Thursday, December 24, 2009

Seasons Greetings

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers!

This blog is going on holiday until the 3rd or 4th January.

I will post comments (as able) but not interact with them.

Best wishes

PS For another go at Christmas' hermeneutical challenges, try Clayboy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Maltby on reading the Bible

This blog is dedicated to the challenging question of how we read the Bible. It is premised on the observation that Christians often disagree about what the Bible means - disagreement that can occur between 'liberals' and 'conservatives', Protestants and Roman Catholics, AND between 'conservatives', Protestants, 'liberals' and Roman Catholics. These disagreements mean it is always a lively question when we ask, How might we either reach agreement on a matter of current disagreement, or agree to live with our disagreement.

In the background and foreground is, of course, the particular present matter of disagreement about what the Bible says about how we should live sexually. But there are plenty of interesting if not urgent disagreements among us about a range of other matters: Baptists and Presbyterians read the Bible differently on baptism ... conservatives read the Bible differently on women in ministry ... and on creationism/theistic evolutionism. The following post on the Guardian's Comment is Free offers a good reflection on various matters to do with how we read the Bible and why we read it differently:

It's introductory heading is:

"Not much to do with the Bible
The Bible can be read in many different ways. The church's confusion about sexuality has its roots elsewhere"

This comment piece is by Judith Maltby.

"The question: Is the Bible anti-gay? [Note: this is a topic for the week; others have written on it here, here, and here]

Is the Bible anti-gay? Well, yes: it is anti-gay in the same way it is in favour of beating children, capital punishment and slavery. The question does not get us very far but it does point to a far more important issue of how we read the Bible. Two points to make about that.

The first is the awkward truth is that we all read the Bible selectively. Everybody does: from the most liberal Liberal to the most fundamentalist Fundamentalist. We all make choices (not always very consciously) about which verses, passages and books of the Bible we regard as more authoritative than others. These choices are personal as well as communal. For me, the parables of Jesus are amongst the most challenging and engaging passages in the New Testament and the ones to which I return most often. But that's just me – I wouldn't suggest that everyone must think so. Most Christians would, I hope, privilege Jesus' teaching to "love your neighbour as yourself" over Paul's insistence that long hair on a man "is degrading to him". To read the Bible "proportionately" is to read it with the respect it deserves.

The second point concerning how we read the Bible is that we always read it contextually. We can no more step out of our historical setting, our time and place, our human condition, than Christians in the first or second centuries could. Nothing illustrates this better than the seismic shift that Christians made on slavery. Once seen as part of the God-given natural order – a view endorsed by a reading of the Bible – I hope I am right in saying that it is now universally condemned. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, Christians argued bitterly over the morality of slavery and the Bible resourced the spirituality of the slave owner and the abolitionist alike.

Some might say that the slavery example is too loaded. Here is a middle one. Can one be a Christian and serve in the armed forces or does obedience to the gospel demand the position of pacifism? Does Jesus' instruction to "turn the other cheek" trump Paul's view that the civil authority "does not bear the sword in vain"? Clearly, most Christians for most of the church's history have given the hand to Paul. The 39 Articles of the Church of England condemn pacifism and endorse capital punishment. I am an Anglican priest who values the presence of the pacifist tradition in my church while believing that the use of force can be morally justifiable. I utterly condemn capital punishment while I acknowledge that my position is in opposition to the traditional teaching of my church for the vast majority of its history and that the Bible can be used to defend either view.

The church that I love is able to hold together people who believe in the morality of the just war and the moral integrity of the pacifist. At the same time we appear to be incapable of holding together those who believe that a gay Christian in a loving and committed relationship is living a moral life and those who do not – in fact this is something more worthy of schism than disagreements over the taking of human life. One is left wondering how much the global Anglican psychodrama over sexuality is to do with the Bible at all."

My posting this does not mean I agree or disagree with the sentiment in Judith Maltby's final sentence. What I do agree with her on is that an historical perspective on how Christians have read the Bible might keep us appropriately humble and hesitant about asserting that our reading is the certainly true reading. I also agree that we would do well to think further and deeper about why we can live together with some disagreements and (seemingly) not with others.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas Hermeneutical Challenges

The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are amazing: woven together, with John 1:1-14 added in, they narrate 'the Christmas story'. Compared side by side, examined for possible contradictions, either of each other, or of historical facts (was Quirinius the governor of Syria when Jesus was born?), the two narratives pose a variety of opportunities to apply hermeneutical skills (see post below and comments on it).

