Sunday, May 27, 2018

Do we want to cross the Jordan?

It looks like I might be down to once a week blogging for a while. There is a lot happening and that is to be expected when the Diocese of Christchurch is without a full-time, residential bishop. So, best to focus on the immediate and one day (blogging) life will get better.

Last week, Monday to Thursday, we had our annual Clergy Conference at Living Springs, a lovely site high up on the hills at the end of Lyttelton Harbour. The view from the not unreasonably named Harbour View Lounge is to die for: straight down the harbour and out through the heads to Chile. OK, so you can't quite see Chile except on a very, very clear sky day.

In various ways the conference was helpful: there were stimulating workshops and plenary sessions with good teaching and horizon stretching ideas and data re the changing world and our place in it. Worship sessions were opportunities to pray and to praise God. Meals and breaks contributed to fellowship and friendship. Here I share two specific ideas which challenged and stretched me.

First, Rebecca Burgess, of Bishopdale Theological College, Nelson led us from 2 Timothy through other passages, especially from the Psalms, to both teach us and challenge us about the gospel. Her specific line was that the gospel is the good news that "our God reigns" (alternatively, "Jesus is Lord"), with reference to Psalm 110 and its huge impact on the first Christian reflections about Jesus.

I won't run you through all my notes (and the multiple Scripture references). Suffice to say that thinking about the gospel in these terms inspires faith and invites us to look around to see what God is doing in the world. And, of course, as Rebecca emphasised the gospel in terms of God's reign leads us to reconcile law (the king's instructions) and grace(the king's bounty and largesse).

Secondly, Chris Clarke, until recently CEO of World Vision NZ, led us through several sessions on what it means to be the church in a changing world, with special reference to our Diocese being at a point of change with a change of bishops. There were many important things said and what we heard was against the backdrop of the recently published survey on religious life in NZ (see post below). Translation: theoretical processing of the issues and questions of the day is urgent. We may not have an Anglican church in these islands in 15 years' time!

Chris also used the OT to bring his challenge home, riffing off the theme of Joshua and the Promised Land. Whether or not the next stage of the life of the Diocese is "the Promised Land" we are at a moment of transition, we stand on the verge of the Jordan River. Will we cross over? How many will cross? Who, like a few ancient tribes, wants to stay behind? What battles do we have to fight and what do we not need to waste our time on? I liked his closing address which proposed that where we are heading is to the Promising Land.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Could ++Michael Curry turn the tide for Christianity against secularism?

Last night (NZ time) Teresa and I tuned into the Royal Wedding telecast and, as usual, it was all colour and pageantry such as, arguably, only the Brits can do. While I do not want to buy into obsession with celebrity culture and all that, I am happy to view a liturgy to see how it is done and review what is good and what might be learned, so why not watch the service.

You may have done so and like me, been reasonably lacking in any experience of the preaching style of ++Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of TEC. Not only did he impress me with his enthusiasm and panache in delivery, he impressed heaps of people on Twitter. And I do not mean just clergy/preachers.

Here is Ed Miliband, British politician and non-Christian:

++Curry's content was pretty good to and packed a lot in, from Song of Songs to 1 John, from Martin Luther King through Jesus Christ to Teilhard de Chardin and back to MLK, all on the theme of the power of redemptive love. (Full sermon here and here).

There was a lovely one liner or two:

Sure, there was some Tweeted criticism, re length and, well, too much enthusiasm for Brits, as well as some humour:



But enough of the humour. Curry's sermon was as powerful reminder of the potential of preaching to connect with people, to display the gospel in a gripping and attractive manner, and to use the medium of television to communicate to a large number of people (albeit viewing for reasons other than watching a preacher). What is there not to like and not to learn?

Which is an appropriate moment to draw attention to this sobering survey of secularism versus Christianity/church life in Kiwiland: here.


(This will be my only post this week.
I am engaged in our annual Clergy Conference.
I will try to post any comments but am unlikely to engage with any comments after today, Sunday.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity - Cardinal Dew

This is a busy time for many churches. Here Down Under it is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (disunitedly observed in January by the Northern Hemisphere!!). It is also the period, between Ascension and Pentecost of #ThyKingdomCome, a burgeoning movement of prayer and missional action for God's Kingdom to ... Come!

Today I want to concentrate on praying for Christian Unity, a prayer our Lord himself prayed (John 17). The other day I came across this lovely encouragement from Cardinal John Dew of the Catholic Church in NZ and Archbishop of Wellington.


Message for parish bulletins for Ascension Sunday

Dear friends

As we gather in our parish each weekend for Mass other Christians are gathering in churches in our area for their Sunday worship. They are our neighbours, friends, people we meet in the supermarket, perhaps even our relatives.

We gather separately because of events that happened centuries ago. We have moved on from wars among Christians, hostility and bitterness, to respecting one another and being able to honestly acknowledge the many things we have in common – at the heart of which is our shared belief in Jesus Christ.

We have also found many practical ways to work together for the common good of our community.

The feast of the Ascension this weekend marks the beginning of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which extends until Pentecost Sunday next weekend.

It is a time to reflect upon how we each might do some small thing for Christian unity, prayer, reaching out to someone from another Christian church, contributing to food banks supported jointly by churches, taking part in an ecumenical service.

Nothing is too small in the work of promoting Christian unity. We are restoring that fractured unity piece by piece, and each of us has one or more of the pieces to put in place.

John A Cardinal Dew
Archbishop of Wellington
Catholic Bishops Committee for Ecumenism"

Monday, May 14, 2018

Decision 2018: Q and A (1)

Among recent comments to the post below, a few questions were asked of me and I am posting responses here in a new post, along with a few further thoughts/reflections from me.

First, the further thoughts:

As the days unfold after General Synod in New Plymouth, I am aware of rumblings if not ructions in various parishes up and down these islands. I offer two personal hopes to any readers in any such parishes.

(1) that discussions in parishes are based on accurate information about what General Synod has done, on fair and reasonable expectations of trust and goodwill among Anglicans as we work these things out, including trust that our bishops are open to working out how conservative parishes are supported through this new era.

(2) that parishes do not try to work out difficult questions in (say) parish meetings without calling on outside assistance such as an archdeacon to be an external voice in proceedings. Archdeacons are busy people and may not love me for expressing this hope, but I do worry about parishes working on these matters within the framework of limited viewpoints.

Tomorrow I hope to tackle a couple of questions raised with me "off-blog" but for now, two questions raised the other day here on ADU

Sarah's question: "My question is not in regards to the SS issue but rather your thoughts on other examples of permanent/de facto relationships. Forgive me if this has been addressed before, I am a sporadic reader.

Question: if a heterosexual couple came into the church, having been in a de-facto relationship for a number of years and, let us say, have children in tow, and whom had a genuine desire to know the God's teaching on family order, what would your response be? 

Where in Scripture (and I would like the answer to be Scripturally based, please) would you point this young couple? 
I am genuinely interested as I have read your thoughts on the SS aspect of such a scenario, and wonder - if the basis is a committed relationship (and how more committed can a couple be by having children!) - where your line is drawn for gentle and loving rebuke? "

My response: The hypothetical couple you refer to are married, theologically speaking. There is no Scriptural text I am aware of which demands that a de facto married couple become a de jure married couple. There is no text that prescribes what form the beginning of a marriage should take but 1 Corinthians 5 teaches that every act of sexual intercourse forms a marriage, even sex with a prostitute does that, and such brief marriages are injurious. But the point is that consummation of a relationship is critical to the beginning of a marriage and historically non-consummation has been grounds for annulment of a(n apparent) marriage.

