Monday, March 31, 2014

The politics of Jesus (Monday 31 March 2014)

In NZ this year we have an election coming up, 20 September 2014. Personally I am unsure which party to vote for (party vote) let alone who to vote for (to be MP for my local electorate). If my votes are to be 'true to Jesus' what analysis of the situation (state of the economy, state of the nation, state of local community and national society) will guide me, perhaps you too?

Currently we Kiwis live in a period of life which could be described by future historians as one of our golden ages. In modern history our nation has had its economic ups and downs but currently we seem to be in an up period. We are doing a roaring trade with the world as one of the great farms of the world, increasingly as a farm providing produce for China. On our farm we make lots of money from running a rather large herd of dairy cows, but also from cattle, sheep, a little bit from the sheep's wool, a vineyard and some forests. There is even a small quarry where coal can be dug up. If politics is about what happens to the farm's profit/loss account then voters would be stupid to vote for a new manager of the farm.

But is that what politics is about? It could also be about what is happening to the individual wallets of the voters. From that perspective life in NZ is uneven. Some wallets are bulging, other wallets are empty. (My hunch is that polls showing the National Party in the 45-50% support range mean that the majority of wallets are not empty, many are reasonably thick and some are bulging). The left-wing approach to politics is to try to even up the amount in each wallet while the right-wing approach is promote an economy in which all wallets have even opportunities to be filled.

For those reflecting on the politics of Jesus, what is important? The overall profit/loss account of the farm? The distribution of wealth across each wallet? The opportunity for each wallet to be filled according to a mix of hard work and entrepreneurial activity?

These days politics also has a green dimension: is the farm being run in a way which is non-polluting? There is a Treaty dimension expressed in at least two ways: who actually owns the farm? Whether wealth is distributed in an even manner or opportunity to access the wealth of the farm is available evenly to all, does this translate to equality between Maori and Pakeha?

Other questions emerge. Are the children on the farm being well educated? When the workers get sick, is there a great health service? What happens t people unable to work?

What might the politics of Jesus contribute to attempts to answer these questions? Next week: equality in the kingdom and its reverse economics.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

It was the dog that died

I have had a superb couple of days away at the Maadi Cup regatta (rowing). Never having been to this annual secondary school sporting event I have come away much impressed and reinforced in my theory that NZ's sporting greatness is due to the way its secondary school sports competitions are run. If you can win at these then you can win in the heat of competition of the most intense sort. It was a very proud moment for Teresa and I to be with the even prouder parents of our nephew as he and his rowing partner won the U18 Double Sculls.

Meantime internet connection was somewhat intermittent so I avoided posting. Now back in town there are potentially many things to post on, but here is just one, a link to a fine article on Evangelical Identity by Andrew Walker. I think Andrew makes a fine point. Despite difficulties in nailing down what evangelicalism is and is not, there is a phenomenon and a movement which represents some things and does not represent other things.

"World Vision’s decision to reverse course from a patently unbiblical and patently unhistorical position, demonstrates that evangelicalism has boundary markers. We have core beliefs about authority. We may not always agree on what the precise boundaries are, but the World Vision event this week helps us identify the approximate boundaries, and when it has been crossed. Evangelicalism did triage this week, and did it well. We saw through the malaise of theological indifferentism and insisted that while evangelicalism remains a big tent, at some point, the canopy ends. 
In American evangelicalism, you can’t believe in anything you want and call yourself an evangelical. That what Mainline Protestantism is for. That’s the route that “professional dissidents ” like Rachel Held Evans want evangelicalism to become, but that only leads to eternal pottage."

(My point in drawing attention to this is not to enter once more into the merry go round re homosexuality but to highlight that 'while evangelicalism remains a big tent, at some point the canopy ends.')

Nevertheless Andrew Walker's argument is susceptible to critique - some fine points are made in the comments below the post.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sack the Board?

I am on and have been on a few boards. I have noticed that it is comparatively easy to lose sight of things, such as the main thing the board is meant to foster, or the distinction between governance and management. It has often struck me that the importance of having a board of more than one person (and possibly more than six persons which (some say) is the ideal size for the 21st century) is that it increases the chances that as a board gets carried along by some zeitgeist away from the main thing, or from governance into management a voice will pipe up, 'This is not right' or 'Stop.'

A day or two ago assiduous readers of internet Christian news will have noted that World Vision US made a decision. Then an outcry. Now we can read that the decision has been reversed. The decision itself is interesting and one which many Christian bodies are going to be faced with in the Western world now and ahead. But what intrigues me right now is that the World Vision US Board in the link above offers such a huge mea culpa re the fundamentals according to which the Board is to operate.

How could it be so wrong according to its own lights?

Perhaps the 'This is not right' member was absent from the crucial meeting.


These are interesting days and good times but not for blogging and thus, once again, I put off, now till next week (at least ... it will have troubles sufficient unto itself, I am sure) further work on coherent and consistent doctrine.

'Good times' is code for lovely autumn weather in Christchurch - not cold nor hot (though perhaps too much rain on occasions) along with pleasant interactions with a variety of people.

Yesterday I was privileged to have lunch with one of my colleagues and two staff from Moore College, Sydney over here with a group of students for a mission in one of our parishes. There was an equally pleasant occasion for fellowship on Monday afternoon when I and two colleagues from the Diocese met with the whole group.

Today our cup runneth over as the Archbishop of York John Sentamu and Mrs Margaret Sentamu visit our Diocese and the city of Christchurch.

Of course in the presence of distinguished guests one worries about protocol and in the particularities of this visit, should I wear my clerical collar or not?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Stool for survival or foundation for flourishing?

In a week when some are reflecting on the average regular weekly attendance for the C of E heading for the 800K mark, questions about the future of Anglicanism in the West are underlined. Survival or flourishing? Decline or turning point?

Convictional Anglican draws our attention to a lecture by +Paul Barnett, delivered in Australia, in which +Paul as an evangelical makes a point re fellow Anglican evangelicals and the direction some are heading in. Its title is Remember to Survive. The key to the survival of Judaism has been its remembering its past through present continuation of ritual. The future survival of Anglicanism (at least in its 'classical' expression is remembering and to this end +Paul reminds his audience of the virtues of the three legged stool of BCP, Ordinal and 39A.