One aspect of the narratives are the details. Was there a moving star? If so, what in astronomical terms was it? Does presuming there was some astral phenomenon assist with more accurate dating?

Anglican Curmudgeon offers the first of a series of interesting posts on the date of Jesus' birth. I won't alert you to each of the posts. If you like this first one I am sure you will return to the rest.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas has its own hermeneutical challenges, especially ...

... the challenge of not reading more into the narratives than are there, and the challenge of thinking twice before harmonizing Matthew and Luke's narratives. Technically harmonization is possible, but, as Doug Chaplin at Clayboy observes, the cost may be that we become less 'biblical' rather than more 'biblical' by doing so.

Here is an excerpt from his thoughtful post, Ox and ass and we three kings: Christmas harmonies and evangelical humbug:

"Historically speaking, the main problem with Matthew’s story is Luke’s story, and vice versa. They can be harmonised only by careful suppression of each’s specificity. In Matthew the holy family home is always in Bethlehem. In Luke, they travel directly home to Nazareth after the forty days of Mary’s purification are up. One could go on, but the problem of historical believability is not just an issue for modern sceptics rejecting God’s work – it’s a problem of two contradictory and different narratives.

This historical use of the text is one thing. Preaching is another, and here there are at least two ways of preaching the Christmas story. The first is the one that pays attention to the text, that doesn’t harmonise the accounts, or fit the shepherds and the magi together. In this version it’s appropriate (in Year C – when Luke is the gospel?) to be sceptical about an inn and explore the idea of a guest room. It’s appropriate (in year A – when we read Matthew?) to consider Herod’s bloodthirsty reputation and the irony of astrology guiding pagans to worship, while those who have the prophecies of Scripture use them only to kill. That is a perfectly appropriate and legitimate use of Scripture in preaching, and one where my head and heart unite. I guess on that people of many views can agree."

With respect to separating Matthew and Luke, I would add the small point missed by many Anglicans of my acquaintance: the wise men should only be introduced to the preaching calendar at Epiphany (6 January)!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Writing sensitively on sexuality

Peter Ould of An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy posts a (long) comment made on the Fulcrum Forum by a man called Ken Petrie. I cannot locate that comment on Fulcrum so the link below is to Peter's posting. I offer the post here (i.e. excerpt and link) not so much to endorse all that is said (though my own sympathies are very much in the direction of what is said) but to offer an example of how one can write sensitively yet directly about a controversial matter.

"Because marriages, like everything else human beings touch, will always bear a certain amount of taint from human sin, it follows that a certain humility is necessary in our approach to this divine institution which we mar through our involvement.

"Sadly, the Church has not been very good in its witness to these two truths. For whatever reason, bishops and clergy are too keen to celebrate marriage only as the good gift of God and to ignore the shortcomings of human beings. Therefore, when it was suggested there might be some penitential element when a marriage was celebrated for a couple, one of whom had a previous spouse still living, the General Synod rejected it. I believe the ordained members felt that if a marriage could be seen as sinful it shouldn’t be happening at all, and to make provision for a flawed marriage was somehow to undermine the ideal itself. But the contrary is true; it is only by acknowledging our failings that we uphold the ideal which, for us, is unattainable.

"I wonder whether this is because the English Church is quietly absorbing the sentimental over-expectation of our host culture, or because it has never been able to grasp the implications of Luther’s slogan, Simil justus et peccator. We live in the tension St Paul decribed in Romans 7.21-25 and it is only through Christ that we can amount to anything worthwhile at all. The warning at the end of verse 25 is also apposite. If we seek to enslave ourselves to God’s law we will only become slaves to sin."

The whole may be accessed here.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Is Christian scholarship the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible?

Kierkegaard, Great Dane theologian and philosopher, once said this, as pointed out by Rosemary, in a comment on a post below:

"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament."

