglican Communion, that is fine by me. My recommendation is that you read this book review instead. Or as well!

But if you must read on, here as a blast from the past, is an interesting thought by then ABC, Archbishop Rowan Williams, that the role of ABC [England] and ABC [rest of Anglican world] should be split, to some degree or another, in two:

The Anglican Church is planning to hand over some of the global duties of the Archbishop of Canterbury to a "presidential" figure.

Dr Rowan Williams, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, said plans are being drawn up for a role to oversee the day-to-day running of the Anglican Communion and its 77 million members, leaving the Archbishop free to concentrate on leading the Church of England.

The tenure of the Welsh-born Archbishop, who steps down after 10 years in December, has been marked by a bruising war between liberals and traditionalists in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion over the issue of homosexuality, including the ordination of gay bishops.

There has also been a divisive row over female clergy.

Admitting he may not have got it right he told the paper the top job might better be done by two people.

"I don't think I've got it right over the last 10 years, it might have helped a lot if I'd gone sooner to the United States when things began to get difficult about the ordination of gay bishops, and engaged more directly," he told the paper, adding: "I know that I've, at various points, disappointed both conservatives and liberals.

"Most of them are quite willing to say so, quite loudly."

Talking about the new role, he said: "It would be a very different communion, because the history is just bound up with that place, that office (Archbishop).

"So there may be more of a sense of a primacy of honour, and less a sense that the Archbishop is expected to sort everything."

He told the paper the role would be for a "presidential figure who can travel more readily".

We are heading towards a new ABC since the term of ++Justin Welby is coming to an end (not sure when the exact end date is). The role is huge, or HUGE, and there is a lot going on in the CofE (internal challenges, external government/society facing challenges) and in the Communion. It could be attractive again for the powers that be to contemplate a split in the role, as ++Rowan once did.

But would that be the right thing to do? Might it be practical but with unfortunate consequences? Might it be practical for the office of the (currently single person) ABC-and-President of the Communion but unfortunate for the character of our "Communion"? 

The most obvious challenge a split in rule could entail is that a President of the Communion who is not the ABC could be a person who is not in communion with the ABC!

On any reckoning of the "how" a president could be determined and appointed, that "how" surely involves some sense of a majority view of the Anglican Communion. But that majority view is, via GAFCON and Global South developments of networks of influence on the shape, structure and character of the Communion, already arrived at [GAFCON] or heading in a direction [Global South] which is deeply opposed to where the Church of England is heading re human sexuality. In my view the chances of a President of the Communion being in communion with the ABC (i.e. with the Primate of All England) are low, not high and definitely not certain.

That would put the leadership of the Communion in a very odd position of being dysfunctional from day one of the new President being appointed.

Now, perhaps that odd position would also be an honest position - we are, after all, a divided Communion as things currently stand - and it is true that currently not every province (let alone every diocese or bishop) of the Communion values being "in communion with the See of Canterbury."

But the day we give up on being in communion with Canterbury as far as possible, with as many people as possible, including key positions of leadership in the Communion, is the day we should call a spade a spade - we should call ourselves the Anglican Federation and not the Anglican Communion.

For myself, I value communion in the Communion with all who see themselves, individually and corporately (dioceses and provinces), in communion with Canterbury. Such communion acknowledges and values that we are in communion with the body of Christ, past (historic connections), present (our life in the world today) and future (rapprochement with, e.g. Rome, Constantinople and Geneva, will be led by an appropriately leading leader, primus inter pares of the bishops of the Communion).

The human focus of unity in such a communion of the Communion, given our collective history with the mother church status of the Church of England, can only be with one bishop, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

To diminish the historical, and, dare I say it, theological significance of this office, by appointing a separate President of the Communion would be a tragic misstep in the life of our Communion (whose current situation is tragic enough - no need to make it worse).

Our focus as we move towards a new Archbishop of Canterbury being appointed should be on the following:

The support the role can be given, and the delegations the role may itself make in respect of expectations of the ABC within the life of the Church of England.

Ditto, for the role of the ABC within the life of the Anglican Communion. On that score, it could be that there should be a development whereby there is, say, a Deputy President appointed (possibly, even, a "Co-President"), drawn from outside of England, who undertakes - in communion with, in harmony with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary-General of the Communion - some of the work the ABC has been doing (or would have been doing if he had had more time through the period he has been in office).

Stretching things a bit further, there is a province in the Communion which is developing an understanding of a "shared primacy" in which three archbishops share the one primacy of the church (aka the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia) - perhaps that is a direction in which the role of the ABC as primus inter pares of the bishops of the Communion should go, if a greater sharing of the office of the ABC is again in view as a successor to ++Welby is sought.

But let there be no separate "President of the Communion" chosen with risk that this person might not actually be in, or remain in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Monday, March 18, 2024

On ordination vows

A Twitter comment about a letter to the Church Times (15 March 2024) triggers this post ("trigger" being used in a good way!): 

Let's leave aside the particulars of Simon Butler's disagreement with Ian Paul and focus on the question whether the ordination vows of a clergyperson in an Anglican church preclude "arguing for" a change to doctrine.