Convictional Anglican is worth reading and I won't repeat the post here. But from the lecture PDF itself I offer this:

"1662 gave us a three-legged stool – the BCP, the Ordinal and the 39 articles of
The BCP was the public face of Christianity with liturgies for Sunday and liturgies for
the ‘occasions’ of life – birth, marriage, death.

The Ordinal set out the beliefs and practices to be followed by Bishops, Priests and

The 39 Articles of Religion specified the doctrines of the church.

The BCP: three Realities

First: The BCP expresses a faith that is ‘catholic’.
The word means ‘whole’ or ‘complete’.

It means a ‘complete’ account of Christian truth, based on the canonical scriptures. In
the early centuries ‘catholic’ defined those committed to the great creeds – belief
about the incarnation of the Son of God, his bodily resurrection and his revelation of
the Divine Trinity.

In contrast to the ‘catholic’ were those who were deemed ‘heretic’ or schismatic’.

The BCP expresses ‘catholic’ Christianity as defined by the Ecumenical Creeds of the
early centuries.

Second: The BCP expresses a faith that is ‘reformed’.
The medieval church departed from the NT in important matters.
•Jesus commanded 2 sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper – the Roman
church introduced 5 others.

•The gospel teaches that sinners are saved by grace; the medieval church taught that
sinners were saved by religious works.

•Jesus taught that divine authority is found in the Bible; the medieval church taught
that authority was located in the Pope.

In response Cranmer provided for extensive church reading of the Old Testament,
New Testament and the Psalms.

Reading of the Bible is the central part of the services of the BCP.
Following the reading of the Bible comes the creed.
We the people make our response to God’s Word in the Bible by saying, ‘I or We
believe...’ .

Cranmer made the Bible central in BCP services.

Cranmer was influenced by the teaching of the Apostle Paul in chapter 14 of First
Corinthians: ‘If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual man let him acknowledge  8
that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord’ (v. 27). The written
word is authoritative over what others speak.

Also based on 1 Cor. 14 Cranmer insisted that Church services must be intelligible to
the mind. Without the engagement of the mind there is no edification.

Furthermore, Cranmer understood well that Church services need to be orderly for the
sake of edification.

Third: The BCP expresses a faith that is defended liturgically
Liturgy is not for aesthetics but employed to defend truth.
•By confession of sins acknowledging the need for forgiveness.
•By sustained reading of the Bible followed by the Creeds.
•By using a church calendar for the great festivals and their doctrines:
 -Incarnation at Christmas and the atonement and hope at Easter.
 -The call to repentance in Lent.
 -The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
 -The Ascension of the Lord on Ascension Day.
 -The reality of the Trinity on Trinity Sunday.
 -The Second Coming at Advent.

Each needs to be emphasized throughout the year.
But the Calendar gives opportunity to highlight these.
The calendar provides ministers opportunity to preach doctrinally.
The ‘collects’ are prayers that ‘collect’ great doctrines of the faith."

+Paul makes some points I myself would want to make to fellow Kiwi Anglican evangelicals: the liturgical shape of Anglican life provides great structure for our patterns of worship and content for what we say in worship than our regular practice in some places suggests.

Yet I wonder if this lecture takes us as far as we need to go at this present time?

It is a good thing to survive and if survival is our only option, +Paul has thrown us a lifebelt. But is there not also a question of flourishing?* Are we doomed as Anglicans in the West to decline and decline and ... death?

Is there a future in which we turn around from decline and begin to grow again?

If so, how helpful is the three legged stool going to be?

I wonder if we need a four legged chair. Is a lot of our talk these days about finding and settling on what the fourth leg should be?

NOTE re 'flourishing': a commenter below rightly asks what I mean by 'flourishing'.

Here are possibilities, any one of which would be a good thing, all of which would be best.

1. numbers recorded (e.g. attendance, baptisms, weddings, funerals, confirmations, ordinations, census allegiance) trend upwards rather than downwards.

2. individual ministry units have signs of regeneration (e.g. a balance of generations participating in church life (compared with many congregations in which 80% regular attenders are aged over 60 or even 70) and/or new 'fresh expressions' of church life are being planted among the missing generations.

3. From within flourishing congregations people are called to leadership in mission (church planters, priests, missionaries, youth workers, etc).

4. New Christians join congregations, new disciples are made in response to proclamation of the gospel.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Politics of Jesus (Monday 24 March 2014)

'He remained true to Jesus but never quite resolved, in his own mind, whether this outcome amounted to success or failure.'
Recently Tony Benn, a famous British Labour politician died. An extremely good article on him by Peter Wilby ends with the sentence cited above. At the beginning of the article it is noted that Benn came from a strong Christian family, but grew away from those Christian roots as far as active church life was concerned while retaining a commitment to the way of Jesus. Benn is an interesting person to reflect on from the perspective of the politics of Jesus because the best that can be said about Benn (I suggest) is that he was a rare politician who put principles above pragmatism at almost every step in his career and, from a career perspective, suffered diminishment and denial of high office as a consequence. At worst, Benn's principles arguably did a lot of damage because they contributed to the Labour Party's ineffectiveness during the Thatcher years. (I leave it to others to work out whether that 'damage' was confined to the Labour Party or extends to include those for whom the Thatcher years were not kind to them).

In NZ this year we have an election coming up, 20 September 2014. Personally I am unsure which party to vote for (party vote) let alone who to vote for (to be MP for my local electorate). If my votes are to be 'true to Jesus' what analysis of the situation (state of the economy, state of the nation, state of local community and national society) will guide me, perhaps you too?

The gospel of Jesus has profound implications for politics because politics is about how we organise ourselves as human societies and the gospel is about how God is organising a new human society, the kingdom of God. Sometimes Christians have attempted to live as though each kind of politics is distinct from the other (sometimes with disastrous results as either Christian have taken to the hills to form separatist communes or silently consented to totalitarian takeovers of their countries). Other times Christians have identified the kingdom of God with the politics around them, usually resulting in future regret. Politics generally results in dystopia rather than utopia. The kingdom of God does not come through elections or revolutions.