However in most churches in the Western world we like to know that couples in our midst are in a de jure marriage rather than a de facto marriage. This is probably because we doubt that a de facto married couple are quite as properly married as a de jure married couple, since the former lacks the public declaration of lifelong commitment and fidelity which the latter requires. But, to repeat, Scripture does not require a wedding as we generally understand weddings. It would be fine if your couple said to your vicar: "we are not married legally and have no intention of being so,* but we do want to be married theologically and we want the congregation to know that, so could we next Sunday together say to the congregation that we love each other, that we promise to be faithful to the other and to remain married till one of us dies." [*there are good arguments for the church having nothing to do with state registration of marriages.] 

It is actually hard to find one simple Scripture to cite which fulfills your request for Scriptural reasoning for asking your hypothetical couple to make their marriage either de jure or in some way more "proper". I think I would say to your couple that the general discipline of the church through the ages, based on numerous Scriptural texts about the importance of marriage, is that couples in a sexual relationship should be married and the clearest sign of a couple embracing this challenge is to become legally married

I myself would not think of offering a rebuke to such a couple as you cite. Many and varied are the reasons why some couples are in a de facto marriage and not in a de jure marriage and as a pastor I would want to listen to those reasons before speaking.

At least twice in my pastoral ministry I have found the right words to say which have led to couples formalising their de facto marriages. I do not recall those words being a "rebuke".

Sam's question: "you wrote, "There is another image that fits here too, it is called whanau or extended family. ACANZP is that family"

To which family do you consider yourself primarily attached, the parish, the denomination, or the universal church? To which of these do you think Christ calls us to show greatest fidelity? Even at the expense of the others?"

My response: "To which (church) family am I loyal? I have this feeling, Sam, that my answer will not satisfy you! But why not give it a go. I am loyal (human frailty acknowledged) to Jesus Christ and to his followers and thus to God's family in the widest sense of all those who also confess loyalty to Jesus. But in a narrower sense, the Anglican part of that family, I am loyal to Anglicans ahead of (say) Presbyterians (even though my initial theological education was with them) or Catholics (even though I am married into that great family) or Protestants generally (even though I share many matters of theology with those unconvinced by all the claims of Rome). 

In an even narrower sense I am loyal to the church - ACANZP - into which you and I have been ordained and have taken vows of obedience to the authority of our (respective diocesan) bishops, our constitution and canons, including the liturgies authorised for use by common agreement through General Synod which express our doctrine. That loyalty is congenial to me because of my upbringing as a cradle Anglican, my conviction as a thinking adult Anglican and by my many wonderful friendships across theological divides and cultural diversity in our Three Tikanga church (underlined again this most recent General Synod).

In this church of ours I appreciate fellowship with Anglicans loyal to Jesus who include two brothers and a sister who resigned this past week from General Synod and gay Anglicans who did not. Our current and future situation would appear to ask whether I will be loyal to one group rather than another. If that is your underlying question then I can only say that I will love all Anglicans in these islands, both those who stay in ACANZP and those who may yet choose to depart. 

You also ask to which of the forms of church, parish, denomination, universal church does Jesus Christ ask us to show the greatest fidelity? The answer is "all" because we have obligations to the local church to which we belong (and may, as licensed ministers, have made specific commitment to), to the denomination to which that local church belongs (and without which the local church would not be the local church), and to the universal church of which the denomination belongs, for the universal church is Christ's body on earth and we cannot opt out of that!

I do not see where 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12 implies that our love for fellow Christians is ever asked to be "at the expense of others." 1 John implies a situation in which some Christians have departed the fellowship to which the letter is addressed, and calls for ever deeper love for those that remain, but it is not clear exactly what has led to the departure, though it may be over the highest form of dispute possible between Christians, the nature and character of Jesus himself. From that perspective I would not say that (e.g.) I am obligated to have as much faithful love for Mormons, Muslims, Christadelphians, etc as for fellow Christians.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Decision 2018 [updated x2]

If you wish to comment about this decision, please do so with grace or I will not publish your comment.

(But give me a bit of grace, please, 
and allow me an hour or four to publish your comment, 
as I may prefer to publish your comment with my immediate reply as well.
Am still at GS (as I write on Wednesday) and opportunity to be on my laptop is limited.)

The further work we need to do will not change the substance of the matter, 

that there will be blessings of same gender civil marriages or civil unions in episcopal jurisdictions 
which authorise services for this to happen.

There will be a substantive report on Anglican Taonga soon, and I will post the link here when I see it.  HERE IT IS.

Also HERE is the report on yesterday's debate.

HERE is an article re Polynesia's opposition to same-sex blessings (but not to our church passing legislation permitting them).

I make one observation, well two: 

There will be Anglicans who are unhappy with this decision, fullstop. 

There will be Anglicans who wish to stay in our church and wonder if they can live with this decision: to you I make this observation: there will not be one canonical change which requires you to do anything differently to what you are currently doing or to believe anything differently to what you currently believe.*

*I have been challenged about this observation because it is not as simply true as I make out. That is, while one does not have to change practice or to change what one believes (about blessings, about homosexuality, about marriage), a member of ACANZP does have to shift their sense of alignment, from alignment with a church which previously offered no official space for such blessings to alignment with a church now offers space for such blessings.

Note the first few comments published below were received by me ahead of me including the links to Taonga articles above.

Apparently Newshub reads Anglican Down Under :)

The FCANZ statement is here.

The AFFIRM (NZ) statement is here.

UPDATE: Thursday 10 May 2018

Some readers will be aware that there was also a motion for consideration which sought to set up a working group to do work on our marriage canon. Timewise it turned out to be the last motion we debated. The motion was lost.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Aaaand, General Synod is underway

Yes, here we are in New Plymouth, staying across two hotels, one of which is also the venue for our meetings and our main meals.

Friday the NZ Dioceses met during the day (for "Inter Diocesan Conference") then General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui began properly with a 5 pm powhiri at Owae marae at Waitara, with meal and eucharist to follow.

Yesterday we were back into Inter Diocesan Conference mode for most of the day but met formally to deal with a motion or three in the evening.

Today we travelled by bus to Turangawaewae for a service at which Archbishop Don Tamihere preached, as part of 160th anniversary celebrations for the Kingitanga movement.

Tomorrow, effectively, is the day when we get into deep business waters. There won't be much time to blog and it remains better that I do not raise expectations I will do so.

We remain of the plan that Motion 29 discussion and decision-making will spread over three days.

Keep in touch with the news via Taonga, which already has stories and pictures up.

Also Twitter may be useful. We are trying to use the hashtags #Hinota18 and #GSTHW18 for Tweets. My Twitter handle is @petercarrell .

Your prayers for us would be appreciated - and many are praying and have told us so. Thank you!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Countdown to General Synod/te Hinota Whanui 2018

On Thursday night this week representatives from the thirteen episcopal units of our church, that is, three tikanga (7, 5, 1 respectively) gather in New Plymouth. We meet through to Thursday 10th May and travel home on Friday 11th May. The draft timetable is this - you may need to enlarge your screens to read it:

For those interested in the progress of Motion 29, you can see that we are considering it over three mornings.

This post is also a way of saying that I am going to be busy over the next few days sorting out all the things that need sorting out before leaving my desk. Also the not insignificant matter of the last two days of Bishop Victoria's episcopal ministry here in the Diocese.

So, no more posts this week. I will try to post briefly on Monday next week (which is when the legislative meat and bones of the Synod begin) including a hashtag for Twitter posts. I do not anticipate blogging through General Synod itself. I cannot see where the timetable allows for that :).

Your prayers for the Synod are most welcome. We had a good Diocese of Christchurch team meeting yesterday and an interesting meeting following that with a dozen or so from the Diocese to run over General Synod business.

In practice that second meeting focused on Motion 29.

Believe it or not, Motion 29 is not the only item of interesting business.

Bosco Peters, for instance, draws our attention to some liturgical matters the Synod will be considering.