Obviously ordination vows are focused on upholding the doctrine of the church.

Our own ACANZP ordination services include this kind of wording (from the ordination of a deacon):

Bishop Do you hold to the doctrine of the faith as this Church understands them?

Candidate Yes, I do. My duty and my joy will be to witness to Christ crucified and risen.

Such commitment is further underlined when a clergyperson signs declarations before being licensed to an appointment.

In an obvious sense of the meaning of "hold", and "I do," this means I am committed to the doctrine of the church as taught and I am not committed to loosening the meaning of "hold" along the lines of "Well, I hold to doctrine when I agree with it and I argue against it when I do not."

But is that really the end of the matter, especially in a Protestant church (i.e. a church where we understand that some predecessor clergy once vowed to hold to the doctrine of the medieval Catholic church and then changed their minds on some matters of soteriology and ecclesiology but didn't give up their ordinations)?

Deliberately avoiding the specific "That Topic" question Samuel Butler has in mind in the letter above, let's think about being a clergyperson in the day when the church had a doctrinal position on marriage which precluded the possibility of remarriage after divorce, yet the same clergyperson, engaged with changes in society re divorce and remarriage found her or himself unable to apply the teaching of the church as it stood to the reality of members of her or his congregation. Do nothing or seek change via synodical decision?

Or, if we don't want to think about marriage, how about the ... epiclesis (the calling down of the Holy Spirit on the celebration of communion so that the bread and wine of communion become for us the body and blood of Christ). There was none in the BCP (1662) and that book for centuries expressed our doctrine as Anglicans (along with the 39A which also said nothing about the epiclesis). Cue liturgical revision in the 20th century and a church such as mine own, ACANZP, thought hard, wide and long (way back into eucharistic history) and proposed - wait for it - change!

Every clergyperson who was ordained prior to, say, 1966 in our church, and remained ordained through subsequent liturgical revisions and embraced the new (but also very old) epiclesis did or did not maintain their ordination vow to uphold the doctrine of the church?

Answers in the comments please!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I suggest the general point we might make is that the church is committed to both upholding what it receives (through Scripture and tradition) and testing it (do we fully understand what we teach? Are there dimensions we have not yet fully comprehended? Have we, somewhere in our history, gone down a path which neglected something previously part of "the doctrine of Christ"? Is there a greater fullness to which we should admit recognition by way of updating our doctrine ("aggiornamento")?)

A case in point coould be the ordination of women (another example of where - arguably, on a certain understanding of ordination vows - vows were broken to enable this to happen). Social change through late 19th and 20th centuries opened the question whether we understood "ordination" fully in respect of "who" might be ordained, "what" did Scripture actually say about ordained ministry? (Did Scripture actually lay down all conditions for discernment of who might be ordained at any given future point in the history of the church?).

There is a lot to think about: discernment, development, decision-making in the determination of doctrine, its maintenance and its evolution, in respect of the duty of clergy in relation to their vows!


Tuesday, March 12, 2024

On natural law ... and NZ, American Christian politics

I kind of hope that William - a frequent commenter here - see this post - at least the first part :).

A First Things newsletter directed me to a review article on Hegel, German philosopher of note and of no little controversy: "Hegel Vindicated" by David P. Goldman, March 2024. The book being reviewed is Hegel: The Philosopher of Freedom by klaus vieweg, stanford university, 488 pages, $40.

Goldman makes an observation that intrigues me no end because over the years on ADU commentary has been made - about this and that - that current proposition X is "against natural law."

"Hegel is first of all a philosopher of science, in which no theory is complete, for all theories will be superseded by better ones—Ptolemy by Kepler, Aristotle by Newton, Newton by Einstein. That fact also has moral implications: If our understanding of nature constantly changes through new discoveries, so must our understanding of natural law."

Well, either this is true or it is not true: that understanding of natural law must change as understanding of nature changes.

Thoughts? 

It is not as though First Things is a journal which is a bastion of liberalism/progressivism!

My eye was also caught by something else this past week, a bon mot - two actually - offered by Chris Trotter - a superb (in my view) Kiwi political commentator, though not always an agreeable commentator ... and lately much disagreed with by some of those who normally fellow travel with him along leften pathways.

In a newsletter-article, "For the self-loathing Left, charity definitely does not begin at home," (Democracy Project), Chris, taking on George Galloway's by-election victory in Rochdale (UK), local NZ political parties sympathetic to GG's position on Palestine, the general leftist forgetfulness to attend to the politics of class rather than of identity, shrewdly makes the point that Hamas shares radical religious convictions with our own Destiny Party (and Destiny Church), yet no one on the left hereabouts would go into bat for Destiny.