This is an excellent challenge from Kierkegaard; a powerful, undiplomatic charge against Christian scholarship that it functions to obscure the plain truth of the Bible, a truth most believers are scared to live by, and so we welcome the assistance scholarship offers in diluting the demands God makes upon us through his written Word.

This is not, however, the final judgment on Christian scholarship of the Bible (i.e. on hermeneutics). It is an important judgment which we do well to pay attention to because scholarship does have ways of diluting the truth of the Bible. One area in which this frequently takes place, and which is welcomed by most Christians is in the realm of money and possessions: sold all yours lately and given the proceeds away to the poor? If not, why not? The answer is likely to include some hermeneutical moves in respect of the text (it does not apply to every reader; looking at other parts of the gospels we find that not everyone gave up all their possessions and wealth; etc).

But hermeneutics also offers considerable help in discerning the truth of Scripture (for example, shedding some light on the meaning of the Book of Revelation, or enabling people to carefully assess two or more competing arguments for some aspect of Christian living (infant baptism v believer's baptism; marriage v celibacy; predestination v free choice)). As a matter of fact, because I understand Kierkegaard's opposition to be to Christendom rather than Christianity, to the State Church of Denmark rather than to churches faithful to the gospel, I do not think Kierkegaard, himself a prolific scholarly writer, would object to most of the work of hermeneutics.

Interpreters of the Bible - following Kierkegaard - should take care not to obscure the plain meaning of Scripture when indeed it is plain and uncontroversial; but when Scripture is not plain and uncontroversial, when even conservative scholars such as Grudem have to set out a series of qualifying steps for sound reading of the Bible, then we should not follow Kierkegaard and pour scepticism upon the great and noble task of hermeneutics!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Perhaps Scripture is not so clear after all!

Wayne Grudem is a North American scholar with a well earned reputation for scholarship, as well as for influence on the life of the church, through being a productive author and speaker, much referred to by many, because he offers clarity and conviction in what he writes and speaks.

In the latest edition of Themelios you can read a published lecture by Wayne Grudem entitled "The Perspicuity of Scripture". As Wayne says, essentially the doctrine of perspicuity is about 'The Clarity of Scripture' or 'The Understandability of Scripture'. I do not think you will readily find a better or easier to understand lecture on this subject than you will find here.

But what do you think about Grudem's setting out of the matter?

According to this lecture Scripture is understandable if a number of conditions are met. I readily agree that to understand Scripture these conditions need to be met. But that raises a question, for me at least:

Is it appropriate to talk about the clarity of Scripture if a series of conditions need to be met before Scripture is understandable?

There is one other matter which intrigues me in in this lecture. Grudem specifically makes the following point about ...

"4.3. Roman Catholic Teaching

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the correct interpretation of Scripture must come from the teaching officers of the church:

The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.[footnote 35]

But neither the teachings of Jesus nor the NT epistles give any hint that believing readers need an authoritative interpreter of Scripture such as the Bishop of Rome. Not even in the first century did the apostles suggest that ordinary believers needed an authoritative interpreter in order to understand Scripture rightly. The Scripture remains clear enough that it is able to be understood, now as in all previous ages, by ordinary believers who will take the needed time and effort, employ ordinary means, and rely on the Holy Spirit’s help."

I find this quite extraordinary as a claim about understanding Scripture rightly. Yes, we can readily agree that the NT does not teach that an authoritative teacher such as the Bishop of Rome is required. But can we so readily agree that,

"Not even in the first century did the apostles suggest that ordinary believers needed an authoritative interpreter in order to understand Scripture rightly."?

What was Paul doing in his writings but (often) correcting the misunderstandings of 'ordinary believers'? What were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John doing but offering an authoritative interpretation of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ for 'ordinary believers'?

Then, as if to underline my point above about the conditional clarity of Scripture, we find that Scripture is not 'clear' but 'clear enough' to those who take, time, effort, and rely on the Holy Spirit:

"The Scripture remains clear enough that it is able to be understood, now as in all previous ages, by ordinary believers who will take the needed time and effort, employ ordinary means, and rely on the Holy Spirit’s help."

