Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Incurvatus in se: who or what are we saved from and/or for?

Saved by grace? Yes, but who or what are we saved from/for?

With H/T to Bryden Black, read this fascinating and provocative post on salvation.

It is about the book, The God Who Saves: A Dogmatic Sketch by David W. Congdon.

I sometimes think that the notion of "being saved" in today's world is increasingly difficult to explain (since many people have no sense of fear of God, of judgment or of damnation, nor is there a sense of being a slave to sin). So I like the idea of being saved from oneself. The idea that we are our own worst enemies is not lost in a world of personal failures and shortcomings.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Politics of Jesus: who would Jesus vote for this election?

Crunch time. Votes to be cast by end of this Saturday 23rd September 2017. Who to vote for? Jacinda? Bill? Winston? James? Marama? Gareth? I'll concentrate here on the "party vote" but there is also the question of which local person to vote to become your local MP.*

If the criterion of your vote is voting for the winning side, well, good luck predicting that!

If the criterion of your vote is voting for a government which will keep NZ running well, planes flying, etc, then good luck with that!

If the criterion of your vote is voting for a government which has already informed you what their taxation policy is, then very good luck with that.

Perhaps you fancy gaining some insight from the partners of the prospective Prime Ministers? Then this article might help. But, then again, it might not, as each partner thinks their stumping partner is perfick!

If you do not fancy, as I do not, having Winston Peters being the queen or king maker, then, almost certainly, no predictions required, you and I will be disappointed!

But enough of secular political punditry (on which I fancy myself having some expertise :),) what would Jesus do?

Who would Jesus vote for this Saturday? (Well, okay, he was an observant Jew, so probably would cast an early vote so as not to do that sort of work on the Sabbath.)

It is tempting, incidentally, and I think some Christians will do this, to vote for Bill English (because a Christian, a married man and a family man) and not for Jacinda Ardern (because she is not married to her partner, not even engaged, and because she is not a committed Christian - she has distanced herself from her upbringing as a Mormon). Alongside that "moral approach" to voting decision-making, I would bring to bear this question: how honest is Bill English the politician? There are significant questions about his honesty in respect of the imbroglio over Todd Barclay and, more recently, a question about his continuing support for Murray McCully's shambolic if not dishonest performance explaining away an apparent bribe to a a Saudi sheikh.

What I think Jesus would do is to do what Jesus always did, which was to talk and act with a preference for the last, the least and the lost.

This election we are well aware that even if the country is working pretty well for many of us (who have jobs, who live in houses we can afford to rent or pay the mortgage for, who can pay our bills and buy good food for our families), it is not working well for all.

We have the last, the least and the lost among us - homeless, jobless, hungry, poor, waiting on hospital lists for treatment - to say nothing of those who feel hopeless and, perhaps, are turning to drugs as a result. Not all such situations can be fixed by government legislation and government department intervention. Some such situations could be helped significantly by the government governing better (e.g. using current tax revenue better) and by the government having more resources at its disposal (i.e. by raising more tax revenue).

But, just before we jump to the conclusion that Jesus would necessarily vote for one of our left-wing parties, it is worth remembering that Jesus was intelligent and wise. I think we could also assume that Jesus would not be so stupid as to vote for a solution to the problems of the last, the least and the lost which foreseeably would take us into a socialist world liable to become bankrupt (cf. Venezuela) or totalitarian (cf. anti-Christian Soviet Union, China).

In other words, Jesus would be a centrist like me!

OK, maybe not. But thinking like Jesus would think should bring into our minds both compassion and wisdom, both concern for people in need (think Parable of the Good Samaritan) and concern for society flourishing over the long-term in respect of freedom, sound economy, solid institutions (think Proverbs).

It might also be worth thinking about how Green Jesus would be, if voting in this election. As supreme Agent of Creation, I find it hard to think of Jesus as being unconcerned about how polluted our rivers, lakes and underground water supplies are becoming (think Genesis 1-2).

Trying to think Christianly in this way may or may not help us to finally determine which party we will vote for, because this way of thinking, leaves a number of options open to us. But it might also make us think a bit harder about which party we would vote for - it might make us pray more for good discernment.

I know which party I am voting for but won't say here. I am happy to say whom I am voting for in my intriguing local electorate, Ilam, where the incumbent National MP, Gerry Brownlee, is apparently being chased hard by a popular city councillor, Raf Manji, standing as an independent. My vote, however, is going to Tony Rimell, the Labour candidate and a Baptist minister here in Christchurch. In his favour is the fact that he is the only candidate I know personally!