Nevertheless what does come through elections and revolutions are possibilities for change in conditions of human life. Increasing or decreasing taxes according to manifesto promises has consequences for people. Constraining or unleashing spending on health or education or defence changes the course of the future for generations. Christians have the ability to analyse these possibilities in the light of the kingdom of God. If the kingdom of God concerns the flourishing of all people, do promised changes promote universal human flourishing or benefit a select group? If the kingdom of God has a bias (as many argue) towards the poor, what will electing government X rather than Y do for the poor?

That will do for today. In case it looks like politics will be taken too seriously, here is a witty piece from the Onion to keep some proportion about what politics can and cannot achieve.

NOTE: Last week turned out to be hopeless time and energy wise re continuing thoughts on coherent and consistent theology. I will return to that subject.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Church growth Global South style ... and a question (updated to include controversy)

Lovely report here of a fresh expression Anglican church plant in Cairo.

Speaking of Global South, the Diocese of South Carolina has decided in favour of its motion previously noted here, to come under the oversight of Global South Primates. But their press release (e.g. here) speaks of the 'Global Anglican Communion' which in terms of words looks like an amalgam of 'Global South' and 'Anglican Communion' and in terms of literal meaning is the same as 'Anglican Communion' (which is global in scope), but as a title, does it betoken a new forming of Anglican global fellowship? (Comments from South Carolina especially welcomed ...)

ADDENDUM: A consistent line through ADU over the years has been concern that the Anglican Communion find and maintain theological coherency and consistency over convictions which accord with Christian orthodoxy. Chickens are coming home to roost in most if not all Western Anglican churches as a largely liberal/progressive theological hegemony has driven leadership and vision for decades in order to make accommodation with the secularising societies in which we live only to find pews emptying out. Accordingly it is of great concern when we continue to find in Western Anglican churches certain theological commitments continuing to be fostered and encouraged by the episcopal hierarchy.

Yesterday, over  coffee, I learned verbally of a controversy brewing in Melbourne. I see that David Ould has two posts on the matter here and here. David makes an excellent point in the headline to the first post, "Stretching the limits of diversity?" We are Anglicans and that means there will be and should be some width to our theological appreciations, some tolerance of a range of views amongst us. But to diversity there is a question of limits if we have any regard for the matter of unity as in our almost banal 'diversity in unity' or 'unity in diversity' mantra.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The perils and joys of blogging

Time and sapped energy mitigate against resuming my series begun on Monday re the search for a coherent theology so today a couple of links to point readers to.

On the perils of blogging, Cranmer has a very interesting post about the silencing of a Roman deacon blogging in England.

On the joys of blogging, continue to read Available Light by Bishop Kelvin Wright as he charts progress through his diocese on a pilgrimage to celebrate 200 hundred years of the gospel in NZ. Here he is heading to Dipton and the largest icecreams in our fair land.

Meanwhile I am also following the story about flight MH370. Theologians are pretty good at thinking about mysteries. Then there is flight MH370. What happened?

Perhaps too we could contemplate a mystery of Anglicanism, this time through the not overly sympathetic views of David Virtue, ho does a priest straddle the borderlands between TEC and ACNA with support from the ABC?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Like a needle in a haystack?

Pope Francis is leading a charge to deal with an open wound in the body of Christ centred on Rome, the wound caused by the clash of doctrine and pastoral care in which remarried divorcees are unable to receive communion. The gist of the issue can be picked up in this reflection on Cardinal Kasper's attempt to propose a way forward. For a dyspeptic reaction which, in its own way, also presents the gist of the issue, read this.

The logic of current doctrine-come-practice is (i) marriage cannot be dissolved (ii) relationships with the appearance of marriage (e.g. there was a wedding, it was consummated, children are born to the couple) breakdown (iii) new relationships with the appearance of marriage (e.g. there is a wedding, it is consummated, children are born to the couple) are desired but constitute adultery (according to our Lord's teaching) while the former spouse is alive (iv) adultery is a mortal sin which prevents reception of communion (v) but if the former relationship can be shown (through responsible, church-authorised investigation) to not have been a marriage (despite a wedding, consummation, even children) then a (proper) marriage to a new partner (canonically spouse number one, not number two) is possible and communion is accessible.

The failure of the logic, pastorally speaking, is that it leaves those unable to secure an annulment (for whatever reason, and tragically, for some, for reasons beyond their control, even though their marriage has broken down through no particular fault of their own) in a state where otherwise indistinguishable from fellow parishioners, they are excluded from communion. That is what Kasper is putting his finger on and, we surmise, that is what Pope Francis wants to find a solution to.

I am not here going to analyse this theological dilemma for Rome further, suffice to say that the very existence of this kind of logic, the manner of how it might be undone and the counter-logic of those who resist any change highlights why many Anglicans (and other Protestants and Eastern Orthodox) are not especially enamoured by Rome as a 'theological system'.

That is not to say, of course, that Anglicans doing theology are without problems. Indeed far from it. As time permits this week I would like to explore some of the difficulties we face in being theologically coherent when (one might say) among the few things uniting Anglicans theologically is a wish to avoid casuistry of the kind demonstrated above (and in the linked articles).

One of the driving motivations for this blog is a search for theological coherency. But is the search like looking for a needle in a haystack?

PS Talking of coherent theology, I see that an ecumenical Orthodox synod, for the first time in 1200 years, is being planned.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Would Jesus have had an iPad in the wilderness?

I am very grateful to a colleague, the Reverend Susan Baldwin, Vicar of Malvern (a rural parish centred about 30 mins out of Christchurch) for taking time to write up a story about the use of an iPad to Skype study sessions using a certain Lenten study booklet.

FURTHER THOUGHTS Michael Bird notes a controversy I nearly posted on a few weeks back. Mark Driscoll, in certain Christian quarters, is wildly popular, with people hanging on his every word. He leads a 'mega church', writes books and now a question arises about probity re writing/publishing/sales claims. Bird makes some excellent points. All Christians who write should reflect on these things. As I am sure the Apostle Paul did when he wrote his genuine letters ... all of them!

AND now a letter of contrite apology and mea culpa from Mark Driscoll. Well done, Mark! If Christianity means anything it means that mistakes are not the end of ministry in Christ the Redeemer's Name.