The papers for General Synod are located here.

Any final thoughts from you about any matter of Synod business are welcome here. I continue to listen and to reflect as I move around the Diocese and engage with emails and phone calls. I am unlikely to respond to your comments because of the weight of busyness over the next few days. But I will read them.

Monday, April 23, 2018

How any of them persist post-Darwin I have no idea.

Recently Bosco Peters via Twitter drew my attention to two posts referencing evolution. On Liturgy itself and in a Joe Bennett column on Stuff.

Bosco's post focuses on the non-necessity of conflict between science and faith, but he raises this challenging point:

"What I think we also need to see more of is not simply a dialogue between science and faith within the beginning-of-the-universe-and-life framework, but also in the framework of redemption. In Romans 5, as just one example, St Paul writes:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned…For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.
If Adam, and Adam’s sin is not historical, how does this affect our understanding of Christ’s redemption? If death is not the result of sin, but simply a part of nature present billions of years before humans (in fact a required driver of evolution), how does that affect our theology?
These early chapters of Genesis form the foundations, and often the unexamined presuppositions, of so much of our culture and civilisation. All these are opened up to re-examination: attitudes to gender, work, death, the environment and nature, sexuality, marriage, and so on and so forth…"

Joe Bennett provokes with a line which I am using as the title of this post:

"How any of them persist post-Darwin I have no idea."

"them" equals religious organisations, whether cults or established faiths.

His argument is that if we understand the full implications of "Darwin" (a catch all theme which includes the role of continental drift and earthquakes in shaping life on earth) then we would understand the simple truth: there is no God, there is only the natural world, and we understand everything in that world by science.

So, between the two posts Christians confront two Darwinian-shaped conclusions:

A. We need to rethink our understanding of God as creator AND as redeemer.

B. We should cease to believe in God because all evidence apparently pointing towards God existing can be explained without recourse to proposing that God exists.

I have been doing a bit of reading about Darwin lately. Something that has struck me is that, in a very loose engagement with Darwin and his theory until now, I have managed, through my life, to avoid asking hard questions about the full potential of the Darwinian revolution in scientific knowledge.

That is, I am beginning to reckon with something I think many of us Christians manage to avoid, that it is possible that if we manage to kick B for touch then we really, really ought to tackle A and rethink pretty much everything in our understanding of God and the gospel.

Conversely, if we tackle A before B and think that there is nothing we can do to rethink our theology, then we really, really ought to consider whether that unrevised theology is trumped by Darwin, that Joe Bennett is correct and Sunday mornings would be better spent surfing.

It is that bleak ... or exciting, if we allow ourselves to feel the full force of the Darwinian revolution in knowledge! (And, just before certain critiques are launched in the comments, let's ask how many people have either wandered away from Christianity or never thought it worth bothering about because the Christianity of their experience has seemed utterly inadequate in the face of Darwin's impact on human understanding?)

I think it is exciting to confront challenges in the pursuit of truth.

I am working my way through A.N. Wilson's The Victorians (London: Arrow, 2003) and he has a pertinent paragraph at the end of a chapter which discusses, variously, Charles Kingsley and his famous book The Water Babies, John Newman's conversions from evangelicalism to Anglo-Catholicism to Roman Catholicism and his famous book Apologia Pro Vita Sua, with mention of theologian F.D. Maurice, scientist Charles Darwin and others relevant to that period of the Victorian era.

Wilson writes (with my paragraphing of his single paragraph),

"The Apologia made many readers think more kindly of the Oxford converts to Rome. Within a year of the publication of The Water Babies, Parliament had banned pushing little boys up chimneys. But Kingsley's is more than a social gospel. Newman came to believe that there were but two alternatives, the way to Rome and the way to Atheism. Not only does Kingsley's religion seem altogether more humane: he would seem to be thinking about larger issues.*
The journey of little Tom the sweep to his watery paradise engages mind as well as heart rather more than the crotchety Oxford don's - Newman's - journey from the Oriel Common Room to the Birmingham Oratory. Speaking of Huxley, Darwin and the others, Kingsley wrote to Maurice, 
'They find that now they have got rid of an interfering God - a master-magician, as I call it - they have to choose between the absolute empire of accident, and a living, immanent, ever-working God.' " [p. 304]

In other words, Kingsley is charting a direction in theology which - in my experience - is underdone by both Roman Catholicism and evangelicalism. These two great forces in global Christianity place great store on the transcendence of God. Oh, yes, God is also immanent: orthodoxy is at work in both forces! But when emphasis is placed, by both, on interventionist miracles, dramatic conversions through direct encounters with the risen Christ, and direct disclosure of God's will through inspired text, the lean is towards a Christianity which is difficult to wean off ideas of "an interfering God" or "a master-magician" and thus one which is susceptible to Darwin's persuasions that nature is an "absolute empire of accident."

Is it time to re-look at the immanence of God? To look at what it means that God (according to our time) does nothing about creating life as we know it on Earth, for billions of years, and then creates it but presides over a development which is (again, by our time) very slow, according to a process of adaptation and thus of experimentation (some species survive, some do not). Is God - for example - more associated with the being of the universe and its unfolding life than we seem to give credit for when we are biased towards the transcendance of God?

This photo captures something of the issue, though it is not a reliable depiction of theism!

Who is God? I find for myself that often the actual God I worship and pray to is a super-duper version of the best human being imaginable: amazing; very, very intelligent; also hard to fathom on matters of suffering; but worth trusting because he has a masterplan. Of course it is easy to be angry with that "God", even to walk away from that "God" because much of life is disappointing relative to what I think that "God" ought to be doing in the church and in the world.

Conversely, we would not be having this discussion if the unfolding life of the universe were not punctuated by God speaking into the world (the Old Testament) and the God who speaks into the world entering the world in human flesh (the New Testament).

Thoughts? (Mainly because I am at the edge of my ability to think theo-logically and about to fall off the edge without help!)

*Nothing in particular to do with this post but Wilson on Newman, in words which precede the paragraph above, is worth reading - at least if one enjoys demolition jobs on revered figures!

"Never once in the whole book [Apologia] do we get a sense of the world outside Newman's college walls - or come to that outside his own head. It is something of a shock at the end to be told, 'I have never seen Oxford since, excepting its spires as they are seen by the railway. The reader is jolted into recognition that the debates [between High Church and Low Church divines in the 1830s leading to the Tractarian movement] happened not in the time of St. Augustine, but in the Railway Age. Never once does Newman's quest for a perfect orthodoxy, a pure belief in the Incarnate God, appear to prompt him to consider that if God tool flesh, then this has social implications, that the Church should be engaged with the lives and plight of the poor." [pp. 303-04]

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans New Zealand Conference Talks Available

The talks from the Saturday 7 April conference here in Christchurch are now available via Soundcloud: here.

Jay Behan's talk is particularly worth listening to, right to the end!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The cost of being a Bible teacher in Aotearoa

It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry about our politicians here in Aotearoa NZ.

They are trying so hard to do the right thing environmentally while jetting around the world to preach peace and make trade deals. Those trade deals essentially mean we value all that our farms produce and recognise their value to us as we import cars, cellphones and other First World necessities.

Of course it is not right that farmers have herds and flocks that fart and belch so we are setting up ways and means to tax them for their lack of gaseous discipline.

But the nadir for a person of the Word this week has been discovering that NZ First politicians are promoting a bill which will see each of us fined $2000 for describing ourselves as "Bible teachers." (Unless, perchance, we actually have a formal teaching qualification.)

Apparently "Bible mentors" or "Bible educators" or "Bible tutors" will be fine. But the gift of teaching from the Spirit, leading to appointment as pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11), which has been around just a little longer than teachers colleges, is now to be renamed.