But these last six words undermine Grudem's approach to denying Rome's approach to understanding Scripture: "rely on the Holy Spirit's help" ... raises questions such as 'how do we know when the Holy Spirit is helping us rather than another spirit?' The point of Rome's catechetical teaching is that an answer is given to this question, namely, the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome. But Grudem gives no answer at this point. Protestantism, as any church history student will tell us, has seriously fudged the issue of knowing when the Holy Spirit is speaking to us and when the Holy Spirit is not - the fudging illustrated countless times with church division and fragmentation over "doctrine".

There is a way forward here. What suggestions do you offer?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Would Luke's Gospel be accepted by critics of the NPP if it were not already in the NT?

Here is a thought arising from my preparation of material for a seminar on Preaching Luke's Gospel ...

It is widely accepted by Lukan scholars that in neither Luke's Gospel nor its sequel is there an articulation of atonement as the reason for the death of Christ on the cross. Jesus dies on the cross because the Messiah must suffer in order for God's plan for humanity to be fulfilled, but not in order that atonement may be made for sins. Naturally this leads to much pondering: how can Luke, for whom Paul is clearly a hero, be so "un-Pauline" in his theology of the cross? Quickly one can arrive at answers such as, Luke (or, maybe 'Luke' because we may have mistaken as to who the actual author of Gospel and Acts was) wrote much later than we think; he was neither a companion of Paul nor a close reader of his writings. In my own reflection built into the material I presented I proposed that Luke's primary audience, Theophilus, a godfearing Gentile, like the centurions of Luke 7 and Acts 10, had no need for certainty about forgiveness of sins, but did have a need for certainty that Gentiles are included in the plan of God; hence omission of atonement, but not for reason of Luke being ignorant or unsympathetic to Paul's theology of the cross.

Here is my thought: given the stridency in the debate between the 'Old Perspective on Paul' and the 'New Perspective on Paul', might we realistically suppose that if Luke's writings had been lost before the New Testament was formed, but then discovered in the last decade, would we welcome its discovery or discard it? My hunch is that some in the debate (i.e. some Old Perspectivers) would discard it on the grounds that it falls short of the standard set in Romans 3-8.

But the fact is: we do have Luke's Gospel and Acts in the canon of the New Testament. Does that say anything to us about the range of views on the cross which are acceptable as orthodoxy grounded in Scripture?

Monday, November 9, 2009

How dare they leave me out!!!!!!

I have just noticed that the Dunedin School has published their assessment of the Three Worst NZ Theologians of all time ... and I am not there. How dare they.

But you want to find out who they are? Don't you. Read here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The range of the hermeneutical task

Sometimes I think I want hermeneutics to be like searching for oil. There are a range of means of extracting oil from the earth, from the extreme of processing coal-to-oil, through oil from oil sands, to the simplest means of all ... drill a hole in the right place and out it gushes. In other words, I want a method of understanding the Bible, so far elusive, in which any and every part of the Bible yields its meaning upon application of the method, which, naturally, I want to be a simple formula!

But the reality - brought home to me by reading in the second half of Daniel this morning - is that there is no such method for some parts of the Bible are simply opaque!

Fortunately those parts are few, and, relative to understanding salvation, irrelevant.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Read the Bible daily

Bosco Peters on Liturgy draws attention to a wonderful point of common ground between Rome, Canterbury, Geneva, Constantinople and everywhere:

Pope calls for daily meditation on Bible
Published on November 1, 2009 in liturgy and spirituality.

Wednesday’s General Audience to 15,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict called on Christians to learn from monasticism and set aside time every day to meditate on the Bible, “so that the Word of God will be the lamp that illuminates our daily path on earth.” Monastics “were devoted to the Sacred Scriptures and one of their main activities consisted in lectio divina, that is, a meditative reading of the Bible.” The pope reminded people that the Synod on the Word of God in 2008 recalled the importance of reading the Bible and said such reading must be built on monastic theology.

"As monastic theology is listening to the Word of God, it is necessary to purify one’s heart to welcome it and, above all, one must be full of fervor to encounter the Lord. Theology therefore becomes meditation, prayer, a song of praise, and the impetus for sincere conversion."

I am grateful for this notice from Bosco. The future of Christianity rests with finding common prayer together and common understanding of God's Word.