Second bon mot a la Trotter: in another essay, "Unintended Consequences," arguing that as America becomes weak, Europe will rise to meet the Russian challenge, he opines,

"No, the greatness Trump seeks to restore is the greatness of White America. The America that looks right through Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and all the other vibrant elements of the great American melting-pot – as if they don’t exist. The greatness of Christian America which, in spite of invoking “Jesus!” at every turn, conducts itself as though the New Testament does not exist." [my bold]

There, in the words I have emboldened, lies a great challenge, not only for so-called Christian America: how might we who call on the name of Jesus conduct ourselves, think out our views, in a manner which "conducts itself as though the New Testament does exist"? 

In various ways, to be Christian is to understand the New Testament fully - to understand it as the covenant of grace and not of law - to allow it to be a "new" word of God in distinction to the "old" word, the word which fuels too much "Christian" talk of rules and regulations for governing/controlling society. Such talk is not confined to America. Nor to the Christian faith.

Monday, March 4, 2024

I can see clearly now ... not yet?

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind (from song by Jimmy Cliff)

I have been dipping into a book by Kathleen D. Billman and Daniel L. Migliore, Rachel's Cry: Prayer of Lament and Rebirth of Hope (Cleveland, Ohio: United Church press, 1999). An interesting comment caught my eye - not so much about the general subject of lament in the life of the church - but much more generally about the life of the church which is so often beset by division prompted by conviction that I or we "can see clearly now" on some matter of the moment.

Billman and Migliore draw attention to John Calvin finding "the heuristic key to the book of Job" [p. 59] in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "For we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face." They also note that Karl Barth drew on this text when preaching at the funeral service of Matthias Barth (one of his sons, who was killed in a mountaineering accident). They further note that,

Barth tells the gathered mourners that all human life is lived on the boundary described by the words of this text: the boundary between the "now" of our partial and distorted knowledge and the "then," when we will know even as we are known. However, because of the grace of God realized in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this boundary between the "now" and the "then" is one where light already shines in the darkness, where life already rejoices in the face of death, "where we doubt and nevrtheless are confident, where we cry and nevertheless are joyful". [p. 64, citing Barth, Predigten 1935-1967, p. 225.]

Moving out of their discussion of lament and deep, familial grief, is it not the case that much of our argument and debate in the global, national and local church (per some recent posts here on ADU, and many posts in other forum through these days of Pope Francis, of Trumpism/Putinism, et al) could be much less acidic on the witness of Christians to Jesus Christ if we humbly lived with and lived into 1 Corinthians 13:12?

(my version)

Now, in this life, we understand the things of God very limitedly. One day - o happy day - we will understand everything - in the day when we are face to face with God!

Monday, February 26, 2024

More on new "universalist" theologian-missioner

At the foot of this post I cite a couple of comments (parts thereof) from the previous post. They raise pertinent questions for my quest/plea in that post for a new Paul/Origen - a theologian with universal appeal and a message to unite us in response to the "new world" of this millennium.

First things first: whether we ever get what I seek here; and when that person "arrives" is beyond our control. While we wait, we can and should act well to do what we can to be better - better Christians, better church (see Liz's comment below). We male leaders can act better towards female leaders. We all can be better at welcoming the outsider into our midst. We can work on systems of accountability and of training on issues of the day in order to end abuse (of all kinds) in the church. We can be better and we do not need to wait for the new Paul/Origen.

Second things equally first ... Yes, a new "universalist" will have important things to say to people of other faiths (see Mark's comment below). Such things will of course involve great skills in listening to people of other faiths. But what shape are we in to have new inter-faith conversations if we are not renewed in our own faith? (Noted, of course, is that Christianity is not the only fissiparous global faith to be found in our world today!)

What kinds of things might we hear or read this putative Paul/Origen of our day saying?

First, and in line with Liz and Mark's comments, what we will see (what we could be looking for) is that which enables a radical new and uniting vision for what it means to be men and women in the one church of God and for what it means to be godly humans in a world of diverse global faiths. 

This "that" will - I presume - involve new (or renewed) thinking about what we now know about human life through discoveries of modern science, and, in turn, that will involve a new vision for the connection between knowledge through human experience and knowledge through divine revelation.

Secondly, and following from the first point immediately above, we will need to be led into a new vision for the role of Scripture in our faith. We need - desparately I believe - to understand Scripture as God's book of good news and not as God's book of rules. Only so will we escape from the incessant conflicts: creationism v evolutionary biology; "young earth" v astronomy/physics/paleonotology; complementarianism v egalitarianism; Calvinism v Arminianism; and paralysis or schism as responses to differences in human sexuality. That is, we need a "unified theory" of how Sciptural knowledge relates to other forms of knowledge. There can only be one truth!

Thirdly, and flowing out of the second point, we need a new vision of who the God of Jesus Christ is. Who and what and why is God? This must be a very big vision, one which moves beyond the many understandings of God today which seem (on close analysis) to be little more than projections of our human ideals for a "leader" or "lord." 

In all kinds of ways we Christians seem to fall prey to the trap of a limited vision of the Godness of God. We think of God as a Being among us beings and not as the ground and source of all being. We (being creatures with finite minds) limit the extent of the Love which is God and the God who is Love. 

