Saturday, 20 September 2008

Freudian Slip

I just saw this advert in the reduced section of

Is It Okay to Call God Mother? Considering the Feminine Face of God - Slightly Imperfect

You said it, though perhaps slightly is underplaying it.

The Dictatorship of Katharine Jefferts Schori

The Church of England Newspaper this week ran a story that the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church has brought a motion to depose the Bishop of Pittsburgh.
What caught my eye is the extent of control KJS either has or thinks she has over her House of Bishops and denomination. Some extracts from CEN:

While Bishop Schori conceded that Bishop Duncan's diocese had not yet voted to
withdraw from the Episcopal Church, it was her contention that his statements
that such a move was possible offended canon law. She also stated she would
reject readings of church law that did not conform to her own, adding that "any
ambiguity in the canon" should be resolved in her favour.

For the vote
[to depose] to be blocked, a point of order must be raised and seconded. Bishop
Schori will be asked to rule whether her [own] actions consitute a breach of
order. If she rules against the protesting bishops, an appeal may be taken which
requires a two-thirds vote to sustain her ruling.

So, judge, jury and executioner then.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Religious discrimination

Having referred to the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001 below, I was wondering how someone like the Rev'd Ian Paisley came to be in the House of Commons before this Act.

It turns out that clergy disqualification applied only to clergy who had been episcopally ordained (Anglican, Roman or otherwise), and not to others.

Perhaps we could argue mischievously that proves Parliament considers non-episcopal ordination not to count!

Though Parliament's track record wrt theological understanding leaves something to be desired (with the honourable exception of the 1928 Prayer Book).

Could I really vote Lib Dem?

That got your attention!

The Liberal Democrats have been saying some surprisingly sensible things at their conference:
  • replacing the National Curriculum in schools with a significantly slimmed-down version
  • getting rid of at least 2 Whitehall departments, including the elegantly-titled Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
  • cutting £20 billion from public spending
  • taking 4p off the basic rate of income tax

OK, there's still a long way to go. But it just looks as though they might be the most committed of the 3 main parties to small government (except for their continued baffling Euro-enthusiasm).

Also Nick Clegg has said he will not rule out sending his children to private schools, which shows he considers his children's welfare to be more important than his own career and electoral success.

He's still a little bit too much like David Cameron, who's a bit too much like Tony Blair, but let's go one step at a time.

Are you sure, Father David?

Yesterday, David Cairns, a previously anonymous Scottish Office minister, resigned, because he wants a Labour leadership contest. Big deal?

What was interesting was that Mr Cairns used to be Father David Cairns, a Roman Catholic priest, who came into Parliament after the House of Commons (Removal of Clergy Disqualification) Act 2001. Despite his resignation, Mr Cairns commented that "For me it is an article of faith that the worst day of a Labour government is better than the best day of a Tory or SNP one."

Would that be the same Labour government which since 1997 has pursued the most aggressive legislative campaign in history for the normalisation of homosexuality? Or, to take another random worst day in Labour government history, the legalisation of abortion in 1967? Whatever your views on these subjects, it seems surprising that a good Roman Catholic could think those days would be better than the best day of a Tory or SNP administration.

Are we stumbling again upon the well-worn sacred/secular split, or perhaps the "my faith won't affect my politics" mantra?

Neither brave nor free

We're used to thinking of the United States as the home of libertarianism and small government, at least compared to the rest of the world, and within America, of the Republican Party as being particularly concerned with this restriction of government interference.

Yet, in the last week we have seen the Bush Administration effectively nationalising Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (much more interesting names than Halifax or Nationwide), to the potential tune of $200 billion. Combined, they guarantee mortgages of $5.3 trillion. Can any of us possibly comprehend these sums of money?

And yesterday, the government announced they would take an 80% stake in the major insurers, AIG, in return for an $85 billion loan.

Now, $285 billion is a lot of taxpayers' money. In fact, assuming we're talking American billions (9 0s), and assuming the US tax-paying population to be 170 million (which is probably on the large side), that's $1675 per person.

