Friday, March 31, 2017

On Scripture

Sola Scriptura?

Read this post (and comment following) then answer the question!

It strikes me that proponents of Sola Scriptura may too readily overlook all the ways in which even the most Scriptural of Christians do not actually live by "Scripture alone" (using commentaries, approaching Scripture with the guide and guardianship of the creeds, endorsing preaching as means of bringing understanding of the bare text to the congregation).

But just before we strike Sola Scriptura down, let's acknowledge the Reformers were no fools. There was a reason for their holding up Scripture as the ultimate determinant of the message of salvation. Something had gone terribly wrong in the reading of Scripture in and by the church towards the end of what we now see as the medieval age. A church promoting indulgences as a means of raising finances to build an edifice is not a church reading Scripture with the grain of Scripture. Nor is it a church understanding, let alone fulfilling its responsibility as guardian of Scripture.

Part of the point of the post linked to above, as I reflect on it, is that just as there are different ways to understand Sola Scriptura so there are different ways to understand "not Sola Scriptura."

One of those ways, in Western Christianity at least, goes something like this (at least in the minds of Protestants!): Scripture and Tradition inform the Christian mind; with Tradition being the accumulated knowledge of the church as it has discerned the mind of Christ through many centuries; so "not Sola Scriptura" means Scripture PLUS Tradition, two streams of knowledge and revelation from God, the key to holding both together being the church. Cue arguments for a formal Magisterium or an informal magisterium via theological faculties; for acknowledging "tradition" but not "Tradition"; for Sola Scripturists being extremely dubious about Tradition (if not tradition) because the former has permitted strange (= unscriptural) doctrines like the Assumption of Mary.

But another way, heralded in the post, is that Scripture is a text in which there are treasures of spiritual knowledge, indeed, better, one treasure of knowledge, Jesus Christ, and the shortfall to "Sola Scriptura" is that it offers a limited understanding of that treasure whereas the church's gift and task is to corporately read Scripture (i.e. gathering all readings together, past as well as present) so that the full knowledge of Jesus Christ, from every page of Scripture is brought forth into the light.

I remain somewhat Protestant about the first kind of "not Sola Scriptura" and I am drawn to the Orthodox direction by the second kind of "not Sola Scriptura."

Thursday, March 30, 2017

A Duty to Live? This Saturday 1 April at the TC

If you are in Christchurch and have nothing planned for Saturday, why not come to this event ...

Yes, we have had feedback about the sub-title, "A Duty To Die?" and how it sounds like the event is pre-loaded in one direction. Well, the event isn't so. And, well, sub-titles which provoke reaction have done their job well!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

On spirituality

Once again, looking at Psephizo, there is something to ponder. This time on spirituality and evangelicals.

Of particular interest, inter alia, is this observation from Alister McGrath:

"They [evangelicals] seem to assume that reading the Bible is unproblematic, and is in itself an adequate approach to spirituality."

So, reading the Bible: is that all there is to spirituality? (Assuming, of course, some prayer as well).

And, is reading the Bible unproblematic?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

On ordination

Last Saturday Bishop Victoria Matthews ordained four deacons as priests. Four very fine people with whom it is my privilege to have involvement through my role as Director of Education for the Diocese.

It is over thirty years since I was ordained a deacon and later this year it will be thirty years since I was ordained priest. Looking back to those years I am very grateful for a strong sense of the call of God, catalysed by an evening with a friend and colleague in a parish in Timaru, en route to my final year at Knox Theological Hall in 1986. (That friend was at the ordination on Saturday!) I am also grateful for my two ordination retreats, the first conducted by the late Robin Smith and the second by Hugh Paterson. Through those retreats a sense of the width of the Anglican church into which I was being ordained was engendered. Also, a sense of the adventure of being a clergyperson made it all seem exciting. (Am I allowed to say that?)

Funnily enough, my curacy, in the Parish of Shirley, was very exciting. (Yes, I know. I got married during that time, and that was exciting, but I am thinking of a series of amazing pastoral encounters). Not today, but another day, perhaps in an autobiography, I will write more. Suffice to say here that I had a series of pastoral encounters which I thought indicated what all parish pastoral work was like. Actually, I later discovered, not every parish is the same, and no parish since has been quite as exciting and interesting as Shirley was in those years.