*For overseas readers, NZ has a Mixed Member Proportional voting system in which each voter has two votes. One vote is for the local electorate MP, the other vote is for the preferred  party to govern. The latter vote determines, proportionally, the make-up of parliament with MPs being drawn in from party lists to make up the proportionality required after the electorate MPs are taken into account. Theoretically a party could score >50% of the votes and govern alone but in practice no government has been formed under MMP without either a formal coalition with one or more other parties and/or a confidence-and-supply agreement with one or more other parties.

A further point of history to bear in mind: not since 1969 has NZ elected a government for a fourth term. The present National-led government has governed for three terms. The arc of history bends against a return of a National-led government, but the arc of history is a quaint notion and not a law of the Medes and Persians.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ecumenical Response to Synod's Cathedral Decision

Thanks to a commenter on Bosco Peter's post on our Synod decision re reinstatement of the cathedral, I have now noticed an ecumenical church leaders' response to the decision. It is worth copying in full here:

"MEDIA RELEASE FROM THE HEADS OF DENOMINATIONS OF CANTERBURY CHURCHES
Sunday 10 September 2017
The Anglican Cathedral has been at the centre of perhaps one of the most public and fraught stories coming out of the devastation caused by Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. It has been a long and difficult saga. Every Cantabrian has to be aware of the angst and debate regarding the future of this iconic building in the centre of our city. Every New Zealander probably, and many people in various parts of the world, also know about this broken building and the conflict over its future.
While it is primarily an Anglican conversation, along with other interested parties, many Christians have felt a stake in this matter, even if for most, it is from the side-lines. So, in the lead up to the Anglican Synod and their decision regarding the future of the Cathedral, many have prayerfully supported their Anglican brothers and sisters, their leaders, and Bishop Victoria.
Now that they have carefully considered the many conflicting interests, weighed their options and thoughtfully arrived at a decision, leaders of most groups of churches in our city and region are glad to express unequivocal support for the Anglican community. The rebuild will be a demanding project, a whole new challenge. We look forward to seeing a successful conclusion, a building ready to be filled with people and praise again.
At a recent Heads of Christian Denominations meeting, serious concern was expressed about the conduct of some aspects of the debate around the cathedral. Church leaders recognised the contentious nature of the issue and the complexities involved, however there is great concern about the occasionally vicious nature of some of the debate. Vitriol and personal attack add nothing of value to a decision-making process, and in fact demean all of us in the city.
Now Christian leaders plead with everyone interested in this divisive debate to accept the decision that has been carefully and legitimately made. Let us put division and bitterness behind us and work together for the good of our whole community.
The vision Christian leaders share for our Christchurch is of a great city, bursting with life, its people thriving and prospering in every sense. Every day Christians work in a multitude of ways for the good of the people of this city and we are committed to continuing this work, in compassion and care, in the arts and business, in education and community building. We want a city where everyone is welcomed and respected, whether people of a faith and creed or not. We desire a city where there is opportunity for everyone to positively participate and contribute, where goodwill and generosity of spirit build strong vibrant communities across the city and region. We dream of a city where our modern nation’s founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi, is honoured, not simply settled.
There is much yet to be done; in housing, mental health, education, employment, racial reconciliation and more besides; and it will take us all working together for the common good.
The task for all Christian believers is to shine the same light of God’s love and grace in our city here today, and in the days ahead.
Christians are fallible humans, we do not always reach the heights we aspire to, and so we acknowledge our shortcomings. However, as followers in the footsteps of Jesus we are glad to be called by God to bless the city with hope, joy, creativity, beauty and love.
This is our commitment to the city and region we love.
We invite all people of hope and vision to join with us in this dream, as we join with you; we all need each other.
Paul Askin, Senior Pastor Kaiapoi Baptist Church
Maurice Atkinson, Regional Mission Leader for Canterbury Westland Baptist Association
Steve Burgess, Senior Pastor South City C3
David Coster, Moderator Alpine Presbytery,Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
Alan Jamieson, Senior Pastor South West Baptist Church
Margie Lamborn, Regional Overseer of Central South Island Assemblies of God
Fr Rick Loughnan, Administrator for the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch
David MacGregor, Senior Pastor Grace Vineyard Church
Donald Scott, Senior Pastor North City Church
Ken Shelley, Senior Pastor King’s Church
Mike Stopforth, Director Catholic Bishop’s Pastoral Office
Nu Telea, Senior Pastor Elim Church Christchurch City
Kathryn Walters, District Superintendent Central South Island Synod Methodist Church of New Zealand"

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Debates within a debate, differences about difference

One of the fascinating aspects of our debate over the cathedral at synod was what I will call here "debates within the debate."