Yes, the collapse of Fannie and Freddie would have been horrendous, particularly for Americans, but also for the global economy, but why AIG and not Lehman Brothers.

Further, many people have observed the absurdity of the following argument: governments shouldn't punish financiers for massive bonuses because they're in a risky business where they can make massive losses as well. It seems that, provided you ensure your losses are really really massive, then there is no risk because the government will bail you out.

We're now seeing calls from Democrats for more regulatory intervention. And of course, if the government's going to bail companies out, then why shouldn't it poke its nose in the rest of the time.

Giles Fraser (don't worry, I shall never quote him approvingly again) pointed out the inconsistency of all this in the Church Times, noting that even the most ardent capitalists become state-loving socialists when their own jobs are at risk!

It just goes to show that, for all the talk of small government from Republicans, and from Tories and Lib Dems in the UK recently, no politicians really have the courage of their convictions. Ultimately, the problem is that all politicians really do believe that the State is the Saviour. And it isn't.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Is Hell in the presence of God?

I'm preaching this Sunday on 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.

In ESV, v. 9 reads "they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might." Most translations follow the same idea.

But "away from" is simply apo in Greek. Apo can mean all sorts of things. It can mean away from in the sense of separation. Indeed BDAG, the main lexicon, gives this sense for 2 Thess 1:9. It can also mean from in the sense of source or origin, thus God is the agent of this destruction. It could even have a causal sense. Apo prosopou might then indicate that it is the presence of God which actually causes the destruction: "from the face of God."

As evangelicals, we're used to saying that Hell or our punishment is to be shut out of God's presence, completely and finally, so losing every good thing of common grace - love, friendship, food, happiness etc.

Yet, Jonathan Edwards suggested some 250 years ago that eternity for both believers and unbelievers will be "in the immediate presence and sight of God." Indeed, it is the presence of God which makes Hell Hell. He is so hated by unbelievers, and his glory and holiness so unbearable, that it is in the presence of God that they find the greatest torment.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Understanding Rowan Williams

Is it possible?

This was another gem from John Richardson at Lowestoft Living Word.

It's a major struggle for most Anglicans to understand why Rowan Williams is handling the Anglican crisis as he is. Liberals say he is being dishonest, hiding what he truly believes. Conservatives, while grateful for the small mercy that he isn't pursuing his personal position on homosexuality, also see an element of hypocrisy, and ultimate futility for someone to try to distinguish private and public belief.

No-one can understand how the Archbishop thinks the Communion will ever find a resolution, when the two sides are not just Christians in disagreement, but seem to follow two completely different religions.

Into this fray John Richardson stepped, suggesting that it is Rowan Williams' understanding of salvation which drives him in this, and that he is being utterly consistent with his own belief. I think I'd heard it before, but not so clearly.

Rowan Williams believes that Jesus, on the cross, is not bearing the penal wrath of His Father against sin, standing as a substitute for his elect. Rather God is rejecting rejection. Mankind rejects God, but on the cross, God rejects our rejection (stick with it...). God never rejects or judges anyone, but simply rejects rejection. Therefore salvation is found in rejecting rejection, it is embracing those who reject you, and rejecting their rejection.

Hence, salvation for Peter Akinola, is found in rejecting the rejection of those who reject him. But the same is true for Katharine Jefferts Schori. So, Rowan Williams is not being inconsistent or hypocritical in not siding with either side. Rather, as long as Akinola and Jefferts Schori are at the table together, rejecting each other's rejection, they are moving towards salvation.

Of course, in a sense, that's even more worrying, because it suggests that Rowan will never reach a place where things can no longer be held together. We may even guess that the stronger the resentment and rejection gets between the two sides, the more he will want to hold it together (a perverse version of "shall we sin then, so grace may abound?").

So, Rowan Williams, not hypocritical or inconsistent, just barking!