Unless the congregations can up their giving to cover the fines their desire to have a Bible teacher address them will incur.

And church musicians will no longer be taught their trade by music teachers.

Mad, I tell you. Mad!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Kiwi episcopal yearnings: an internal or external solution? A follow up to Saturday 7 April 2018

Something which I think was common to both our Wellington IDC meeting and to the Christchurch FCANZ Conference, both held on Saturday 7th April 2018 was a particular episcopal yearning.

That yearning is for a stronger association between episcopal oversight and (conservative) theological conviction.

At IDC that yearning, as voiced by some members, was focused on the proposal under Motion 29 for freedom to establish Christian Communities which would have an episcopal visitor who was not the local diocesan bishop.

A stronger episcopal role for that visiting/protecting bishop was requested. That request is fuelled by a sense that when General Synod commissioned the working group to come up with structural change it is has yielded up something which is (at best) a soft structural change. Nothing so hard a structural change as (say) a concrete plan to ordain a "flying bishop," form a new diocese, establish a fourth tikanga, or propose to the Communion that we create an extra-provincial diocese.

Thus something stronger that the Motion 29 proposal envisages for the visitor bishop role for the Christian Communities is sought, although the precise degree of greater strength was not articulated at IDC.

A challenge implicit in what I heard at IDC is that the more robust one seeks an episcopal visitor for a Christian Community to be, the more it looks, quacks and walks like alternative episcopal oversight.

Imagine an episcopal visitor who is free to confirm within parishes of his or her Christian Community: let's call that a few steps away from alternative episcopal oversight. Now imagine the same visitor is able to ordain members of the episcopal community, first, in consultation with the local diocesan bishop; then, secondly, imagine the same episcopal visitor able to ordain without consultation. At the latter point, surely we are within a millimetre or so from alternative episcopal oversight. (So long as the confirmed or ordained person, along with local licensed leaders such as vicars and lay preachers are in allegiance to the local diocesan bishop then we are not quite at full alternative episcopal oversight.)

Thus a question to work on, for this particular episcopal yearning, is what precisely is being yearned for.


My understanding is that at the FCANZ Conferences (Christchurch, 7 April; Auckland, 14 April) some talk there re the future and how it might work out remained consistent with the publicly expressed view of FCANZ, as recently as 3 April 2018, that alternative episcopal oversight remains its wish and the formation of an extra-provincial diocese remains desirable.

Further, it is not rocket science to assume that if alternative episcopal oversight is not worked out within the present governance of our church, FCANZ (which is linked to GAFCON) has other options, including seeking a bishop to be ordained for service in these islands, as recently Andy Lines was ordained for service in the British Isles.

As I hear colleagues talking, this wish is for a "hard" structure with a bishop clearly aligned to a specific theology. That is (in my words) they and their congregations want to feel assured that the bishop who has oversight of them (including ordinations, licensing/appointments, confirmations) is a bishop who is committed to and who will unambiguously teach a traditional Christian understanding of marriage. (That is, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and sexual intercourse is reserved for marriage and is sinful outside of marriage.)

Also BUT

To date, the bishops of our church - as far as we understand - they do not normally publish their decisions! - are at best reluctant to work on providing a means of introducing alternative episcopal oversight and at worst (from FCANZ's perspective) refusing to entertain the possibility.

Thus ...

So, my sense of our situation on 16 April 2018 is this (and tell me in comments if I am wrong):
1. Our bishops are generally against alternative episcopal oversight and even more so against the formation of an extra-provincial diocese.
2. Some in our church are keen for a stronger form of visiting episcopal role via the Christian Community concept.
3.Others in our church are keen for a full alternative episcopal oversight, even for the formation of an extra-provincial diocese.
4. Those seeking (2) are likely not to seek episcopal support from outside of this church.
5. Those seeking (3) have options from outside of this church if this church does not respond to their request.
6. No one knows whether (5) might be put into effect. But it might be. And there are global Anglican precedents.
7. (Therefore) our bishops could reasonably consider whether they would prefer alternative episcopal oversight which they inaugurate or alternative episcopal oversight which they have no say in.


Thursday, April 12, 2018


Rod Dreher draws our attention to a war on Christianity, signs of which are stronger in some places and at certain times.

He is highlighting the problem of (in)compatibilism between Christianity and the liberal West as a hegemony over society and culture.

Our Kiwi question might be: is this worse in the States than Down Under? (Is there a different situation in Aotearoa NZ compared to Australia?) Or, is the state of "war" in the States coming our way, where we feel it is mostly peaceful with the odd skirmish here and there?


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

On the resurrection in 2018 (Part 2)

I finished part 1 of this mini-series with this:

Why are the scriptural accounts so at odds with each other?

Even if we can make some generalised sense of the five accounts, why are they so different to each other? Why couldn't, say, at least one of the gospels tell us of the encounter with more than five hundred men? How come one woman does not make it into the list Paul reproduces? (It is not as though his ministry was averse to naming, welcoming and commending leading women.) Why does Luke make such a crass subversion of Mark 16:7 in his 24:6, reversing Galilee as a destination to meet the risen Jesus to a place where Jesus predicted his resurrection? (Matthew is more subtle: he repeats Mark and then promptly tells us the risen Jesus met the women in Jerusalem.) Why do Matthew, Luke and John each have different commissionings by Jesus (respectively Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53; John 20:21-23)?

Funnily enough, this morning's sermon, preached by a colleague at an induction, provides an insight into story-telling which is at odds with itself. Some readers here will know the name Lester Pfankuch, a clergyman of this and the Nelson Dioceses.  Lester has gone to be with the Lord, but he was an extraordinarily funny story-teller and his stories enlivened many sermons and talks, to say nothing of hilarious conversations. To be frank, some of his stories seemed a little too good to be true and I think he took some poetic licence when he told some stories. Mostly fact-filled but perhaps some twirls and frills to lend colour and add humour to the yarn? Anyway, in this morning's sermon my colleague told a Pfankuch story about how he came to be called to be the vicar of a certain parish. But in my mind that story was at odds with a different Pfankuch story I had heard many years ago about his calling to the same parish! The only three facts common to the stories were (1) Lester himself, a real person; (2) the parish concerned; (3) the bishop concerned. Actually, there is a fourth fact: (4) Lester was the same story-teller of the (apparently) contradictory stories!

Variations across the scriptural accounts of the resurrection arguably also involved some similar kinds of common facts such as (1) Jesus himself, a real person; (2) an empty tomb discovered on the third day by women; (3) conviction on the part of many disciples that Jesus was alive; (4) description of the meaning of the empty tomb and the conviction that Jesus was alive in terms of "resurrection," "raised from the dead," etc; (5) an associated conviction that the risen Jesus wanted his followers to continue the mission.

But recognising that some common facts across most, if not all the scriptural accounts can be plausibly proposed may help our sense of solid history to the resurrection (the tomb was empty, Jesus did appear to many, and the many became convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead) but it does not change our bewilderment as readers of these accounts.

Why is there not a stronger trace of the (most likely) earliest written account of resurrection appearances (1 Corinthians 15) in the later accounts (likely, in order, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John)? Surely, if the risen Jesus spoke specific words of commissioning to his disciples there would be greater similarity in words at the ends of Matthew and Luke's gospels? How, in short, do we explain the variations across the scriptural accounts?

I confess, by the way, that I have not reminded myself of what Tom Wright has said in his bog book on the resurrection, Jesus and the Victory of God. Here is my suggestion ...

1. We recognise - in keeping with the list in 1 Corinthians 15 - that there were many appearances of the risen Jesus,thus many stories were told and each gospel writer had a range of testimonies to report, whether in fairly direct fashion (e.g. the startling discovery of the empty tomb) or in a creative manner, where "creative" means a bare story is told in order to make theological points (e.g. the road to Emmaus story (Luke 24: 13-35 and compare with Mark 16:12-13) or the Sea of Tiberias catch of fish (John 21).