I mention these not to relitigate the arguments made on the floor of synod but to make a point about the wide array of differences in our church. Not confined to You Know What!

Subsidiary Debate 1: church and state relationships. Should the church respect the state and its role in the life of the church (Romans 13, respect for God's appointed authorities)? Or, should the church be wary of the state since the latter can be an authority which seeks to suppress the authority of God (cf. Acts 4)?

Subsidiary Debate 2: church and community relationships. To what extent is the church for itself (as a worshipping community, as a group of people gathering regularly with shared commitments to ministry of Word and Sacrament) and for the community around it? May the latter shape the former? What role do buildings play in the life of the church and its reaching out to the community? Might the importance of a building for the wider community shape the building for the church within its walls? How does the active, believing, worshipping congregation connect with the vague spirituality of the unbaptised, little or no-belief community? These questions were touched on as we considered the past ministry and mission of the cathedral before the quakes, as we considered the possible future ministry and mission but did that prognosticating on the future state of church life, of spirituality in the community. They also arose in connection with the intangible notion of our relationship with the city and province, as well as with experiences of seeking to advance the gospel in our city with a broken cathedral.

Subsidiary Debate 3: appropriate Christian use of money. When is money spent on one desirable project "too much" money? As a diocese we have restored churches for smaller outlays of money than the cathedral will cost. The outlay on the cathedral is definitely "too much" for some members of Synod. We never actually asked the question, but what would be the point when "too much" was reached? Is spending money on aesthetics of church life (burial ointment for Jesus, stained glass windows, beautiful church buildings) compared to spending money on the poor (in our Chch city case, on mental health and on social housing) an either/or, or a both/and? The question "what would Jesus do?" was raised. An important question and one with some nuances to it ... since presumably Jesus wanted the cathedral in the 19th century!

Readers here who were at Synod might have other subsidiary debates to note in comments ...

But, nevertheless, a word about the You Know What discussion

We had an hour's discussion of the Motion 29 Working Group Interim report (same sex blessings). Afterwards I realise that the contributions to the discussion represented three levels of "difference" in our Diocese.

First, and most obviously, differences of views on the rightness of blessing.

Secondly, and fairly obviously, differences in starting point for those views - different underlying theologies and ways of doing theology. (Note yesterday's post here on ADU).

Thirdly, and not so obviously to me until a conversation sparked the thought, the difference between those who feel they can live with difference on this matter and those who feel they cannot. A difference about difference!

That is, when the proposal makes a way for us to be a church living with difference on the matter of blessing, one explanation of rejection of the proposal seems to be that it is not imaginable that such living with difference can take place.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Leaching nitrates into theological wells?

OK so the focus is on how a certain philosopher/theologian poisoned German theology, Protestant and Catholic - guess who before reading on!? - but I think this article illuminates a lot of debate hereabouts, Down Under at large, and on ADU in particular.

In this season of electioneering, in which quite rightly we are thinking about the effects of leaching nitrates into water bores, streams and rivers, we need to remain ever vigilant about the quality of our Christian thinking, susceptible as it is to the increasing depths to which the nitrates of heresy and heterodoxy can leach. I include myself in that concern. I know some of you ARE concerned!

Here are the money paragraphs:

"Citing a Lutheran hymn, “God Himself is Dead”, Hegel argues that God unites death to his nature. And so when we encounter suffering and death, we taste the particularities of the eternal divine “history”. As he puts it, suffering “is a moment in the nature of God himself; it has taken place in God himself.” For Hegel, suffering is an aspect of God’s eternal nature. Our sin and suffering is necessary for God to be God.

This heretical view has had widespread influence in modern Catholic and Protestant accounts of God’s nature. It’s often given a pastoral veneer of the God who weeps with us. Yet, tragically unaware of his error, the Hegelian homilist preaches a God who cannot save: a God who is so eternally bound to our tears he cannot truly wipe them away.
Many 20th-century German theologians followed in Hegel’s footsteps. A basic principle was Hegel’s dialectic process itself as revelatory, which is to say they smuggled into their ideas on “doctrinal development” the notion that God was continuing to reveal himself in history, as though there was always something “becoming” in God, and thus, in the Church. Hegel’s spiritual forerunner Joachim de Fiore had predicted a “third age of the Holy Spirit” which would sing a new Church into being, and it’s striking how many German theologians have been entranced by the idea of a future Church very different to the holy and apostolic one of the past.
This is not to say Hegel is the answer to Bismarck’s hypothetical question. There is a great difference between the Left Hegelian Ludwig Feuerbach’s idea of religion as projection of inner spirit and the theologies of Karl Rahner or Walter Kasper. But there is nevertheless something deeply Hegelian about making the unfolding of human experience in history a standard for theological development — to which God or the Church, always in mercy, must conform. Unfortunately, this is a terrible standard for change which leads not only to false reform, but to apostasy and desolation."