Hikoi o Te Harinui o Te Rongopai

This year is the bicentennial year of the first preaching of the gospel (te rongopai) in Aotearoa NZ, on Christmas Day 1814, an even popularly narrated in the carol Te Harinui. Various celebrations, activities and (most importantly) preachings of the gospel are taking place throughout our islands.

One such celebration is a hikoi (pilgrimage) through the Diocese of Dunedin, led by Bishop Kelvin Wright. It has begun in Stewart Island (our southernmost populated island) and is making its way up north through Bluff (on which read this post) and will end at the Waitaki River, the boundary between Dunedin and Christchurch Dioceses.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ambiguous apostleship?

It is a year on from the election of Pope Francis. Barbie Latza Nadeau sets out the pluses and minuses of the year along with the loves and hates engendered by the Franciscan apostleship. It is early days into his reign so unfair to make definitive judgments, whether for praise or condemnation. There do seem to be some solid achievements such as getting George Pell to Rome re finances, and the promise of more to come, especially regarding a widely vexed question of admittance of remarried (but not in the eyes of the church) Catholics to communion.

On reflection, the article points a question back to all of us in church leadership as much as it asks questions of Francis' leadership: what difference do we make to the sphere of ministry we have been appointed to?

On which I had betterget on with my day job!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Who would really, really want to be a Calvinist?

Calvinism is one of those tricky things among the "isms". A bit like Communism, perhaps, which is easy to oppose on the basis of lived out reality (think oppression in the USSR and Mao's China) and difficult to completely reject on the basis of its core idealism (think, Christianly, how close communism is to Acts 2:44,45) and continuing handy critique of capitalism (while capitalism is a tide which lifts all boats, is it really a good thing for humanity if some have leaky, rotten rowboats while others have floating gin palaces? Resentment does tend to spawn violent revolution ...).

This stirring critique of Calvinism - 5 Reasons Why Calvinism Makes Me Want To Gouge My Eyes Out - opposes Calvinism partly on the basis of the lived out reality of Calvinism as a theological driver for church life and partly on the basis of the terrifying logic of Calvinism's attempt to systematise the theology of Scripture. Excerpt below.

Yet is Calvinism easy to reject completely? Scripture after all has a strong theme of election (think tiny Israel chosen from among the nations), and concern that only a minority are saved is not necessarily ameliorated by promoting Arminianism over Calvinism: whether we subscribe to either "isms", we have a Lord and Saviour who taught that only a few find the way. On one aspect of Calvinism I suggest no simple solution exists: predestination versus free-will can be couched in such a way that predestination seems absurd. Yet I remember from first year philosophy reading a (non-theological) treatise on determinism versus free-will which opened my eyes to how difficult the concept of free-will is!

I am curious about one line within the argument:

'We don’t need a belief system that leaves us wondering as to whether or not we got picked; we need a belief system that assures us we were already picked and that we’re free to enjoy the benefits of being picked.'
Is that not Calvinism? If so, then the writer's main objection to Calvinism seems to boil down to understanding the concept called 'limited atonement'. A concept which I see as paradoxical: if Christ died for all, but not all are saved (whether we make the choice, God makes the choice, or both) then the effects of the atonement are limited.

Nevertheless my attraction to this post concerns what the writer says about the toxicity of Calvinism within church culture. Is Calvinism as a theological system good for the church? For example, does it contribute to the flourishing of love within congregational life or does it enhance commitment to world-facing mission? The comments below the post are worth a look if engaging with such questions.

Here is one excerpt from the post:

'One of the key aspects of Calvinism is a concept called “predestination” which essentially means, God picked the people who are going to heaven. Where it gets sick is on the flip side of that same coin (a position held by Calvin), that God also picks the people who go to hell. There are no choices involved– before God even created us, he hand picked who would go to heaven and who he would burn in hell for all of eternity. 
Now, we know from the teachings of Jesus that the group of people in history who embrace God is smaller than the group who do not (broad vs. narrow road). If both Calvinists and Jesus are equally correct, the result is purely evil. This would mean that God created a MAJORITY of humanity for the sole purpose of torturing them in hell for all of eternity, and that they never had a choice. God would have created them for the sole purpose of torturing them. I just don’t think I can worship a god who would do something like that. 
Case in point: if I get to heaven and find out that my beautiful daughter Johanna is in hell and that she’s in hell because God chose her before the foundations of the world to burn for all eternity, I won’t be able to worship him in good conscience. Perhaps I would bow down out of total fear, but I would NOT worship him because he was holy, beautiful, and “all together wonderful” as Boyd often describes him. Instead, I would bow down because he would be a sick and twisted god who scared the crap out of me.'
For myself I wonder if Calvinism is asking the wrong questions of Scripture. Predestination in the hands of Paul in Ephesians, for instance, is a wonderful answer to the question, 'Will God save me?' Or, 'Is God committed to saving me?' Conversely it is a poor answer to questions such as, 'Who will be saved?' 'How can I be saved?' 'Are some people destined not to be saved?'

The very ability of humanity to ask questions such as these is a testimony to the reality of free-will: it would be absurd of God to create people who can ask, 'How can I be saved?' while destining such questioners to an answer, 'Don't bother, you are not going to be saved, you cannot choose to be saved.'

In the paradoxes involved in these matters I suggest it would also be absurd to conclude from human ability to choose that God is only interested in people making choices, disinterested in whether anyone chooses to follow Christ and neutral over the possibility that potentially no one might be saved because all choose to reject Christ. If Scripture teaches anything, from Genesis to Revelation, it is that God is intentionally and intensely committed to having a people of God for eternity.

As an Anglican I find myself a little bit Calvinist and a little bit Arminian and hopefully without toxicity.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spong at work?