PS My presentation on Luke's Gospel in Christchurch went well. I hope to post the material on the internet soon.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Quite a good argument re gender neutral priesthood

Its on Clayboy (i.e. Doug Chaplin's blog), and entitled "Rescuing priesthood from Witherington’s “perfectly clear” NT". Read it all here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The interpreter Luke and his audience

Still working on my presentation on Luke's Gospel in Christchurch at the end of this week ...

One 'authorial intention' of Luke which we can be pretty clear about because he tell us it is his intention is to help Theophilus to be more sure of the things he already knows.

We also observe of Luke - to pick out one observation of many we could make - that his gospel, for one so close to Paul, is very light on understanding Jesus' death as an atoning sacrifice for sin. Indeed we could fairly readily argue that Paul's atonement theology is non-existent; that the necessity of Jesus being killed is that, according to Scripture, the Messiah must suffer.

Is it possible that Luke is negligent of atoning theology because this is not a matter of concern to Theophilus? If Theophilus, for example, is like the two centurions (of Luke 7 and Acts 10) then he is an upright man, generous to a fault, and keen as mustard on the God of the Jews but unsure whether truly welcomed into God's kingdom as a Gentile. By the end of Acts Theophilus should be in no doubt that the Messiah of the Jews is the Christ of the Gentiles, God's suffering servant for the world, who welcomes him into God's kingdom.

That is, Luke interprets the gospel of Jesus Christ for his primary audience.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Understanding authorial intention in the gospels

One 'trick' of gospel scholarship is to compare similar gospel passages, make a presumption about who is following whom, and deduce some characteristic or another of a gospel writer.

A case in point concerns today's lectionary reading from Mark 10:35-45 (just looking at one aspect). In Mark's version, James and John seek Jesus out and demand seats of power next to the throne. Jesus tips their thinking upside down and they emerge, for the reader, somewhat the worse for the occasion, arrogant upstarts that they were at that point in their careers as disciples. In Matthew's version, the request comes from the mother of James and John (20:20-21) which, most scholars thinking Matthew follows Mark, raises the question whether Matthew is safeguarding the reputation of James and John. Obviously they do not emerge with complete credit from the occasion, mummy's boys that they are (!!), but they are not as power and status hungry as in Mark's account. But is Matthew safeguarding their reputation?

I suggest it is hard to tell. It is possible that Matthew has better access to the reality of the occasion than Mark, so the mother asking is a more accurate reporting of what happened. But it is also possible that Matthew is concerned for the two brothers' reputation, writing some years after the event, in a time when James' lustre as a martyr for the faith is shining brightly, and John's mana as a senior apostle is growing.

Intriguing then is Luke's account of Jesus' teaching servitude to his disciples. In Luke 22:24-27 this conversation (or one similar to it) is placed later than Matthew and Mark, in the discourse at the Last Supper itself; no request is made by anyone, rather a general dispute breaks out as to which disciple is the greatest; and the names of neither James nor John (nor any other disciple) appear in the account.

Is Luke even more concerned than Matthew about the reputation of James and John? Does he edit the Markan account to make a point in favour of the later apostleship of Paul, namely that none of the Twelve was greater than another? Is Luke dealing with another conversation, similar to Mark 10:35-45, and chooses to omit a copy of Mark 10:35-45? (If so, then the question of whether Luke is saying anything about anyone's reputation remains in the air!)

When options have been canvassed we are left (I suggest) with a great deal of uncertainty as we try to guess the intentions of the gospel writers on some matters.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Three Questions

Paul Fromont at Prodigal Kiwi has posted a note about some questions, themselves from linked posts, with a reference to pilgrimage for three of them:

1. “Who is it that you seek?”

2. “How then shall we live?”

3. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

I wonder if these are also hermeneutical questions. That is, questions we might profitably bring to the task of reading and understanding Scripture.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where does time fly to?

I see some ten days has whizzed by since last posting here. That's partly because of working on my seminar on Preaching Luke's Gospel (see a post or two below). Now I am off on a school camp, needing to remember to think, pray, and prepare a sermon for this coming Sunday. Perhaps some inspiration will come re a little something for Hermeneutics and Human Dignity! One of the ideas percolating in my mind concerns the engagement between Scripture and culture (especially when shifts in culture occur within a generation, as appears to have taken place, and, indeed, continues to take place re human sexuality). There are arguments that cultural shift changes the way we understand Scripture (a good example being attitudes to divorce and remarriage). But then there are arguments that Scripture's role is to critique and to counter culture ...