Monday, 8 September 2008

John Richardson on Eschatology 4


John treated us to an in-depth, in some ways standard, Bible overview. However, there were many treats along the way.

At the outset, John denied the Rapture using 2 Thess 2. Much as I agree there is no rapture, I am undecided on 2 Thess 2, and have heard arguments that it may refer to AD70, not the Second Coming.

John showed:
  1. that throughout the Bible Sabbath is always the carrot ahead of us.
  2. The irony of Abram's name meaning Mighty Father.
  3. Our astonishment at Solomon's failure should be ever greater than it is. There is no prophet active in Israel from Solomon's anointing to Jeroboam's anointing. John suggested that is because Solomon is so unbelievably close to God. Even David had to go through Nathan the prophet. God appeared directly to Solomon and Solomon needed no prophet. Thus our hope of the fulfilment of 2 Sam 7 is even greater, surely this King is God's Son. But he's not, so our hopes crash from an even greater height, and our expectation of God's true Son climb even higher.
  4. Pentecost picks up the story of God's blessing to the whole world from Genesis 11. Since Babel, blessing has always had to be mediated through Israel.

John concluded with the question, why does God do it this way? The answer from Eph 1 is because he wants to create a body to be united to his Son, which is a simply staggering proposition. How wonderful is the mind of God that he would conceive that whole story to make a redeemed people of all nations, who would be a body and bride for his Head/bridegroom Son?

In an earlier talk John noted an application I had not thought of from Christ's body in Psalm 110. If God's plan is to place Christ's enemies under his feet (Ps 110:1), what is his feet (sic)? Christ is the Head, and feet are not heads, so Ps 110 with Eph 1 is saying that God's plan is to place Christ's enemies under his church.


Thank you John Richardson for a thought-provoking and heart-warming week.

JR on eschatology 3

Thirdly, the Christian obscession with signs of the end is rather unhealthy. John pointed out that the two marks on the forehead of Rev 7 and 13 come from Ezekiel 9, in which they are part of Ezekiel's vision. John commented that he's never ome across anyone who expects to see a visible mark of the Lamb, or has wanted to make a film about it, but endless 666 films and theories. Why do our end-times fascinations always dwell on the dark side?

We spent most of our time in Mark 13, and you can see more of John's thoughts on his own blog.

[John had a number of background observations which were superb and eye-opening.
  1. Temple translates the Hebrew "house" and "palace", so we see in Ex 25, for example, that the Temple is God's house to live in the midst of his people, and his palace from which he rules over them. The Temple is also the dwelling from which God's rule extends to fill and subdue creation.
  2. In Gen 4 God puts a mark on Cain to preserve him as he wanders through the earth,which is remarkably similar to the mark of God in Ezek. 9
  3. After the expulsion from the garden Israel is never again able to enter God's presence. When the glory-cloud descends in Ex 40 on the Tabernacle, and 1 Kings 8 on the Temple, Moses and the priests have to leave.]

Back to Mark 13, much of that was background to show that the question from the disciples Jesus is answering is about when the glory cloud presence of God will return to his Temple, a la Malachi 3:1. At this stage John was very positive about NT Wright's work on this. We could add Dick France's excellent NIGTC commentary on Mark.

Jesus' answer is that it won't be as quick or smooth as the disciples hope. The lord's return will be preceded by a time of division, deception, proclamation and Israel will be found unready and unworthy. The abomination will render the Temple spiritually inoperable, and so it will not be this Temple the Lord comes to.

The coming of the Son of Man then in v. 26 cannot be the Second Coming. Also of course because of the this generation prediction in v. 30, which John said used to tie him up in knots until he realised it didn't have to be the Second Coming, an experience many of us have shared at times.

The coming of the Son of Man, Daniel 7, should be understood in the light of Mk 14:62. So John suggests that the resurrection and ascension and subsequent events, possibly up to AD70, are in view, those things whhich the High Priest and his cronies would have seen and experienced.