"Maybe you’re religious, and maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re one of many who claim to be spiritual but not religious—which I take to mean that you hold many of the values espoused by one religion or another, but you’re highly suspicious of organized/institutional religion and its failure to live out its stated values. It reminds me of G.K. Chesterton’s famous line: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”...
Much of what you will read here will be critical of organized religion, since along with Chesterton, I believe in Christianity but seldom see it put into practice. Love is the central theme of the Bible, and yet we find it so hard to live lives of love. The enemy of love is not hate, but fear. When confronted by those who seem filled with hate, I try to ask “What are they afraid of?” with as much sympathy as I can muster. Responding to hate with love is one of the most daunting tasks of those who claim to follow Jesus. 
This column will also go far beyond Christianity. God is infinite, and it comes as no surprise to me that there have developed, over time, many credible and faithful approaches to understanding God. In the end, no religion holds a lock on the reality of God. Each religion grasps only a part of the infinite God and offers insight into God’s reality, and we would do well to exercise a good measure of humility in claiming we know God’s will. Better to begin each pronouncement we make about God with “In my experience…” or “From my perspective…” or simply “For me….” At the end of the day, no matter how much we believe we know God’s will, we must acknowledge that each of us is only doing the best she/he can."
Sounds like Spong. But it is not. More like 'channelling Spong.' The author is a bishop of an Anglican church. To that Anglican church the Diocese of South Carolina once belonged. Here is a useful illustration of why that Diocese has said Enough is enough. A bishop, intended within Anglican polity to be a teacher of the faith, belittles his own religion and its claim to have received the fullness of God's revelation in Jesus Christ by declaring 'Each religion grasps only a part of the infinite God.' Further, as a bishop authorised by the church to proclaim the Word of God, the best he can do is boil down all proclamation of God's truth to 'In my experience.'

This is not Christianity. Nor is it Anglicanism as a manner of being Christian which is both catholic and reformed.

Andrew Brown reveals key reason for schism: we do not understand each other

With H/T to Christopher Johnson, I read this opinion from Andrew Brown and want to express my gratitude to Andrew for what he reveals about the unfolding Anglican schism (i.e. as TEC breaks up, as divisions occur in the Anglican Communion and now as the CofE looks like it is only being held together by a controversial paper from its bishops).

Andrew Brown is offering an explanation for 'Why the church's gay marriage schism is here to stay?' His specific focus is the contretemps within the CofE about the bishop's recent statement (links to which are in his article).

The thrust of the column is that conservatives are unbudgeable about what they think is God's will re marriage and how that will is discerned. What he does not quite spell out is that (at least in his perspective of how liberals think) liberals are also unbudgeable about what they think is God's will re marriage (it's flexible) and how that will is discerned (Scripture is something from which "it would be unwise to draw conclusions" while history, science and law give guidance of better quality than Scripture). Thus between the unbudgeable sides the schism will not go away. One might add, the only interesting question remaining about the C of E is whether the schism will result in formal separation or ongoing tension. Separate houses or separate bedrooms?(!)

In the course of his column he writes,

"What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants – Conservatives believe – is a straight man married to a straight woman: Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve are the perfect couple. It is that relationship that shows the kind of love that leads us towards God. You or I might point out that since Adam and Eve never existed it would be unwise to draw conclusions from their relationship, but that's not how the religious imagination works."

I suggest this reveals more the Andrew Brown is intending because it discloses an understanding of conservative thinking that is at odds with the way conservatives actually think. If we are going to misunderstand each other in this way, then of course there is going to be division amongst us. (No doubt conservatives misunderstand liberals and that also contributes to division).

I suggest that this is what conservatives think:

What God wants is by definition more valuable than anything else in the world and what God wants is for men and women to marry in order to continue the fruitfulness of creation and for children to be born into a lasting stable loving marriage between father and mother. The covenant between a man and a woman in marriage is important enough for God to use it to illustrate his own love for Israel and Christ's love for the church. Conversely, the strength of God's commitment to Israel and of Christ's commitment to the church is an inspiring and instructive model for a husband and wife's commitment to each other. (Marriage is not the only relationship which shows the kind of love that leads us towards God, Scripture provides other examples, through familial love, and friendship). Whether Adam and Eve existed or not, it would be unwise to dismiss conclusions drawn from the scriptural narratives and reflections in which they feature as the religious imagination works from what has been given to us, especially that which is understood as being given by God as revelation to God's people. In particular, religious imagination works from asking whether what God wants and what the world wants (e.g. expressed through history, science and law) is compatible or incompatible seeks to develop a way of life (discipleship) which is primarily faithful to what God wants.

If Andrew Brown is representative of a liberal understanding of conservatives then we are in trouble because as long as we misunderstand each other then the conversation between us is going to be more than difficult. When we understand each other the chances of respectful conversation and mutually agreeable living with difference rises. It would help the CofE's future if more care was taken to clarify how each side thinks.

Presumption is the mother of prejudice and prejudice is the father of conflict.

I would prefer comments on the matter of whether we understand in each other well in the Communion today rather than on the many other issues Andrew Brown touches on re marriage and human sexuality (all of which have been given a good rehearsing here at ADU).

Saturday, March 8, 2014

In breaking news, South Carolina is first off the blocks

Recently we noted here that the Global South Primatial Oversight Council is offering episcopal oversight and support for Anglicans dissenting from local jurisdictional authority structures.

Today it looks like South Carolina will be the first Diocese to take up this offer as a resolution to this effect is announced on Titus One Nine as on the books for the forthcoming Diocesan Convention next weekend.


It is tempting to see South Carolina's move as solely related to one matter, homosexuality and then to either condemn South Carolina for making one issue, not found in the creeds, a reason for schism (which took place a while ago) and now for revision of structural arrangements as an Anglican diocese within the Anglican Communion, or to commend the example of South Carolina as a way forward for other dioceses (perhaps even parishes) around the world to remain within the Anglican Communion when they experience disagreement with their province (or parish with diocese and/or province) over homosexuality.

The reality (as being noted in various comments below) is that South Carolina has left it larger church body (The Episcopal Church [TEC]) because it has determined that the differences between its understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ (as revealed to us through Scripture and taught in the tradition of the Anglican church since the days of the English Reformation) and TEC's understanding of the gospel are a barrier to remaining in continued communion with TEC.

Thus condemning South Carolina for making a schism out of homosexuality is a condemnation based on a peculiar understanding of the situation South Carolina in relationship to TEC finds itself in.

