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.

Friday, March 9, 2018

To conference or not to conference?

Ian Paul has put together a handy list of upcoming theological conferences. Here. It is rare to see such a list and thus worth noting here. Not least for me personally to access - I have a role in assisting clergy planning study leave and often they are in search of academic events which will contribute to their plans for study.