2. We set John's Gospel to one side. John through 19 chapters has already done his own thing with the stories and speeches of Jesus and he does that again in chapters 20-21. He connects with the synoptic tradition (empty tomb, encounters in Jerusalem [Luke, Matthew] and an encounter in Galilee [Matthew, Mark], consistent presence of Mary Magdalene and Peter as key figures in the synoptic tradition), includes a story about doubt (compare Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:38) and, like the Synoptics, does not follow Paul's Corinthian list re order of appearances. But the overall effect of John's narration is a very different testimony to the risen Jesus, including testimony to Jesus saying things in keeping with the theological themes of John 1-19.

3. We then ask what were the three situations the accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke were likely responding to.

4. Mark, likely the earliest of the gospels, presents the drama of discovery of the empty tomb, a key material fact in the conviction that Jesus rose from the dead. By stopping there (i.e. I count 16:9-20 as a later supplied ending, not Mark's original ending) Mark complements the Corinthian list. Dare we say that he presumes his readers know of that list of appearances and expects them to remember that list as the "what happens next"?

4. Matthew and Luke both mention doubts among the disciples (Matthew 28:17; Luke 24:38). Both include stories which appear to be intentionally apologetic, defending the claim that Jesus rose from the dead from alternative explanations. Matthew 28:11-15 defends the Christian claim against the (apparently continuing) explanation that the tomb was empty because the disciples spirited the body of Jesus away from the tomb.* Luke 24:36-43 defends the Christian claim against the explanation that the appearances of Jesus as one raised from the dead were simply appearances of the ghost of Jesus.

Thus each gospel seems to be shaping its resurrection narratives to deal with questions their respective communities (i.e. audiences) were grappling with. Perhaps this is a further sign that each gospel is written many decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus, at a point when the impressiveness of the Corinthian list was losing its lustre.

When Paul wrote about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 in the 50s AD, his readers, potentially at least, could have talked to Peter or James or other apostles. If, as many scholars suppose, Matthew and Luke are written down in the 80s AD, that is after most people in Paul's list have died (an exception being the author of John's Gospel, likely still alive in Ephesus), then we can imagine a community in which some sceptics are wondering what the "appearances" were all about: was it just the ghost of Jesus which was seen? No, says Luke. What, it was being said in a Matthean community close to Jerusalem, about the explanation our Jewish cousins and friends keep putting about, that the disciples stole Jesus' body? No, says Matthew. Not so.

In sum: is the best explanation for the variations across the scriptural accounts an explanation which makes some assumptions about varying situations for the communities within which and for which the gospels were written?

*Incidentally, we should not presume that the tomb of Jesus remained empty for long after the resurrection so that a sceptic in Jerusalem in (say) 50 AD (or in 2018 AD) could be taken along to it and shown the tomb in all its emptiness. The first Christians were not museum makers or maintainers. There is no reason to suppose that the tomb was not subsequently used to receive another burial and thus was resealed with a different body resposing in it.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Saturday 7th April 2018

It is no one's fault as far as I can tell - just one of those things when we set dates and all kinds of other dates squeeze possible alternatives - but this Saturday one piece of ACANZP will be in Wellington for a meeting of the Inter Diocesan Conference (i.e. General Synod reps of the NZ Dioceses also known as Tikanga Pakeha) and another piece of ACANZP will be in Christchurch at a one day conference of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans NZ. Both events are discussing You Know What.

I am going to Wellington. I would have been at the FCANZ Conference otherwise.

Three thoughts are especially in my mind as I prepare to go. Thoughts partly occasioned by my own thinking (influenced by this here blog and your comments on it). Partly by my listening to voices within our Diocese as we have conversations tinged by news that recently we voted as a synod 60:40 to support the Motion 29 proposal and now we have an electoral synod coming in the not too distant future.

In no particular order of priority.

A. What does God bless?

B. What may we do as Christians to live out our lives as fallen creatures?

C. What is the strength of our fellowship/koinonia: do we have enough in common to live with the differences that exist across the geographical and theological breadth of our church?

I will also be taking with me, in my mind, this thoughtful First Things article (which includes three great questions). Although focused on the situation of the RCC, it is not rocket science to translate it into the situation of Western churches generally, and our ACANZP situation in particular.

I am interested in comments on (a) my questions; (b) the First Things article; (c) the situation of our church as you perceive it, especially in the area of your expertise: your local ministry unit; your episcopal unit. 

I won't publish comments that are critical of either IDC meeting tomorrow or FCANZ's conference. These events are what they are and I don't think we need comment on (e.g.) their helpfulness to the journey our church is on.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

On the resurrection in 2018 (1 of 2)

I have been doing some thinking about the resurrection of Jesus. That thinking was spurred forwards towards this mini-series of posts by an unsolicited paper from a friend. That paper, in summary, underlines our Christian conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead, while highlighting all the problematic aspects of the scriptural testimony to the resurrection across the four gospels and 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. These five testimonies are the "scriptural accounts" of the resurrection. We should also note that on some aspects of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus, Acts 1 is a sixth account.

In this first post I want to highlight some problems with the scriptural accounts which, frankly, have taken me a long time to recognise. (I could blame the lectionary: we read one gospel at a time and not all together! Some problems are only manifest when we compare the gospel accounts.) A little research shows that I did write something about these problems in 2016!

When we read the scriptural accounts synoptically (side by side, in one overview of them all) we likely will be struck by
(1) how few details are common to the accounts;
(2) how distinctive each of Matthew, Mark and Luke's accounts are, given that on some matters of Jesus' life before his death, Matthew, Mark and Luke are capable of common material (all three, or any two of the three);
(3) there is only one matter on which all scriptural accounts are agreed: that the disciples of Jesus were convinced that Jesus rose from the dead;
(4) Jesus never appeared to anyone who was not already a follower of Jesus, that is, the resurrection life of Jesus was not a public event in the way that his life prior to death and burial was;
(5) the one material or physical fact presented by the four gospels as a public fact is that the tomb in which Jesus was buried became an empty tomb "on the third day."
(By "public fact" I mean that the public of Jerusalem could have visited the tomb and seen for themselves that it was empty. Note that the empty tomb by itself as a public fact is not conclusive evidence for the resurrection of Jesus since it could have been explained by the disciples stealing his body and relocating it somewhere else, as Matthew 28:11-15 observes to us.)

It seems a bit messy and we are more than entitled to ask why the scriptural accounts do not have more in common. But there are some matters on which a little reflection may yield for us a stronger sense of consistency across the accounts. This reflection can begin by dealing with two critical questions.

(6) Who saw Jesus first?
(7) Was the tomb empty?

Who saw Jesus first?

The four gospels are consistent that the first people present to see that the tomb was empty and to hear that Jesus had been raised from the dead were women (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-13 [but in that account the angels do not declare that Jesus has been raised from the dead]. The one woman common to these four accounts is Mary Magdalene.

But these same gospels vary in terms of who was the first to experience an appearance of the risen Jesus:

Matthew: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:9-10).

Mark: indeterminate but it is implied that the Twelve will be the first to do so, in Galilee, with Peter getting a special mention. Intriguingly, when John tells the story of an appearance in Galilee, in John 21, Peter is the first to recognise who the stranger on the beach is.

Luke: Cleopas and an unnamed disciple (24:13-35) vie with Simon [Peter] (24:34).

John: Mary Magdalene (20:14-18).

Alongside these accounts we must then place the tradition Paul has received about "appearances" of the risen Jesus (presumably from the Jerusalem leadership, including apostles and James the brother of Jesus):

1 Corinthians: (in sequence) Cephas [Simon Peter], then the twelve, more than five hundred brothers, James, all the apostles, (after an interval) Paul (15:3-8).