A new Paul/Origen will excite us with new insight into those passages in Scripture which challenge us to expand the finiteness of our minds so we better grasp the infiniteness of God's Love (see, for instance, Romans 8; 1 Corinthians 2:9-10; Corinthians 15:27-28; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1-3; especially Ephesians 3:18-21; Colossians 1:15-20; 1 John 4:7-21). 

The end of my post for this week. Comments below from last week's post:

Liz: 

Renewal of our global Christian mind needs renewal of our global Christian heart! +Peter, you did a post a while ago about unity and need for humility.. that has to be a good start. Reaching out to all means to welcome all and offer safe refuge, friendship, love, understanding and true justice. Universalism of Christianity might look like warmth of caring across racial and gender divides and across class, being informed about systemic injustice and power inequities, commitment to maintaining safe space for all. Diversity in leadership. Leaders of wisdom and character. Responsiveness. Transparency and accountability. Clear moral and behavioural expectations (and in the event of wrongdoing, a just response). When things go wrong.. holding leaders accountable for their actions and provision of practical and pastoral support for survivors/advocates. Learning from mistakes. Commitment to truth, and growing a healthy inclusive community. Integrity, courage and strength to resist divisiveness and power plays!

Mark: 

In terms of "universalism" and our contemporary age, I might see this question a little differently: we live in a time of unprecedented knowledge and contact between the great faiths. We can no longer claim ignorance of what other religions believe and practice, nor be in any doubt the people full of grace, truth, and with a deep, sincere commitment to God exist outside the boundaries of the Christian churches.

The ocean of grace has many shores.

For the sake of God, truth, and love, we need unifying, mainstream Christian voices that move us beyond hostility, limited conceptions of infinity (God), or merely thinking of our own patch (i.e. Christianity). The need for such a voice, in terms of current political and religious violence, is even more urgent and necessary.


Monday, February 19, 2024

Paul and Origen and the urgent search for their successor

For reasons I am not entirely clear about, I have started something of a quest to get to know Origen (c. 185 - c. 253) and his writings. I now have two different translations of his most famous work of systematic theology, De Principiis/On First Principles.I have also started reading a book which has been on my shelves for many years, sadly unread.

That book is J. W. Trigg's Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third-century Church (SCM Press - oddly, no date - it is the British edition of a book first published in the USA).

Trigg makes this observation at the beginning of the first chapter, p. 8:

When changed conditions call the church's message into question, a theologian must develop an all-encompassing religious vision that enables other Christians to interpret their experience. Two theologians, more than any others, have accomplished this for the entire Christian church. Paul of Tarsus is one of them. The other is neither Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, nor Schleiermacher, for none of them shaped the entire Christian tradition. The other is Origen, who lived at a time when the church's present divisions were, at most only incipient. 

...

[p. 9] Even if few Christians grasped Paul's profundity, the forcible divorce he effected between Christianity and the Jewish ritual law endured and made possible the spread of the church throughout the Greco-Roman world. Though few Christians, likewise, accepted Origen's entire theology, he made Christianity compatible with the highest aspirations of classical Greco-Roman culture. We have Origen, more than any other single person, to thank that Athens and Jerusalem belong equally to our Western heritage.

It is no purpose of this post to argue for or against Trigg's case for the seminal-and-universal significance of Origen. (I take it for granted thate all readers here agree on the significance of Paul!)

What I want to put before readers is that what Trigg says here highlights a question for today - a fractious day within the church, a testing day for the church in respect of its role in the global mission of God, and a day when, arguably, our fractiousness is a consequence of the pressure of change in the world external to the church - and that question is this:

Do we need a new Paul/Origen for our day?

A larger version of that question could be this:

In the early third millennium of Christianity, viewing many aspects of Christianity today (its divisions, including its divisions within globally significant churches/communions; its loss of adherents in the West [the greatest heir of Greco-Roman culture?]; its inability (seemingly) to be both counter-cultural (challenging the ungodliness of culture) and cultural (becoming like X in order to win X to Christ); its dicing with the powers of our age (Christian nationalism in all its forms, in nations as diverse as USA and Russia); its competing demands to be vigorous in combatting the growh of Islam, especially in Africa and vigorous in responding to change in social and sexual ethics in Western societies); its confusion around the vernacular of Christian discourse (noting movements as diverse as those promoting the BCP and the Latin Mass) - etc - is there an urgent need for a new Paul/Origen, for a theologian-missioner who can lead a renewal of our global Christian mind in a resetting of the agenda for church, for theology, for liturgy, for mission?

Critical - I suggest - to answering such a question is that such a theologian-missioner can form and articulate a message with universal import and universal attractiveness to world Christianity.

Paul was a universalist of this kind because he grasped (i.e. he received and did not let go of Christ's revelation to him) that Christ was for all people, for Jew and for non-Jew.