Something which had nothing to do with the Parish of Shirley per se, but in which the character of that parish played a part, was an ongoing debate in the then Diocesan Ministry Committee to which I was appointed as a younger clergyperson. In essence the debate concerned whether ordination was functional or ontological.  Had I been ordained to fulfil a function in the life of the church? If so then I had been admitted to a particular order of ministry, certain functions to fulfil.

Or, was I a different kind of person in the church? Through ordination had God changed me? Not simply a change of status, Peter the layperson to Peter the clergyperson, but a change in some other way. I cannot now remember whether the ontologists among the committee defined that change but I suppose it was in the sense of being a person through whom God worked in certain ways, not least to effect change in the elements of bread and wine brought to the priest for consecration to become the body and blood of Christ. But I also recall some sense in which the ontological change was about Peter the person becoming Peter the pastor, especially equipped by God to bring God to people.

At the time I was a vigorous supported of functionality. Apart from my general evangelical commitments leaning that way, the Parish of Shirley was a low church, evangelical parish (still is!) and together in that parish we held that all were ministers of the gospel, all were filled and equipped by the Spirit and, frankly, why couldn't laypersons preside at the eucharist? (Recall, older members of the Diocese of Christchurch reading here, that the 1980s was a period when the Diocese seriously commissioned research into lay presidency).

Well, life has moved on. Perhaps I do not get out enough, but I do not hear people hereabouts talking about ontological v functional priesthood, nor do I hear calls for a new consideration of lay presidency. Nevertheless even if the question of ontology or functionality is not being discussed I do not think the question has gone away. I am sure, for instance, that it sat with us on Saturday as catholic, evangelical and moderate congregations of the Diocese came together.

What about my own views?

I think I would be less vigorously in favour of pure functionality against arguments for ontology. But not so much because I have become a partial let alone complete ontologist regarding ordination. More because I recognise the mysteries of God's workings. God is up to something in (all) people's lives, and some specific somethings are being worked out in those who are ordained, somethings which contribute to the life of the body of Christ.

Actually, I think what I am confident of is this: all ontological change in an ordained person is like salvific change in every believer. God graciously initiates his work in us, but we keep facing pivotal moments when we choose to "work out our salvation/ordination". The work of the Spirit in ordination can be quenched ... or allowed to flow into every part of our being.

Monday, March 27, 2017

One of the great theological mysteries

It is pretty uncontroversial to say something like this: the greatest theological mystery is the Trinity. But on the basis of this book review, I wonder if equal or close equal in mystery is the question of salvation.

Recently here I raised some questions about the Epistle to the Romans and what its central concern is. A good debate ensued. Critical to all debates on Romans (and Galatians) is the question of God's grace, our salvation, becoming right with God and continuing to live in a right relationship with God. In those posts I touched on the debate engendered by the so-called New Perspective on Paul (NPP).

As that debate rages on in scholarship (and also in approaches preachers are taking to preaching Pauline epistles), it is obvious that the opportunity is ripe for some kind of bridging between the NPP and the "old perspective". John Barclay's recent book Paul and the Gift is the best candidate I know of to be that bridge.

Accordingly, I encourage you to read the review by Tim Foster (who teaches Down Under at Ridley College, Melbourne).

Not only does he question whether this book is "that bridge", he also lays out beautifully and simply the complex thesis which Barclay advances.

And as he does so, Foster sets out the great theological dilemma of understanding salvation by grace. What does grace expect of us after we are saved (or, if you like, as we are being saved)?

Fascinatingly, the answer involves compliments to Calvinism ...

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Where do we meet God? Special Aotearoa reflection

Recently Ian Paul, blogger at Psephizo, visited our fair shores. I knew this from a Tweeted photo sent by Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley who met with Ian and his wife in Hamilton a week or two back.

In his latest post Ian reflects on the question of whether God meets us in special places, beginning with a reflection on encountering special/sacred sites for Maori.

Please comment on his reflections at his post (here).

But more general comments regarding sacred spaces are welcome here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It is all happening

To be honest, I have little to say today. What is worth thinking about are some comments I have just posted to the previous post, comments which illuminate the possibilities when we think theologically with theo-logic rather than theologically with today's-thinking-logic.

But, if it interests you, today has possibilities to reflect on tomorrow: a training day followed by an ordination of four deacons who will be priested.

There is a cricket test starting.

A quick glimpse of a headline suggests Trump cannot get the new health care bill over the line.

See you soon!