Friday, October 2, 2009

Not Only A Father: Motherly God-Language in the Bible and Christian Tradition

Just noticed, fellow NZ scholar, Tim Bulkeley, is writing a book on God with the title being the title of this post.

It's a book to which you can contribute as it is being written!

Find out more here!

(h/t The Dunedin School)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Authoritative interpretation within the Bible

I have really enjoyed reading a book on Bishop Jewel of Salisbury called John Jewel and the Problem of Doctrinal Authority by W. M. Southgate (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962). It got me thinking a little about doctrinal authority within the Bible itself:

(a) Consensus achieved over time: the canon of Scripture itself is an example of how an authoritative interpretation can be achieved through consensus - this the New Testament is received by the church as the authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament.

(b) Council referral: when certain questions arose in the early church they were settled with reference to a council (Acts 15).

(c) Consulting an apostle: when the Corinthians were troubled by some questions they referred them to the Apostle Paul.

(d) Christ's own authority: within 1 Corinthians Paul appeals to Christ's own teaching (1 Corinthians 7:10) as authoritative.

(e) Complementary collation rather than competition: the inclusion of the four gospels in the New Testament is a stunning example of the church living with variation in the authoritative interpretation of the life and teaching of Jesus. In theory the church could have chosen one and only one version of the Gospel, but it refused to do so. It accepted the four as complements rather than contradictions of each other.

In current Anglican controversy a bit of each of these strategies is being played out.

Some hope that, over time, if we are patient, gracious, and keep talking, a consensus will be achieved.

Some see the answer lying in councils. But which council? Lambeth 1998, for example, or GAFCON 2008 or General Convention 2009?

Quite a lot of consulting of apostles (i.e. their modern equivalents) is going on. But, again, who is right? JI Packer ... NT Wright ... G Robinson ... D Tutu ... R Williams?

Naturally Christ's own authority is invoked! Though curiously, for some, on one issue, it is the authority of Christ's silence on homosexuality, while for others it is the authority of Christ the upholder of the (whole of the) Law of Moses.

Then, as various views are circulating in the Communion, some wish to see the Communion decide on one, others want to attempt to hold all sincerely hold views together.

That's all I have for now.

I guess further questions to consider could include this: do our current controversies have more in common with one question within Scripture rather than another?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Luke's Gospel and the Roman Empire

Here is a little challenge, but, please note, if you take it up and reply with a comment, I am off-line for a few days, so publication of comments will not be till later in the week:

In Luke's Gospel (and in Luke-Acts as a whole) there is an obvious acknowledgment of the reality of the Roman empire woven through the undisguised story of a new movement, replete with a head called Kyrios, which grows from nothing in Galilee to something with a presence in most towns and cities of a significant portion of the empire, including Rome itself.

Is Luke's Gospel:

(a) an attack on the empire?

(b) an apology for the (non-threatening) kingdom of God?

(c) a presentation of an alternative kingdom to the empire? (In what sense is it an alternative? What are it's long-term ambitions?)

(d) none, some, or all of the above?

(I am working on a presentation on Preaching through Luke's Gospel in 2010).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Translation within Scripture

Every so often controversy erupts about Bible translation - one is scattering its ashes through the blogosphere right now, sparked by news of another form of the NIV due in 2011, and fuelled in some quarters by strong criticism of those versions which get anthropos and aner wrong in respect of humanity/man/woman.

One footnote in all discussion about translation is acknowledgement that within Scripture itself translation takes place. An example I came across last night is in Luke 9:1-6 (a reading in the lectionary for this morning's eucharist at St Stephen's, Tahunanui).

In this famous paradigm for gospel mission, Jesus calls the Twelve together and gives them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases. He then sends them out with this task:

'to preach the kingdom of God and to heal'.

With a few more words of instruction they depart, and, according to verse 6,

'went through the villages, preaching the gospel (lit. "evangelizing") and healing everywhere'.

It seems that 'to preach the kingdom of God' is translated as 'to evangelize'!