Origen (in my limited understanding of him and his theology) was a universalist of this kind because he took utterly seriously texts such as 1 Corinthians 15:28, "... that God may be all in all." (Cf. Ephesians 1:22.)

(Whether Paul and Origen were "universalists" of a different kind - concerning the putative salvation of all - is another matter and not a focus of this post.)

What might a new and renewed understanding of the universalism of Christianity look like in this millennium? If Christ is Christ for all, if God seeks to be "all in all", if the purpose of God's plan of salvation is "to unite all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10), how might we see that being articulated for God's people today? 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Finding our way in 2024?

To be honest, I haven't got much to say this week. Not much by way of any burning issues on my mind. It has been a busy week and all sorts of matters have come up, but if I may take today (as I write) Sunday as the last day of the busy week, then it has ended up on a good note.

The goodness of the note perhaps needs some background about the badness of our current situation!

Even since I wrote that last sentence I see that Trump has been reported this morning as saying something about Putin should attack NATO countries ... but the Putin/(potential) Trump/Xi Jiang axis, or Putin/Xi v (potentially very frail Biden) scenario of global disruption/war is terrifying (do we in the West care for democracy and economic well-being enough to fight for it?). Can anyone plausibly argue that Western civilization/culture - at least the version with the USA as its bodyguard) is not entering its death throes? (Sure, there is lots not to commend about Western civilization/culture, and lots to applaud in cultures the West may not understand well ... but the replacement of Western civilization would appear to be a very unfree society (or set of societies), including a lack of freedom to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to all people.

OK, that's a bit about the global scene. Things here in the Blessed Isles are not all as blessed as many would like. Many of us, and I am in the "us" are anxious about the turn of events where a significant part of our government is firing up all kinds of nonsense and several kinds of unfortunate prejudices within us in respect of our history of inequitable treatment of Māori. For this to end well is going to take very, very good leadership, and not only by the majority part of our Government - also by our Opposition parties (who are struggling to find their voice after their defeat in the recent election).

And, very generally, speaking, both globally and locally, the place of Christianity in Christian/post-Christian societies remains challenging and challenged: we do good (still recognised) and, or but, we have stories of horror (sexual abuse, abuse of power by leaders etc) and stories of stupidity (evangelicals supporting Trump etc). At best we are ignored by most of society and at worst derided, openly or behind our backs. Our church stats in the West are telling of our situation: belief numbers, attendances numbers at best static, at worst declining.

So, yesterday (as I write this morning), was a good daym a good note to end the last seven days on: two church visits, two growing congregations, those congregations with younger generations within them.

There is hope for the church. There is hope for the church that it will be renewed as the hope of the world.

2024 is going to be a wild ride. Let's hang in there and hold tight to Jesus!

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Two ways to read the Bible? And I, I chose the other way!

It is a curious thing being on social media - predominently X/Twitter, though posts there often take me to mainstream media articles in newspapers, magazines, churchy announcements, and the like. 

On the one hand there are amazing posts about amazing things like stupendously exciting moments in international cricket (two amazing tests last weekend, another this immediate past weekend involving out of this world bowling by Jasprit Bumrah for India). 

On the other hand there are sad posts about sad things like stupendously stupid (ok, that's my very personal opinion) analyses of current events (world and church) or quarrels (world and church) which seem, on the most charitable reading, to be people talking past each other, or, (in the case of the church) tragic misunderstandings of the core of the gospel.

On the third hand, incidentally, I appreciate X/Twitter provides news from around the globe which makes its way slowly into NZ mainstream media (or, not at all). 

Two of the church brouhahas observable in the past week or two - well, especially observable, they are not new brouhahas - have been:

- looking at North America, ongoing debate between (very/ultra/extremist) conservatives and (moderate, middling, nuanced) conservatives over things such as: Christian nationalism, transparency and accountability about sexual abuse by church leaders, whether a Christian might attend a gay relative's wedding, and, of course, whether Trump is God's anointed or a common, garden variety sinner.

- looking at the Church of England: the Living in Love and Faith (LFF) process, designed (in my understanding) to enable and empower the church to live with diversity on approaches to same sex relationships, has been and today intensively is discombobulated (for a variety of reasons I won't go into but links on this page at Thinking Anglicans give insight into the very recent reasons) - all this, of course, founded upon (and now, seemingly, foundering upon) long-standing differences in the CofE in reading Scripture and tradition (e.g. also on the ordination of women).

Reflecting on such matters, trying to understand why such differences and disagreements arise, even within church "tribes" (see here, for example, for a considered essay by a CofE evangelical, Phil Groves, articulating why "orthodoxy" as a rallying cry for evangelicals is not quite what people advancing the rally make it out to be), I wonder if a lot arises from how we read the Bible.

Across reports on X/Twitter (and the links made there), across continents and across more than "That Topic," what I think I am seeing to the fore are (broadly) two ways of reading the Bible.

One is that the Bible is a book of laws/rules. Apart from specific laws (e.g. in Leviticus, the Sermon on the Mount), laws may be drawn from any part of it, or, perhaps, we might say, laws may be drawn up from any part of it, according to our situation in life. 