Monday, September 11, 2017

Restoring thin places

Yesterday Teresa and I had the immense privilege of being present at the reopening of Holy Innocents church, Mt Peel, South Canterbury.

Also in the news this morning I see this item about the restoration of St Mary's Cathedral, New Plymouth, Taranaki.

In both cases these churches have iconic status, represent history (in the sense of connections to significant events, development of farming in NZ and the Land Wars, respectively) as well as heritage - its decades since I have visited St Mary's so won't comment on its heritage, but Holy Innocents has as an extraordinary collection of stained glass windows in a small church as you could find anywhere in NZ. (The photo below does not do justice to the beauty of the new window in the new east wall and only gives a hint of the amazing windows in the side walls.)



In the particular case of Holy Innocents, Bishop Victoria in her sermon talked about "thin places" - those places on earth in which heaven is juxtaposed with the flimsiest of walls between them. Holy Innocents, indeed, seems one of those places.

In conversation afterwards, I found myself reminded of the capacity and power of such thin places (including, our cathedral). Self-described irregular churchgoers connect with thin places! Regular church goers do too.

It is hard to put a $ value on restoring our churches, let alone the ones we feel are thin places.

So I won't. But what I did note in the service yesterday was John Acland's remarkable stories of significant donations for the restoration of Holy Innocents turning up in completely unexpected ways.

So I give - we can give - thanks for the mysterious ways in which we are finding thin places are being restored.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Christ Church Cathedral: the way forward!

Most readers here know that our Diocese has been sorely troubled by questions and issues about our cathedral - Christ Church Cathedral, located in Cathedral Square, the beating heart of our city. Badly damaged in the 22 February 2011 earthquake and subsequent quakes, we (particularly our Bishop, successive Deans, Church Property Trustees, CPT staff, and, lately, Synod members) have contemplated deconstruction, been tied up in court sorting out insurance funds usage, staying deconstruction, been on a trip around the northern hemisphere looking at cathedral designs, participated in two working parties, spent countless hours in meetings, sending and responding to emails, and so forth.

These last two days, as also many readers are aware, we have been doing our final talking and debating the merits of three Options A, B, C in an attempt to make a final decision about the way forward. A = reinstatement, B = new build, C = give the cathedral to the people of NZ.

Today we voted in a 55% vote for Option A.

Media articles are here and here (the latter, on Taonga, will be followed up soon by an "after the decision" article).

We had an amazing debate. Solid speeches, careful questions, impassioned entreaties, all with no sense of rush. It is a long time, if ever, that I have been part of such a long diocesan synodical debate. What really surprised me is that after this morning - when speeches favouring A were running about 16 to 3 for B and 1 for C - we had a vote as close as it was. I thought A might have achieved over 2/3rds majority. It did not.

To be clear to readers, I spoke for A and voted for it. My key reasons are in the Taonga article.

A few hours later I do not regret my choice.

One of the oddities of our situation as a Diocese - not commented on in any speech that I recall - is that we have supported the restoration of heritage churches. Tomorrow I travel to Mt Peel for the reopening of Holy Innocents church. Recently I was in a service in the reinstated St Bartholomew's church in Kaiapoi.

A question I wouldn't mind discussing at some future point, in some kind of diocesan forum, is what our theology of restoration of churches is. In part our tension over the cathedral seems one of dimensions. In appearance the difference looks like: if a church is smallish, and its restoration bill is smallish, we're fine with restoration. But if it is a large building and the bill involves many noughts, then we are not so fine.

Or, is it more subtle than that: if a parish chooses to restore, that is their business, but a cathedral is a building with many owners and several visions for its future, and thus we have differed.

Further, it appears that when (say) a restoration is a $1m or $2, we think not of helping the poor of our city. But the cathedral at c. $100m has provoked many concerns about best and highest use of money relative to real, widespread needs in our city and country.

Either way, to what extent do we have a theology of restoration? And of what nature is that theology relative to our theology of money and of social assistance to those in need?