In this translation lies considerable room for theological reflection and debate. Consider:

- is evangelism announcing the presence of the kingdom of God? (a point N. T. Wright emphasizes, and argues is the Pauline gospel considered in the New Perspective)

- is preaching the kingdom of God announcing the justification of sin through faith in the crucified Christ? (more or less what Paul the Apostle does, especially according to classic Reformation understanding)

- did Jesus preach a message different to Paul? (and Luke here is attempting to unify the two understandings in the context of his great history which spans the mission of Jesus and the mission of Paul)

- is there one message, one 'gospel of the kingdom' (Matthew 9:35) whose dimensions are bigger than many Christians can grasp, which is both a call to sinners to repent (Mark 6:12 // Luke 9:6) and an announcement of God's rule over the world (cf. Matthew 10:7 // Luke 9:2, 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand')?

On the last suggestion, Luke is a clever theologian and literary artist with his subtle, chiastic method of witnessing to the fullest compass of the gospel message!

Also in the last suggestion we note the possibility that Luke, who almost certainly knows Mark's gospel and possibly knows Matthew's gospel as well, is translating other versions of the same story of Jesus' commissioning the Twelve for mission ... and that reminds us of another famous translation in respect of 'the kingdom of God', when John in his Gospel translates it as 'eternal life'.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The plain reading of Scripture

A little dip of the toe into the deep waters of 'plain reading' of Scripture ...

I take the 'plain reading' of Scripture to be the reading which feels natural, obvious, and common sensical, one sign of which could be that, with nine others in the room, on most readings, 9/10 of the group understand the reading the same way as I do.

One feels bounds these days to state the obvious point prior to the obvious criticism being made: Yes, words such as 'natural', 'obvious', and 'common sense' are fraught with difficulty!

Applying this, I suggest that when we read Scripture today, some things about yesterday (i.e. the time when Scripture was written) yield a ready 'plain reading' for today. Thus when we read a passage such as Ephesians 6:5-9 we understand the passage to plainly speak to the situation of bosses and workers today (there being, at least in these parts and thereabouts, neither slaves nor masters). We certainly do not read the passage 'plainly' as either having no meaning for us in an era without slaves, and even less so, meaning there ought to be slaves and masters today.

But, if you run with my argument to this point, what might this mean for how we plainly read a Scripture close at hand, Ephesians 5:21-33. Do we, as we do with Ephesians 6:5-9, make any natural shifts in understanding because the social situation today for men and women is different to yesterday?

Of course there is an obvious difference between the two passages: we do not still have slaves and masters but we still have husbands and wives. Nevertheless, life has changed: even employees and employers in the post-slavery era applying Ephesians 6:5-9 will do so in a social environment which (say) gives workers more rights and employers more responsibilities than (say) pertained in 1859. In respect of marriage, men and women become husbands and wives in a different manner to (say) 1859. There is, for instance, a quite different set of understandings about the nature of 'property' in relation to the establishment of a marriage, including no remaining sense that a daughter is something to be 'given' away by her father. There are also differences in the way the law provides for husbands and wives to exert their respective wills in a marriage (e.g. wife-beating and forced sex is intolerable under the law today).

Is it then appropriate to understand the instruction "Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord" differently to former times, just as we now understand "Slaves, give single-minded obedience to your earthly masters with fear and trembling, as if to Christ"?

Will stop there for now!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The evolution of Scripture

A post or so below I mused a little on the creationism versus evolution debate.

One aspect of that debate is the pitting of an "instantism" versus "incrementalism"; the former being the approach to Genesis 1 which says an awful lot of development of life stuff happened in seven days; the latter being the approach of evolutionary biology which says that life as we know it now is the result of a very, very long process of incremental development of life (with some instantaneous jolts such as (a) the original 'big bang', and (b) the effects of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, meteorite collisions on life).

I sometimes wonder if a problem for creationists accepting incrementalism is a lack of understanding of God's patience!

But I also wonder if creationism arises in intellectual contexts which have little or no understanding of the evolution of Israel's Scripture. A God who dictates Scripture to Moses is compatible with a God who speaks life into instant being. But if God did not dictate Scripture to Moses, if God presided over a long, messy, complex, and somewhat incremental or (as theologians say) progressive revelation to Israel, then God might similarly have presided over a long, messy, complex and somewhat incremental development of life, i.e. evolution.