A current contretemps on X/Twitter goes something like this: the priesthood of the church is for males only (similarly, motherhood is for females only), so any church allowing women to be ordained is letting the fox (of disobedience/heresy) into the henhouse of the church (hence all the problems of the church in the 21st century re enculturation into cultural Marxism). 

Of course, the Bible never specifically sets out priesthood as a "thing" in the life of the church, and it has varying things to say about women in leadership (in Israel, in the church): so the line outlined above is a rule "drawn up" from bits and pieces of Scripture (and tradition) and, in my reflection, because the Bible is this sort of book: a rule book with rules or potential for rules to be drawn up from it, not only are rules drawn up but severe human criticisms are made of those who (allegedly) keep neither the rules of the Bible nor the rules drawn up from the Bible (cf. also controversies in the Baptist world of North America, and generally amongst the Reformed of the world).

I think (if I am reading US politics/Christian engagements correctly), part of the attraction of a Trump presidency is that (irrespective of his own inability to keep any rules at all) he is the man to enforce a rules-of-the-Bible way of life in America.

And, with respect to That Topic, although the Bible offers nothing directly by way of engagement with our situation in life today re same-sex marriage according to civil law, there is an absolute confidence in sections of evangelicalism and Catholicism, in England, in Europe, in North America and in Australasia, that a rule may be drawn up from Scripture which (1) forbids the church participating in prayer and thanksgiving for any such relationship (2) determines that all kinds of threats of schism and/or demands for new "structures" may be consequentially made, and (at least in North America) (3) forbids any Christian from attending any such wedding, even for a loved family member.

All this might be quite plausible if on every other instance of our situation in life today we were similarly clear about rules drawn up from the Bible, but, in fact (and, see again Phil Groves' essay), this is not the case. Even among conservative evangelicals and Catholics there are differences over ... remarriage after divorce, women in leadership/ordination of women, euthanasia/abortion/IVF/surrogacy [at least at the level of whether such things should be legally permissible in a social democratic society], versions of the Bible, correct liturgies (BCP v modern Anglican liturgies; vernacular v Latin Mass.

I suggest the main point here is not that the Bible is not a book of laws/rules but that if it is, it is not a book of laws/rules such that we should be vicious and vitriolic about Christians who demur over what the rules are or over how the rules might be applied to life today.

But that (possible) main point leads to a second way of reading the Bible, which seems to fit the responses of a wide range of Christians: moderate conservatives, not-at-all conservatives and so on.

Two, the Bible is a book we should read prayerfully, carefully, creatively, communally and contextually. More simply, the Bible is a book of guidance (with some rules). Just as within the Bible laws/rules seemed to change (or, at least, some did) as contexts changed, so the Bible guides as to conclusions today which may (or may not) differ from conclusions reached in a previous generation. See: when situations for Israel changed (often in relation to whom its contemporary enemies were, what it would take to establish (Moses/Joshua/Judges) or re-establish (Nehemiah/Ezra/various prophets) the nation, and when ecclesial communities differed (compare the four differing gospels, Paul and James, early Pauline epistles and later Pastoral Epistles).

The Bible is a strong guide, not a weak one ("weak" meaning in the sense that we read it and then ignore it and do what is right in our own eyes). A strong guide because courses of action are clearly commended; the church has mandates for mission which carries forward the mission of Jesus; and the gospel is set out as a message needing to be proclaimed in word and in deed.

Yet, as a strong guide, the Bible leaves considerable room for engagement with the situation of our day.

It gives very strong guidance that life is sacred, for example, and we ought not, generally speaking, to kill another person. Left open, however, are questions of whether a Christian might participate as a soldier in military action in which that Christian might kill another person; or whether a pregnant mother's life is more or less valuable thatn the life of the child within her (should a medical intervention to save one of the two lives mean that the other will die); or whether the state might execute people for some categories of criminal offences.

At risk of offending Brethren and Quaker siblings in Christ, the New Testament leaves no doubt that the church ought to have leaders appointed in every place. Not at all clear is whetherthe NT is saying to all future generations of the church that the leaders with the most responsibility should be "bishops" or "presbyters" and, pace above, whether such leadership is exclusively for men only. Hence later differences between, say, Presbyterians and Anglicans, and, within the past century or so, within denominations as decisions have been made to ordain women as deacons, presbyters and bishops, or, for that matter, to reinforce restrictions so that pulpits only ever have men preaching from them.

The first approach to Scripture works well for those wishing to develop a rationalist system of propositions which deal with each and every situation in life, even those never envisaged in Scripture. The second approach is less comforting in that respect. It proposes deep engagement with Scripture while allowing for debate and discussion in the life of the church, along with possibilities for dissent and for difference - noting (as I have often done here) that Scripture's own diversity and differences within support a church of diversity of thought rather than uniformity of conviction.