This coming of the Son of Man is his coming to the real Temple, that is the glory-cloud presence of his Father, the Ancient of Days in the heavenly places, which happens at the Ascension. This tallies with Acts 2:32-34 where Jesus is enthroned before the Gentile mission, the reference to angel/messengers in Mk 13:27.

Thank you John for a tour de force. I'd like to add that when I use to think this was about the Second Coming, I couldn't get past the language of apocalyptic disturbance in 24-25. Dick France has shown that this language is used in OT of judgement against Babylon (Is 13:10) and Edom and other nations (Is 34:4), son doesn't need to be understood of physical cosmic upheaval. In support of John Richardson, I would also add the contrast between Jesus' level of knowledge about those days, those days, those days (all the same time frame, vv. 17, 19, 24), and his ignorance [not getting into that now] about THAT DAY (v. 32).

JR on eschatology 2

Secondly, John took us to Rev 21 for a vision of the future.

I think I must have been slightly sleepy as I'm not sure I followed everything, but here's what I got.

Our life maps tend to be individualistic: where is the end of the world in relation to me.
The Bible's map is a map of the whole of creation, not of my life: where the world has got to, with me in it.

John wonderfully expressed this as, creation is not the stage on which the play is set, rather creation is one of the characters in the drama, which makes so much more sense, in my view, of Romans 8 etc.

John then looked at a biblical theology of Sabbath and rest, seeing that Sabbath is not rest from work, rather it is the work creation was aiming for in the first place.

Ultimately that future Sabbath is finally fulfilled in the reunion of heaven and earth. John combined this with a view of the future of the church as being the marriage-supper of the Lamb.

This vision complemented John's 2 lunchtime talks in which the big theme seemed to be that Christ-shaped-ness of creation and the future. Here John made a number of helpful observations:
1. Jesus is not a plan B, indeed salvation is not a plan B. Using marriage as the obvious example, John showed that creation is shaped with Christ in mind. Marriage was designed in order to show Christ's relationship with his church, not that Christ's relationship with the church was shaped to reflect marriage. In the mind of God, his Son always comes first, and creation is designed to reflect Him, not vice versa.
2. Protology (the study of the first things) and eschatology (the study of the last things) mutually inform one another. They cannot be divorced, precisely because God designed the creation in the first place to mirror his final goal of Christ the King with his redeemed people ruling the physical glorious creation.


Lessons from John Richardson on Eschatology 1

Last week John Richardson spoke at the Lowestoft Living Word Convention.

John preached for 4 evenings and 2 lunchtimes on the subject of eschatology, broadly, a Christian view of the future.

In the interests of short posts (which I like) let's go talk by talk.

First, we looked at Paul's speech to the Areopagus in Athens. John gave a helpful introduction to eschatology, and why it should concern us. As in church, so in life generally, if we have no view of the future, then we have no direction for the present. John suggested an absence of eschatology leads to an exclusively present focus, and an incoherence in our life and ministry.

John's main point from Acts 17 and the NT prominence of the Resurrection is that the big Christian hope is not "I go to heaven when I die" (John later affirmed that he does believe this, simply it is not the final destination) but rather "heaven is coming to earth when Christ returns". John observed that Tom Wright has been particularly helpful on this big idea, though many might disagree with his applications to cancelling 3rd World debt.

The Resurrection also affirms that matter matters. John said physicality is not bad. Where the Greek philosophers' future was a release from the burden of the physical, the Bible's future is bodily resurrection and a physical new heaven and new earth.

I couldn't agree more with John. It was a clear and helpful corrective to a faulty view of the physical which is all too common.

The challenges were: how often is our preaching shaped by the world's question, what happens when I die, rather than the Bible's emphasis on the general resurrection and its concern with the future of the world and the race. [In passing, John did show from Phil 1:21-24, we might add Luke 23:43, that the Bible does also talk sometimes about Christian experience between death and the resurrection.] Also, how do we view the physical? With suspicion and negativity and resignation, or positively and with hope and joy?