In competitive terms we could (siding with Peter in Luke ahead of Cleopas and his companion) make this: Peter (two votes, Luke, 1 Corinthians) = Mary Magdalene (two votes, Matthew, John). Mark, somewhat indeterminate, cannot break the tie! Nevertheless, between Peter and Mary Magdalene we pretty much have  a contradiction as to who was the first to see the risen Jesus. Or is it?

Let's dig a bit deeper, bearing in mind that each of the gospel writers, as well as Paul, have an "angle" on this important but mysterious, if not confusing situation in which each writer is convinced that Jesus rose from the dead but none say quite the same thing.

We should take Paul's recitation of the tradition he received as a solid record of appearances of the risen Jesus (because he would have received it just a few years after the resurrection) while also noting its obvious bias towards leaders of the Jesus movement experiencing these appearances. The exception is the appearance to more than five hundred brothers. Paul's recitation of this list is clearly favourable to his own difficulty with the Corinthian congregation: they doubt he is a notable Christian leader. This list underscores his claim that he is: he is on a par with Cephas, James, the twelve and all the apostles.

That is, the fact that no women are mentioned on this list does not mean that Mary Magdalene was not the first (or among the first) to receive an appearance of the risen Jesus.

Given the importance and authority of the tradition Paul receives, I suggest we must reckon with the gospel writers also receiving as strong a tradition that women were importance witnesses to the resurrection: to at least the empty tomb (all four gospels) and to seeing the risen Jesus (Matthew, John).

We could then refrain from thinking that the traditions are, in one sense or another, in competition with each other. Clearly a variety of people at a variety of times and places received appearances of the risen Jesus. It is understandable as reports of these many appearances were made, passed on orally, then, eventually written down, that some accounts were more treasured by one group of Christians than another. Presumably the gospel writers and Paul, between them, have access to one or two or more of these treasured traditions. What to us is a bit messy if not a lot messy if now downright contradictory likely to each writer is their doing their best to tell their readers three basic facts: Jesus rose from the dead, he was seen by more than one person, he commissioned his followers to take his message and mission beyond Judea and Galilee.

Was the tomb empty?

Just as Paul's 1 Corinthian 15 account is a puzzle in the light of the gospels because of its omission of Mary Magdalene, so it is disturbing - at least to various scholars and sceptics through the years - because it does not refer to the empty tomb.

This omission opens the way for various post-Enlightenment speculations that Jesus' body remained in the tomb even though the resurrection was, in some sense, a real, definite and definitive event.

However I do not see that what Paul says is consistent with the bones of Jesus remaining in the tomb (and thus, potentially, discoverable by us today).

Look carefully at what he says in 15:3-4:

"that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,

and that he was buried,

and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures ...".

(The appearances then become a fourth "that" in the sequence: "that he appeared ...".)

The sequence here is of things which happen to the body of Jesus: killed, buried, raised. But what is Paul's reason for writing so confidently that the resurrection was an event which preceded appearances? Why not write something like, "... died ... buried ... appeared from the third day onwards ..."?

It is reasonable to assume that Paul understands that there was an event in which the body of Jesus was raised to new life and it is coherent with this event that the tomb was empty as a result. That is, Paul is not denying that the tomb was empty by not mentioning its emptiness. It is also reasonable to understand that Paul is saying that the resurrection as an event preceded the appearances which is what the four gospels also say.

To be clear: no one witnesses the raising of the body of Jesus to new life (all scriptural accounts agree); there are witnesses to the empty tomb (so four gospel accounts); Paul's received account of the resurrection is consistent with the tomb being empty; all scriptural accounts tell of appearances of the risen Jesus to multiple people.

So I conclude that the tomb was empty - an objective sign of the subjective reality of multiple witnesses experiencing the risen Jesus in a variety of ways.

But that leaves us with a question,

Why are the scriptural accounts so at odds with each other?

Even if we can make some generalised sense of the five accounts, why are they so different to each other? Why couldn't, say, at least one of the gospels tell us of the encounter with more than five hundred men? How come one woman does not make it into the list Paul reproduces? (It is not as though his ministry was averse to naming, welcoming and commending leading women.) Why does Luke make such a crass subversion of Mark 16:7 in his 24:6, reversing Galilee as a destination to meet the risen Jesus to a place where Jesus predicted his resurrection? (Matthew is more subtle: he repeats Mark and then promptly tells us the risen Jesus met the women in Jerusalem.) Why do Matthew, Luke and John each have different commissionings by Jesus (respectively Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53; John 20:21-23)?

I will come to these questions in a subsequent post ...

Monday, April 2, 2018

Two Archbishops Up Yonder

I am working - slowly - on a post on the resurrection but my perambulations around the net have yielded an interesting interview with ++Justin Welby and a here we go again, it's Easter, so there must be an Archbishop with doubts article, for which the Archbishop of Wales John Davies steps up, or is that down to the mark.

Natch the Anglican version of the apostolic succession means we always have Doubting Thomas bishops in our ranks :). I will come back to ++Davies when I finally post on the resurrection ...

Thursday, March 29, 2018

On the execution of those who challenge power, then and now

Hello at the beginning of Maundy Thursday and the days that follow.

This is Anglican DOWN UNDER so I do quite a bit of trawling across our main print media news sites, Stuff and NZ Herald (and sometimes Sydney Morning Herald).

This morning I noticed the name of my friend and New Testament studies colleague, Derek Tovey. He has written an article on the historicity of Jesus' crucifixion for the NZ Herald.

Then my news trawling, which includes Twitter, noticed this article on a woman called Marielle Franco. I had never heard of her but she was a Brazilian politician who was assassinated after challenging the power structures of her country.

Her story is an analogue for the crucifixion of the historical Jesus: whatever divine purposes were being worked out through the death of Jesus (destruction of power of evil; propitiation and expiation of sin and guilt), there was an historical explanation for his death, as Derek Tovey's article explains. Jesus, a political nobody, threatened the cosy power sharing arrangements in Palestine, and needed disposing of, before things got out of hand.

Bonus link:

with H/T to a correspondent, here is an interview with Ross Douthat who has written a book on Pope Francis.

Bonus bonus links:

I have noticed this article on four options for evangelical Christians, responding to the cutlure of today in the West.

Also, because I want to mark the article even though I am going to ban discussion of it (for the Usual Reasons about That Topic), Ian Paul has posted an erudite, careful discussion of a case in the UK which raises some questions for ACANZP as it discusses the Motion 29 proposal.

Happy reading or viewing over the Easter break ...

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Substitutional sacrifice

We may have read the news story this week of a French police officer, Arnaud Beltrame, who swapped himself for one of the hostages taken by an extreme Islamist gunman only to die of his injuries when the gunman shot him as armed forces moved on the hostage taker.

What you may or may not have read - because it is being ignored by some news outlets - is that the heroic officer was a committed Catholic Christian.

He gave himself that another might live.

Like Jesus, he sacrificially substituted himself for the sake of another.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

I agree: cut down on the number of miracles needed for sainthood

Fr Maurice Carmody is a scholar and a gentleman whom I got to know when he was parish priest of St Francis' Catholic Church, Stoke, Nelson. He has doggedly pursued the NZ Catholic Church's ambition to have NZ's first saint made, the famous Mother Suzanne Albert. His scholarly researches into the matter have left no stone unturned, and there have been many trips to Rome to press the case. But he has hit a snag, as this report tells us: the Vatican quota of two miracles is too high.

I agree that the quota is too high. There should be no requirement for any miracles to be associated with a person being made a saint. None were required in New Testament times. In fact Paul addressed the whole church as saints of God (Ephesians 1:1), with no mention of evidential miracles. The implication is, of course, that the one and only necessary miracle for someone to become a saint is the miracle of salvation.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A weekend away

One of the best periods of my life - in which, praise God, there have been many good periods - were the years 1984-86.