***********************************************************

And, look, if you don't like what I have written, you might find edification in this book review

Monday, January 29, 2024

Cannot not comment on this news

 A key motivation for this blog is that Christians work for unity in a divided world which is unimpressed by Christian fractures and fissions. 

So, really, we cannot not comment on a significant "summit" being held through the past week or so, which continues this week - Catholics and Anglicans meeting first in Rome and then in Canterbury - including NZ Catholic and Anglican bishops. (See links here, here, here, here, here, here and there.) 

The organisation of the twin summit has been by the Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission. The NZ bishops there are Ross Bay (Auckland, Anglican) and Michael Gielen (Christchurch, Catholic).

At one level this is good, full of potentiality and the simple fruit of years of local, national and regional dialogue between Anglicans and Catholics.

At another level - at least as observed by me on Twitter/X - this lovely coming together has catalyzed snakey comments from radtrads or tradrads (radical, traditional Catholics), concerned, for instance, that an Anglican liturgy was hosted in a Catholic church in Rome and that Francis was involved in commissioning Catholic/Anglican pairings of bishops ... apparently this undoes the papal bull declaring Anglican orders "null and void."

Let me repeat the first sentence above:

"A key motivation for this blog is that Christians work for unity in a divided world which is unimpressed by Christian fractures and fissions."

OK - I understand that one Catholic approach to unity is simple, straightforward and very traditional: you want Christian unity? Submit to the Pope. Become Roman Catholic.

But does that approach move Christian unity along that much? How many Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal Christians are going to cross the Tiber on such an insistent, "We're right, you've been wrong" basis?

Is there not a lot more mileage in the following?

- working on what we do agree on, what unites us in Christ, and what we can do together in the mission of God in the world;

- humbly acknowledging our shared failings to be the church we wanted to be (let alone the church Christ wants us to be), with specific reference in NZ, Australia and other places to commissions of inquiry into abuse in church contexts;

- seeing the good that Christ is doing in each of us and in each of our churches (it has not been my experience of ecumenical conversations that participants ever think God is only working in whatever is considered by each participant to be the "true" church);

- affirming the ministry of all Christians in a world which, whether ignoring, or marginalising, or even persecuting Christians, is not particularly concerned what denomination of Christian is being ignored, marginalised or persecuted. (Put more bluntly: we have a shared enemy in the world today, so shouldn't we be fighting that enemy and not each other?)

Sunday, January 21, 2024

A Local (Aotearoa NZ) Christian Vision for 2024

 Long story short, some developments in recent years of the implications of the Treaty of Waitangi for governance (aka "co-governance") of life hereabouts (e.g. of how health is organised, of how water usage is governed) have provoked one of our current coalition government parties, ACT, into proposing a sweeping change to our unerstanding of the Treaty (if not effectively-abolishing it). As a whole the coalition government has pushed back against use of Te Reo (Māori language) in government documents and departmental names. 

In turn this has provoked angst among Māori (fearful of losing rights, access to that which improves social and personal life outcomes, diminishment of great progress of acceptability of Te Reo in everyday Kiwi life), deep concern among many Pākeha (concerned that progress for Māori will not only be stymied but set back in measurable degrees) and pleasure among those whose views are that Māori have too many rights, benefits and, these days, too much power.

There is always in such situations, where politicians tap into currents of resentment in society, the possibility of increasing division in society, something which may benefit some politicians in a democracy (cf. Trump in the USA) or, indeed, in a dictatorship, but which never benefits society. A divided society then becomes, tragically, fertile ground for new resentments to emerge, resentments which may becomes rebellions and rebellions may become civic unrest or even civil war.

In recent months, concern about where current approaches of the ACT Party, if not the coalition government itself may lead has risen high.

Theologically, referring back to my post last week, I am concerned that we recognise that a divided society is not compatible with a Christian vision for society - such vision flows out of passages such as Ephesians 4:25-5:2 - for society as a united body of people, committed to forgiving past sins and working in the present for loving, reconciled relationships.

Yesterday a large hui (gathering) was held at Turangawaewae - 10,000 Māori and supporters gathering to address the situation Māori find themselves in.

What would the tone of the event be? Would it be itself a furthering of division in these islands?

Thankfully this seems not to have been the case, as John Campbell reports here.

His report of the day, and its notes of welcome, hospitality, peace, friendship and joy cohere strongly with Ephesians 4:25-5:2.

Thanks be to God!

Monday, January 15, 2024

A Global Christian Vision in 2024

My first post for 2024 reported on the death of my colleague and friend, Bishop Richard Wallace. I learned about his death en route to another funeral, on Saturday 6 January, for one of our priests in Timaru, Heather Robertson. For her funeral she chose as one of the readings Ephesians 4:25-5:1 (here stretched out to include 5:2) - a favourite passage for her life and ministry:

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. 

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. 

Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

In my reflection through this past week or two on this passage, I have seen in it not only a set of rubrics for each of us to live by - to be Christians whose lives approximate ever more closely to God's own character - the God we meet in Jesus Christ - but also a vision for the society God wants on earth. (One of my favourite commentaries on Ephesians is John Stott's in the Bible Speaks Today series: aptly and provocatively titled, God's New Society.)

What does this "new society" look like, with reference to this passage (clearly Ephesians has a few more things to say than what we find here)?

At one level it is a crime free society: no theft, no lying/perjury/libels/slanders, no violence/assaults/murders (i.e. if anger is controlled, so will violence). But this vision is more than a set of (in the language of these days) "right wing talking points." This is a vision for people relating to one another in healthy and lifegiving ways: speaking truthfully, constraining anger, acting kindly and mercifully, consistently motivated by God's own attitudes and actions towards to be godly (God-like) people.

At the heart of this new society is a clear understanding that it is God's new society because it is created out of God's creating and redeeming relationship with us:

"be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you."

In case we are not clear about this sense of both model and motivation for God's new society, Paul restates the above instruction:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

In this restatement Paul reminds us that we are "beloved children" of God, and that the way of Christ is the way of love, "live in love" with that love being of the kind which Christ has demonstrated to us through death on the cross for us: "as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."

On the one hand, we have an inspiring vision in this passage for a "new" society which is distinct from societies surrounding Ephesus then and from societies in which most of us live now.

On the other hand, for this society to become a reality, the underlying premise of Paul's appeals is that such society is not imposed by rule of law or rule of gun but by embrace of motivated people eager to live a life pleasing to God (5:10; cf. 4:1). The motivation comes from understanding how much God loves us and how costly that love was for God in Christ dying on the cross for us.

There is quite a challenge here for various strands of Christianity around the world at present which seem eager to impose social transformation on un-Christ-motivated people via use of political power.

Nevertheless, what Christians have in a passage such as Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2 is a vision for the way society ought to be (whether we can achieve it or not this side of glory). One reflection of the past few weeks is that has been how far removed from this vision - of a kind, gentle, forgiving, peacefull society - are alternative visions in our world.

In the midst of immense pressures in sections of Western societies for a ceasefire in Gaza (including from many Christians), there seems to be very little attention to the vision Hamas has for a "free Palestine" - a vision of death and destruction to Jews, and of Islamist control of Palestinian society. Is this vision one which Christians can sqaure with Ephesians 4:25-5:2?

In the midst of immense support in sections of Western societies for Israel's right to self-defence, there seems to be very little attention to the vision the right wing parties of Israel (critical to the Netenyahu government remaining in power) have for vanquishing Palestinians from the West Bank - a vision at odds with Ephesians 4:25-5:2.

Even my own support for the so-called "two state" solution - a nation of Israel and a nation of Palestine, living side by side, at peace with one another - is fraught in the light of the Ephesian passage: could there be such a solution if there is no forgiveness, one for another, Palestinian for Israeli and Israeli for Palestinian? And where would such forgiveness come from if there is no understanding of God's forgiveness for all through the "fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" which Christ made on our behalf?

Absolutely, the question can be asked much closer to home than the Middle East, how are things in Aotearoa New Zealand, in the light of this Ephesian passage?

I will take up that question next week!

Monday, January 8, 2024

Death of Bishop Richard Wallace [updated]

UPDATE: Anglican Taonga has posted stories through this past week relating to Bishop Richard's tangihanga:

One

Two

Three

Four

ORIGINAL: Unfortunately my new year begins with news that my Maori Anglican epsicopal colleague, Bishop Richard Wallace has died. +Richard was Pihopa o Te Waipounamu (i.e. bishop for the Maori congregations of the South Island), based here in Christchurch. He has been a great friend and colleague through my years as bishop.

Our local Press has an article here.

Tangihanga arrangements have been confirmed this morning:

Monday 8th January 10am: Karakia, Waipatu Marae, 71 SH2 Hastings 1pm: Depart Ahuriri, Napier on RNZAF Hercules 3:30pm: Arrive at Te Pā Mihinare o Te Waipounamu 290 Ferry Road, Ōtautahi, Christchurch.

Bishop Richard will lie in state at Te Waipounamu, 290 Ferry Road, until Wednesday morning.

Wednesday 10th January: 11am: Kaihapa whakawhetai mō te Oranga o Pīhopa Rihari / Eucharistic service of thanksgiving for the life of Bishop Richard Wallace Transitional Cathedral, 234 Hereford Street, Christchurch. The Archbishops of our church will be presiding at this service.

3:30pm Arrive at Wairewa Marae, 435 Akaroa Road, Little River.

Thursday 11th January: 11am Karakia mo te Rā Nehu / Funeral Service at the Wairewa/Little River marae, with burial at the marae urupa following the service.

For guidance: the capacity of the Little River marae is less than the capacity of the Transitional Cathedral, if unsure which service to attend, my guidance is to attend the Wednesday service in the TC.

Please pray for Archdecon Mere Wallace (+Richard's wife) and their family as they mourn his loss - and for all who gather through the next few days from across our whole church.