Conversely, before rushing to imitate South Carolina, I suggest it worth hitting the 'pause' button in order to reflect, Is the larger body to which I and my parish/diocese are a part in great disagreement over the gospel itself? (For example, a helpful related question could be, Is that larger body inhibiting the preaching of the gospel in my parish or in the churches of my diocese?)

Many Anglicans who have worried about what other Anglicans in their patch really believe about the gospel have lived with considerable disagreement over the gospel for a long time. Is anything different in your patch about preaching the gospel today? Speaking only for myself, and only about my church ACANZP, I do not see any great difference about the mix of views roundabouts today compared with many yesterdays.

Fellow Kiwi Anglicans, what do you think?

Other Anglicans, what is happening in your patch?

If every diocese does a 'South Carolina', there will be quite a bit of chaos!

A culture on the cusp of scorning God


Here is Chris O'Dowd: "thinks following a religion will eventually become as offensive and unacceptable as racism."

There is a force of nature at work in Oz culture. He is called Peter FitzSimons. Journalist and writer of excellent big books (e.g. the stunning Mawson and the Ice Men of the Heroic Age), Peter is also an evangelist for atheism (as in it would be good news if people stopped believing in an imaginary friend). Now it is not him but an SMH/Fairfax colleague, Sam De Brito who offers an evangelistic proclamation in favour of not believing in God by way of criticizing Matthew McConaughey's Oscar winning acceptance speech the other night.

If you saw the speech, Matthew first of all thanks God for his success. Sam De Brito asks, 'Why bring God into it?' Peter FitzSimon gives it the seal of approval, paradoxically with religious language, Amen!

That sets off a bit of Twitter debate with @Peter_Fitz. Two Tweets catch my eye:

Which seems like a knockout blow. I mean why would God help an actor star in a movie when others' needs are more desperate than that?

But a Christian theological nous, Rocky G, is at hand.

That is quite a fair retort. Worrying about a god who helps movie stars ahead of the starving is a moral action with no rational foundation in a world without god.

But such good responses on behalf of the God of Jesus Christ do not change the fact that (as I read around on blogs and media outlets based in Oz and here) I notice quite a lot of bold criticism of Christianity (and Islam and Judaism) along the lines of 'why do people waste time believing in an imaginary friend?' Indeed De Brito himself writes of 'the world's most popular imaginary friend.'

It is quite a good line, is it not? There is no denial of the existence of God in some sense (imaginary = you think God exists and in a sense he does in your mind, but nowhere else) and there is an element of affectionate care (we all need friends, you have a friend, that's nice) laced in with the withering scorn of 'imaginary.'

Here, dear readers, is the great challenge of our age for Christians, for (perhaps) Australians and New Zealanders in particular: we now live not just in a world of unbelief but in a world willing to scorn belief. Whatever we make of challenges re issues of the day such as homosexuality, and however important it is to carefully assess whether our bishops are making a good job of being bishops (the essential issue in yesterday's ADU post about a controversy in Oz), they are trivial issues compared with the avalanche of disbelief and dissing of belief which is bearing down on us.

Let's be realistic about evangelism and how it 'works': we proclaim the gospel knowing our message is most effective when its hearers are already theists or at least agnostics with hearts open to the possibility of God existing. Atheists are stony ground territory. If our culture in the West, down here Down Under is on the cusp of turning from a few Christians, some theists and many agnostics to one where most people laugh at the notion of an imaginary friend, the future for the gospel is bleak.

The most important question facing Christians does not concern the blessing of relationships other than marriages between a man and a woman nor whether penal substitutionary atonement is or isn't the heart of Anglican understanding of the gospel.

How do we demonstrate that God our friend is real not imaginary, is available to the world and not just to imaginative Christians, and is the solution to problems in our world and not the cause of the problems?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Ould news from Australia

Here at ADU we wish to honour the breadth of the phrase, Down Under, which includes a mysterious island to the west of Aotearoa New Zealand. On this mysterious island, Anglicanism takes different courses to Anglicanism here. For example we very, very rarely make a fuss about the election of a bishop. And when we do it is in muttered conversations over coffee cups. But not so in Australia, where, just to give some context, its culture permits the ruling political party to change its leader and therefore the Prime Minister whenever inner party turmoil erupts into the public domain, there for all to see controversy played out.

Thus we find that the election of a clergyperson* with, shall we say, views basically in keeping with most of the bishops of my church in these islands (sympathies for progress on homosexuality, doubts about the primacy of penal substitutionary atonement) is generating some controversy, particularly through the blogging of David Ould.

Background posts are here and here. In one of the posts are very interesting range of responses from other Oz bishops is reported.

On Twitter last night David Ould forecast a new development:

That's around midday our time, I think (depends who is and isn't running Daylight Saving etc).

I will keep you posted ... Indeed here is the post: in my words, "Poacher turned gamekeeper?"

*The clergyperson is a woman and thus a question in the Oz Anglican context also arises re whether women should be bishops. Here I am not interested in discussion on that question and may not publish comments which focus on that aspect of the situation. What I am interested in is the general question of Anglicanism and substitutionary atonement: does the latter lie at the centre of the former? Should it? Did it?

PS The power of blogging is much overrated and leads to some stupid things being said. So here we read that 'All eyes are on you' re the Ordinariate. That is just false. No one is looking at the Ordinariate in the reign of Franciswho is making quite different waves re Anglican relationships!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Anglican schismatics should pay attention to Ukraine

I have been doing a bit of reading up about Ukraine. What an awful history the present region enscribed by internationally agreed boundaries as Ukraine has had. The western region particularly has known various imperial masters through the centuries, most recently under Polish control before WW2. Stalin drove the Crimean Tatars out of Crimea but reports say they have been returning to Crimea more recently, with fervent loyalty to Ukraine (especially anti-Russia Ukraine) and hatred for Russia. Yet clearly many Russians in Crimea are the pretext for Putin's takeover of Crimea (which is some kind of 'South Florida' for freezing Russians from more northerly latitudes). So the region is full of antagonisms from the past and present shifting tribal or nationalist loyalties. As an outsider watching a country overthrow a democratically elected but corrupt leader and being set upon by a despot from a traditional imperial overlord, it is difficult to work out where the best interests of Ukraine in respect of governance lie if it is to be a united rather than a divided country.