I was in Dunedin for theological study at Knox Theological Hall (a Presbyterian seminary at which "private students" of the University of Otago, such as my Anglican self, also studied). I am thankful to this day for the outstanding quality of the teaching, the pastoral care and scholarly attentiveness of the teachers and the brilliance of the ethos. In hindsight, it was a wonderful era for Presbyterian ministers in training (a number of whom I have met up with in recent years) and it was near the end of an aeon. By the 1990s all teaching of B.Theol. and B.D. subjects took place at the University itself.

I lived at Selwyn College - an Anglican residential college of the University. Selwyn College then and now has had a mixed reputation: some brilliant and famous alumni have emerged from the College. But around Otago University, any story of heavy drinking fuelling outrageous behaviour, daring pranks and strenuous initiation rites is bound to bring "Selwyn" instantly to mind. Even if it turns out it was students from Arana ... :)

I worshipped at St Matthew's Church, Hope St - an inner city Anglican parish with a reputation as a leading student church. John Meadowcroft was the Vicar and he was an outstanding Bible teacher and leading charismatic. (It is another blogpost for another day to speak about some of the experiences of that charismatic era.)

Selwyn College was founded in 1893 and named after the first and only Bishop of New Zealand, George Selwyn. Is there any other Anglican bishop of the 19th or 20th centuries who has had two university colleges named after him? The other is at Cambridge University.

So this year is the 125th anniversary of that founding and this weekend past was the celebratory weekend. Teresa and I were able to travel down from Christchurch in a leisurely way on Friday. En route we stopped off at Karitane (about 30 minutes north of Dunedin). Its bays are exquisite. World class.

On the way back, yesterday, we journeyed via Aramoana at the northern end of Otago Harbour, then turned at Port Chalmers for a winding route to SH 1 back to Christchurch. This view, from a lookout above Port Chalmers, across the harbour to Portobello, is as good as they come, anywhere in the world.

Within 30 minutes of the centre of Dunedin such brilliant scenes as captured in the two photos above could be multiplied a dozen times. It is the most extraordinary region geographically and scenically speaking. It also has some tough weather. Let's just say it is not tropical there so the vast population of Auckland lives in Auckland rather than in Dunedin. But if Dunedin were closer to Auckland, it would be our largest city and Auckland just a port with some factories around the mudflats!

Back to the weekend. We had a great time with a welcome event on Friday night, photos Saturday morning, a cricket match in the afternoon, a fab dinner on Saturday night, then the opening of a new building ("Fitchett House" - a redolent Anglican name, as some readers here will recognise) on Sunday morning before gathering outside Selwyn's entrance for the beginning of our Palm Sunday church service.

In the pic are Archbishop Philip Richardson (our NZ Dioceses' Primate, former Warden and former student of Selwyn College), Bishop Stephen Benford (new-ish Bishop of Dunedin) and Fr Michael Wallace (Vicar of All Saints, Dunedin - the church which forms part of the Selwyn courtyard). We processed from the entrance to Selwyn around the block to All Saints church itself. ++Philip preached and +Stephen presided at our eucharist.

Archbishop Philip challenged us on Sunday morning to prove to him that there is one person God doesn't love. His point being that everyone of us - each of us utterly unique and different from the other - is loved by God. Without exception. On Saturday night, Bill English, former PM, spoke about his experiences of Selwyn College and what it had contributed to his life. He could not remember why, as a staunch Catholic he and his siblings ended up residents at Selwyn College, but it cannot have done them any harm because they have sent their children there.

Among several speakers on Friday night we heard from David Kirk, former All Black captain and current business leader based in Australia. He paid tribute to Selwyn as a place of transition from the cocoon of home to the independence of adulthood.

Nevertheless the lived experience of Selwyn was not far away in what was said by a range of speakers. In that actual history of the college, alcohol has been mixed many times with the "stupidity of youth" (a phrase used in Bill English's address), with predictable results. There was a lot of drinking when I was there. I imagine there is less these days. I think students are more serious about meeting assignment deadlines than we were.

What remains a challenge for the College is what Archbishop Philip addressed in his sermon yesterday morning: how to give expression to the love of God in a community of young people bound together for a relatively short period of time. A starting point is that Selwyn has always been strong on being a community. I can recall lots of alcohol drinking in 1984-86 but we also had supper together, in small groups, Monday to Thursday evenings. Coffee or tea. And biscuits.

Where there is tea and biscuits, there is the love of God! 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Nelson's Vote on Motion 29 Final Report

Recently here I reported on the Christchurch Diocesan synod's decision on 3 March 2018 to support General Synod adopting the Motion 29 Report and its recommendations.

A week later the Nelson Diocese held a synod on the same matter. So far I have not seen a substantive public report on the decision, including the details of the motion agreed to. Nothing to date in secular media such as the Nelson Mail, nor in our Anglican Taonga, nor on the Diocese of Nelson website.

The only public note I am aware of is this Tweet by Trevor Morrison:

I have received other messages. On the one hand I am loathe to become an originator of news. On the other hand the Nelson decision is interesting on a few counts. Working from two published messages of vicars to their parishes (only one of which is on the web, here), I observe the following:

- the part of (a three part) motion to support the recommendations of the Motion 29 Report was supported by roughly 60% of the synod (pretty much the same as the Diocese of Christchurch, but the clergy vote was higher than here and the laity vote lower than here);

- another part of the motion was a unanimous vote making clear that same-sex blessings will not be permitted within the Diocese of Nelson. (For those who know little or nothing about the Diocese of Nelson, this is unsurprising.)

- the third part of the motion concerned thanking the Working Group for their work etc.

- there was concern within the Synod discussion that if the Motion 29 Recommendations do not pass then Motion 30 (from the 2014 Synod, which "lies on the table" currently) would be put forward again. Since Motion 30 is a change to the formularies of our church (i.e. explicit, formal change to doctrine), it is unacceptable to conservative evangelicals (including me).

- thus, by implication, it seems that some votes for supporting Motion 29's recommendations being adopted were pragmatically for the better of two options.

- by contrast, the Motion 30 v Motion 29 issue figured little (as I recall) in our Synod.

My final observation:

I suggest Motion 29, in its substance, will be agreed to by General Synod. In the two Synods where, conceivably, it might have been turned down, it has not. I am not aware of other Pakeha dioceses having Synods specifically about this matter but I have no reason to think that the other Dioceses are not also supportive.

A critical question, however, will be what details we will agree to since GS is capable of amending any and all of the recommendations.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Yesterday morning we had a special staff meeting at the Anglican Centre (where I work). At that meeting Bishop Victoria announced that she is resigning from her position as Bishop of Christchurch, effective from 1 May 2018.

Later, at 4 pm, this announcement became public. You can read it here. Bosco Peters has published a note about this and offers other links to relevant information. I join with his call for prayer for +Victoria as she discerns God's next step for her life and ministry, and for the Diocese as we make our next steps.

I have worked for and with +Victoria since 21 January 2010 - just over eight years, most of which have been dominated by our earthquakes and their aftermath. In that time we have had three different locations for the Anglican Centre and five different locations for Theology House. This last 16 months we have been in a common location and it is by far the best of the locations to work in. Bishop Victoria will leave her role with many things settled which were previously unsettled.

Through everything +Victoria has been utterly faithful to God and energetically determined that the God of Jesus Christ is at the front and centre of all we do.

Now we enter a period of change. I know we who live and work within the Diocese will be praying for God's help and for God's will to be done. If you are reading this outside our Diocese please pray for us.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Time for Love - NZ documentary - you may find your friends speaking on it!

I urge Kiwi readers, in particular, to take 48 minutes of precious time, with coffee, tea, wine and/or chocolates at hand to watch the documentary Time for Love.

This is a video, as I understand it, put together by the Auckland Rainbow Community Church in order to offer a viewpoint on the Bible and homosexuality before General Synod in May.

Most of those speaking on the video are friends of mine (and colleagues in the world of biblical and theological studies here). One or two are saying things explicitly I had not heard them say previously.

Perhaps particularly significant are the voices testifying to changing their minds, and the reasons they give for doing so.

I am urging that you watch this video for three reasons, none of which are about urging you to change your minds:

i. We have so little of this quality of biblical and theological presentation made in NZ that we should see what we can produce. (By "quality" I mean that it offers careful, considered thinking about why we might read the Bible in a non-traditional way. The voices include voices of some of our leading biblical and theological scholars.)

ii. Whether we change our minds or not on the matter of homosexuality, whatever we hold to with integrity will have greater integrity if it engages with the exegetical and hermeneutical insights brought forward here.

iii. I am not in it. You do not have to put up with me speaking :)

As previously, I am not going to accept comments on this matter.
As moderator I continue to need a holiday from moderating this particular debate.
There will be an opportunity in April, before General Synod in early May, to have such a thread of comments. I will re-link to the documentary then.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Marriage and Contraception

Thoughtful article here.

I like what it says about marriage as a distinctive relationship between man and woman.

I am not convinced that it makes an adequate case against artificial contraception since the purposes of artificial contraception can be the same as the purposes of natural contraception (e.g. spacing of children for the sake of the wife and mother's well-being). That is, I am not convinced it makes the case that there is intrinsic virtue in sexual intercourse timed to express unitive love without fertility and by contrast some kind of intrinsic vice in sexual intercourse expressing unitive love without possibility of fertility.

Your thoughts are welcome here.

If your first thought is to expound either the virtue or vice of same-sex blessing or marriage, create your own blog! If some reasonable, care-full consideration of the same arises in the course of a thread of comments, I will consider publishing your comment. But I do not guarantee that. I will guarantee that I will not myself comment on such comments, so do not address them to me. It ought to be possible for Christians to discuss marriage between a man and a woman and the kind of contraception they may or may not choose to use without invoking That Topic.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Good Anglican news in Christchurch

Not every bit of news about our Diocese in the local newspaper over the last seven or so years, since the quake damaged our cathedral, has been good news - that is, news in secular terms, at least, which is of the kind "Look, the Anglicans are doing something worth this newspaper writing about in praiseworthy terms."

Yesterday our Christchurch Press online carried a good news item about $4m being invested by Anglican Care (of our Diocese) in a Youth Hub, spearheaded by one of the most admired citizens in our city.

However I chanced upon some of the comments to the article - nearly always a mistake in the world of 21st century online newspaper interaction! - and realised that, well, "haters are going to hate."

So, as always with good news, some of us can find the bad news in it. Property values near the Youth Hub will sink. Why is any money being spent on young people whose parents should have brought them up properly. And, predictably, what about the cathedral?!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Can we reconcile the warrior God of the OT with the compassionate God of the NT?

A comment in a recent post below interestingly arrived in the midst of a teaching weekend intensive on the Old Testament.  Can we reconcile the warrior God with the compassionate God of the NT? (Acknowledged: that compassionate God is also found in the OT).

One immediate recognition in my mind is that there is a very long answer to this question, with some subtle, nuanced work offered by various learned and insightful OT theologians (e.g. Walter Moberley in his Old Testament Theology) which, in turn, builds on the complexity of authorship (competing voices, diverse aims and objectives in the writing community behind the OT documents as we now have them). This, at least potentially, softens our first reading of passages in which God says, swords swing, heads fall, and even children are slaughtered in the pursuit of purity.

My next recognition is that where questions about the vengefulness and vindictiveness of God are being asked outside the gentle, timeless atmosphere of academia, a shorter rather than a longer answer to the kind of questions voiced below might be helpful.

A third recognition is that I do not think it possible to reconcile the two versions of God without the possibility that an adjustment may be required of our understanding of the relationship between the words of Scripture and Scripture as the Word of God.

This is because the simplest route to reconciliation is to emphasise the humanity of certain passages over their "divinity." That is, to emphasise that certain difficult passages

(1) express a theological view of human authors rather than a direct divine command to be taken literally;

(2) may idealise a situation rather than tell us what actually happened. I give an example below.

If this is so, that may be

(i) challenging for many Christians to accept;

(ii) with consequences for how we understand a number of other passages we do not have in mind as we raise a particular question about the violence of God.

Here goes!

Moberly, in his Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013), takes up the question of Israel being "A Chosen People" (Chapter 2), which is the summary cause for "the ban" or holy war of destruction (herem) of that which stands in the way of the chosen people achieving possession of the Promised Land. I here give a brief exposition of a part of what is a much longer and more detailed discussion of these matters, which also takes into account material in Joshua.

Taking up Deuteronomy's "prime passage about election", Moberly discusses Deuteronomy 7:6-8 with reference to Deuteronomy 7:1-8 (pp. 54ff). In 7:2 God commands the utter destruction of the nations which stand in the way of Israel's occupation of the land promised to it.

He notes, incidentally, p. 56, that one of the most frequent approaches of scholars to Deuteronomy 7:6-8 on election is to ignore the role of election in connection with holy war. (Check out commentaries on Deuteronomy to see that this is so.)

Moberly recommends close reading of the letter of the text because that steers us away from taking the text literally. 

In doing this we notice several things. One is that the seven nations mentioned do not actually occupy only the promised land; they are more widespread. This suggests that they stand symbolically for the enemies of Israel.

Another observation is that immediately after the words in verse 2 about utter destruction of these enemies, Israel is commanded to "make no covenant" with them and not to "intermarry with them" (v. 3). These instructions are at odds with utter destruction: covenants are not made with dead people and intermarriage presumes not all have been killed.

This close reading of the letter of the text suggests that we do not take the text literally. Instead we should consider its rhetorical nature and its symbolic character.

That is, bearing in mind that Deuteronomy is a text which Israel is reading after the Babylonian exile, in a period when it has no military power to drive out any actual, physical enemies, we ask what it is actually persuading Israel to think and to do, and we ask what the reference to enemies being destroyed symbolises.

Thus Moberly, p. 61, proposes:

"Since, to put it bluntly, corpses present no temptation to intermarriage, the text surely envisages the continuance of living non-Israelites in close proximity to Israel.
In the light of this, I propose a reading of Deuteronomy 7:1-5 in which the text is construed as a definitional exposition of herem as en enduring practice for Israel."

In practice this means, negatively, avoiding intermarriage because this leads to "religious compromise," and, positively, destroying "those objects that symbolize and enable allegiances to deities other than YHWH (7:5)" but not destruction of people (p. 61-62).

Moberly concludes,

"In other words, herem is being presented as a metaphor for unqualified allegiance to YHWH" (p. 62).

He then makes the point that this is not "mere metaphor" because some specific actions are envisaged: avoiding intermarriage and destroying religious symbols which would compromise allegiance to YHWH. But such practices "do not entail the taking of life on the battlefield" (p. 62).

In other words, consideration of the human authorship of Deuteronomy, including the fact that it is not actually a text written at the time of the conquest of Canaan, and recognition of the human intentions of the text, to utilise the past (Israel entering the promised land in the time of Moses) in order to lay down a command for the present (Israel in Babylonian exile and Israel returning from exile to Judah), leads to new understanding.

Our first reading of the text, which implies a savage God bent in destroying people, gives way to a second reading of the text, in which we read something which is consistent with the continuing messages of the whole of Scripture: that God is love and God desires our unqualified love for him.