Not dissimilar thoughts attend the Anglican Communion these days. To ask, "Where do its best interests in respect of governance lie if it is to be united rather than divided?" seems only to have a complicated answer. The complications lie with the tribal (and sometimes nationalist) loyalties of differing groups within the Communion.

Yet any Anglicans thinking schismatic thoughts might be advised to pay attention to Ukraine. It seems that some protesters in the Maidan in Kiev now realise they were naive. What they thought was an open and shut case of protest against legitimate-now-gone-bad rulers, with optimistic thoughts about replacing the government, has now become a murky situation in which the power of Russia over the dislodged government has become more dangerous rather than less. Is it possible that any Anglican schism in today's Communion looks an open-and-shut case to those contemplating it, but the reality will prove more difficult?

There are several scenarios to consider. What happens, for instance, if a parish or diocese attempts to breakaway from the body above them but then finds that within that parish or diocese are Anglicans loyal to the body above them and not to the breaking away entity?

But the particular concern I want to highlight in this post is that on the GAFCON if not Global South side of the Communion there are some 'interesting' ideas (to put it mildly) which beg questions about whether all conservative Anglicans wish to be in the same conservative boat. Recently we have seen the Nigerian and Ugandan Anglican churches taking stances on respective legislation in their countries concerning homosexuality which I assess as being - at best - ambiguous about the draconian nature of the laws. (At worst, it would appear that some Anglicans in public statements have been enthusiastic supporters). Now we find the Nigerian Anglican church may be making moves towards requiring office-holders swearing an oath that they are either not homosexuals or are former homosexuals. (I say 'may be' because it is not clear from this story whether this is a move confined to one parish or not).

Conservative as I am, I do not want to be in the same boat as Nigeria and Uganda Anglicans as they sail in the particular direction they are taking re homosexuality. Respectful understanding of their dilemmas re their local situation and how they are handling it is one thing, pledging undying tribal loyalty to this particular form of Anglican conservatism is another thing.

These are not the only issues for conservative Anglicans to ponder. Some of us support the possibility of women being bishops, some do not. Some of us are crazy about using prayer books and some are prayer book averse. In these very columns we have had commitment to one or other form of creationism while others are recognising of evolution as a fact of life. (Lest anyone think such theological division is a small thing, I once lived in a parish with a creationist vicar - it is not the easiest of theologies to live with when one is trying to be in unity and harmony with other Anglicans).

It is possible to then warn against schism by prognosticating about further schism then taking place as the schismatic group finds it is only united on the reason for the first schism. Such warning should not be discounted. But my greater concern is that Anglicans focus attention on what makes preaching the gospel possible in our local contexts (cf. my post on Monday this week).

I do not see, for instance, that public aligning of Kiwi Anglican conservatives with Ugandan and Nigerian Anglicans at this time is a better alignment for the sake of the gospel in NZ than remaining aligned with our church, messy as it is in the complexities of our current dilemmas.

Surely Ukraine would have been better off finding a way to live with its many tensions than ending up in the place it is now in?

PS Speaking about Ukraine, it appears NZ is punching above its weight with Putin ... !

PPS A serious and sober article about varying 'Orthodox' responses to Putinesque Russian nationalism is here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Is this the Communion's Crimean moment?

While the world watches as Putin realigns Russian interests in Ukraine, taking over Crimea, threatening the possibility of further realignment of eastern Ukraine with Russia, the Anglican Communion is having its own Crimean moment. Some realignment is in the making.

This is not a Putinesque putsch in the sense of one major leader directing matters, but one group within the Communion is looking after those with whom it has common interest. The Global South Primates have had enough. Let's hear their voices:

"We thank God for the times of fellowship, Bible study and prayer together. We also appreciated the frank discussion, open sharing, and spirit of unity among us. We are also encouraged by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s emphases on renewal, mission and evangelism within the Church of England and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

3. As we reviewed the current situation, we recognized that the fabric of the Communion was torn at its deepest level as a result of the actions taken by The Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church in Canada since 2003. As a result, our Anglican Communion is currently suffering from broken relations, a lack of trust, and dysfunctional “instruments of unity.”
4. However, we trust in God’s promise that the “gates of hades will not overcome” the church. Holding unto this promise, we believe that we have to make every effort in order to restore our beloved Communion. Therefore we took the following decisions:
a) We request and will support the Archbishop of Canterbury to call for a Primates Meeting in 2015 in order to address the increasingly deteriorating situation facing the Anglican Communion. It is important that the  agenda of this Primates Meeting be discussed and agreed upon by the Primates beforehand in order to ensure an effective meeting.
b) We decided to establish a Primatial Oversight Council, in following-through the recommendations taken at Dromantine in 2005 and Dar es Salam in 2007, to provide pastoral and primatial oversight to dissenting individuals, parishes, and dioceses in order to keep them within the Communion.
c) We realize that the time has come to address the ecclesial deficit, the mutual accountability and re-shaping the instruments of unity by following through the recommendations mentioned in the Windsor Report (2004), the Primates Meetings in Dromantine (2005) and Dar es Salam (2007), and the Windsor Continuation Group report."

Note that this is a realignment 'within the Communion.' As they offer 'pastoral and primatial oversight to dissenting individuals, parishes, and dioceses' - an action analogous to the oversight Russia is offering Crimea as they dissent from the change of government in Ukraine - they do so 'in order to keep them within the Communion.'

No doubt much comment will be forthcoming in the "wringing hands" mode of voiced concern. But I wonder how much that comment will focus on the simple reason for the realignment?

I suggest Anglican observers around the world need to ponder this: theological difference is driving this realignment. That is tricky for those Anglicans used to geographical alignments: you in your province over there and me in my province over here.

It is difficult for some of us to get our heads around the possibility that the revising of Anglicanism to include same sex marriage or blessings of same sex relationships is a theological revision of what being Anglican means. For example, it involves a theological revision of where the weight of authority lies in the triad of Scripture/tradition/reason. The weight shifts with this revision to 'reason' (i.e. reasoning from experience to draw a conclusion).

In a reason-based Anglicanism, everything formerly weighted towards Scripture or Scripture and tradition is open for revision. That necessarily includes the tradition of a territorial understanding of episcopal authority which has divided Anglicanism into non-overlapping dioceses and provinces (with a few exceptions: Europe, our own three tikanga church, etc).

Effectively Global South is saying, "If the Communion is changing its theology of human sexuality then it can change its theology of episcopacy too."

Geography has allowed us to develop notions of Anglican diversity (we are different but, hey, we are stuck in the same corner of the vineyard so we just have to get along). What happens when the theological diversity is stretched so far that it breaks? Do we expel the minority group and depose them from being Anglican? Does the minority leave the Anglican fold because we have had enough? Or do we re-organise ourselves as Anglicans within the one Communion according to theology and not to geography? Global South seems to be offering the third alternative.

For my own church, as day by day we move through the months of 2014 to May, we face a stern test of wisdom. Given our differences, how will we work out living together? What will bind us together? What can we avoid which will break us apart? Where do we locate the commonality of our life in Christ: geography? theology? history? tradition? tikanga?

The Global South - whether it is right or wrong in what it is offering - is committed to remaining within the one Anglican Communion. I hope that in ACANZP we have a commitment to remaining as the one communion of Anglicans in these islands, whichever steps we take to re-organise our future. If we do not have that commitment, then the Global South has indicated that options are available for dissenting Anglicans to remain in the global Communion.

Pray for our General Synod reps as they begin meeting to ponder the meeting in May and as, aroundabout now, proposed motions and bills will be sent to them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Milk Powder is Bad for Christian Growth

I have had a lovely if tiring weekend. Saturday morning my family I travelled to Timaru (South Canterbury) for a collation service for the new Archdeacon of South Canterbury (an eager to please person who in a moment of weakness said Yes to the Bishop's invitation). A lovely excursion followed in the middle of the afternoon to visit family camping at Lake Clearwater in the foothills of the alps behind Ashburton before presenting ourselves at St Stephen's Ashburton for the late afternoon collation service for Rosie Staite as the new lay Archdeacon of Mid Canterbury. All that travelling was in gorgeous sunshine, as was Sunday's excursion to Cheviot in North Canterbury.

I had a fascinating conversation in the course of these travels with a bloke who lamented lowness of congregational numbers and offered a reason for them. "People don't need God in their lives these days." I think my conversation partner is putting his finger on something which may take a bit of courage for the church to face up to.

In commercial terms, we have a product (the gospel) which by definition is good news for people in poor circumstances. If those poor circumstances cease to exist, if people don't feel a great need to cry out to God for help (salvation), then it is no wonder that our 'business' is feeling the squeeze, represented by lowered attendances in many places, or, in some places where attendance is reasonable, by observation that the congregation is aging and not replacing itself with younger generations.

Now much more could be said about this state of affairs and no pretence is being made that in the above two paragraphs I have covered every angle of current church life ith its varied hues of growth, decline and stability. But sticking with the insight that at least one significant factor in our situation is people's loss of a sense of need of God, it is intriguing - to me at least - that Saturday's Press carried a major article on our 'rockstar' economy. The gist of the article is that the world, but especially China, wants our farmyard products, particularly milk powder, with demands not previously experienced. As one of China's farms, we can scarcely keep up. One figure is startling,

"In a single year, New Zealand's exports to China leapt a mind-boggling 45 per cent, increasing by a whole $3.1 billion to $10b, making China now our biggest international customer."

That is huge. No wonder the farming country we travelled through looked so prosperous (e.g. lots of new houses). No wonder that after six years in government, the National Party is as strong in the polls as ever. The good times are rolling on. Faced with a decision whether to go shopping on Sunday for a new car or a new boat, or even both, why would people feel a need to honour God in worship, let alone seek God's help for unmet needs?

That some people have a need for God in their lives and are finding God in the context of church was a spontaneously emerging theme from some impromptu testimonies at an evening service I was part of at the weekend's end. Excellent! But that does not change the question relating to the broad sweep of congregational life in China's Farms Inc (South Pacific division): how do we engage our whole society with the gospel in an age of plenty?

I am delighted that our economy is growing but I feel compelled to conclude that milk powder is bad for the growth of the gospel!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Humility and Human Sexuality

Bit of a Saturday round up here. This year I am trying to minimise posts re homosexuality but it is impossible not to take note of this and that as the year unfolds, not least in our own church as we head to General Synod in May. Here are a few things which take my eye:

A protest by the Anglican Church League against the consecration of Sarah Macneil as the first woman diocesan bishop in Australia (as Bishop of Grafton). At the heart of the protest is concern about Dr Macneil's views on sexuality.

But while in Sydney and its environs I somehow noticed that the Surry Hills Baptist church is having a very interesting conference, A Different Conversation, with a wonderful array of speakers, from our own Kiwis Louisa Wall and Margaret Mayman through to a represent of Liberty Christian Ministries. Here is the link to the speakers and panellists.

Humility in the title to this post is a theme in this very thoughtful article by a leading Catholic theologian, John Langan. His base point, See The Person is, arguably, the hardest thing to do in debates about what makes us human.

Meanwhile head over to Thinking Anglicans for the latest posts on the mess or is it morass the C of E finds itself in as the bishops there recently tried to square the circle on these matters.

Finally, to make my own position clear, I am as disturbed a Western Christian as anyone over the legislation signed in Uganda recently which can only make life traumatic for many citizens. Incidentally, writing here in these islands, +Jim White has an eloquent post on the matter here.
UPDATE: Our Archbishops have spoken here.

FURTHER UPDATE: Phil Groom has an impassioned appeal, here, to the English bishops re the English bishops bishop-less-ness over homosexuality. But is he right? Is faithfulness the sole criteria by which to judge what is marriage? You can comment at his site ...!

FINAL UPDATE: Who are the Pharisees being referred to in the phrase 'dead hypocritical Pharisaism'? And not criticism of the Groom post in the comments ... to which you might like to add your own voice!

I am not going to accept any comments on this post. I think we have been round and round here about homosexuality and I could do with a break from moderating comments on this apparently-tricky-to-play-the-ball-and-not-the-player topic. I will not always impose this restriction through this year. But today, read the links ... and comment at them if you wish.