The Old Testament is widely agreed by scholars conservative and liberal and in between to be an extraordinarily complex set of writings, which include differing lines of theological commitments. Consider:

Genesis to Deuteronomy (the Pentateuch): its origins clearly lie in oral tradition, it has a strong association with Moses as a presiding genius over its writing, yet betrays various clues as to its multiple authorship and final editing during the years of the Babylonian Exile.

Isaiah: the most important book of the OT for the early Christians is written in at least two stages, most likely one before the Babylonian Exile and one after, and thus this book is likely the expression of a school of prophets rather than one lone prophet called Isaiah.

Deuteronomy to 2 Kings (at least) is guided and shaped by the theology of Deuteronomy, that obedience to the Sinai covenant will be blessed and disobedience will be cursed. The perspective of final compilation is that of the Exile: Israel is shattered by the hammer of the Babylonian Empire because of its disobedience. The sequence of post-Deuteronomy history books, Joshua - 2 Kings is often described as the Deuteronomic History.

1 & 2 Chronicles presents an alternative history of Israel, beginning with creation and ending with the restoration from Exile with the decree of Cyrus that the temple in Jerusalem may be rebuilt. Its perspective is shaped by the theology of the Jerusalem Temple: good marks are awarded to kings who honour and progress the worship of Israel in the Temple; the exile is a consequence of defiling the Temple, and its end is marked by the restoration of the Temple.

That the compilers of the Scripture of Israel did not understand this alternative history of Israel to contradict the Deuteronomic History follows from the inclusion of both in the Scripture. (A similar point can be made in respect of alternate creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2)!

But, in turn, this (brief) explanation of some aspects of the character and the development of the OT implies that God embraces messy, long development of Israel's theology, indeed of Israel's complementary theologies. In short God has presided over the evolution of Scripture.

Can we accept that the God of Scripture presided over the evolution of life?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Human Dignity and the Gospel

Archbishop Vincent Nichols (i.e. Dear Leader of English Roman Catholics) preaches:

"... The Father ceaselessly ‘sends out’ the Eternal Word, that expression of the very mystery of God, and does so in the utter, self-emptying love which is also the nature of the Godhead, the love which is the Holy Spirit. This giving out and receiving in of love, which is the very life of the Holy Trinity, is the first and unequivocal meaning of the word ‘missio’. God, of his infinite nature, is ‘missio’ and, of course, ‘communio’. These are the foundations of our use of this word, its most profound truth for us to keep in mind always.

The first outward expression or fruit of this inner ‘missio’ of the Godhead is, of course, the work of creation. St John tells us that all creation, every being, has its existence through the eternally spoken Word of God.

And so that this creation might indeed find its integral and full development or salvation, that Word become flesh in a particular and historical Incarnation. This ‘missio’ of the Eternal Word into our flesh and history gives all the defining characteristics of our sharing in that mission, in our work of ‘missio’ today. It is the full revelation of ‘integral human development’ and establishes for ever the need for the Gospel to be present as an essential part of human progress. Only in the Gospel is the full truth of our humanity told; only in the Gospel, which is Christ, does our humanity come to its true source and fulfilment, the mystery of God and God’s unequivocal love. ..."

The italics are mine, emphasizing the relationship between the gospel of Christ and the truth of human dignity. Inter alia Nichols makes the point that Hermeneutics is constrained in the service of the Gospel, the fullest revelation of the truth of God, which is simultaneously 'the full truth of our humanity': the goal of hermeneutics is human dignity.

The full text of the sermon is here. H/T Ruth Gledhill who makes an interesting point about the character of St Tony Blair's Catholicism!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dawkins: There could be a god so why not start believing in him now and enjoy life?

OK Richard Dawkins does not quite say that, but Melanie Philips reports this about a recent debate she attended (h/t Stand Firm):

"This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn't believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that

...all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection...Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could."

You can read Melanie's whole article here.

Why post this here? Another great issue in 'hermeneutics and human dignity' is the issue of our interpretation of Genesis 1-3 in respect of 'creation', 'evolution', 'creationism', and 'theistic evolution' (a rumble of which is just nudging its way into my consciousness through an email exchange tonight ... raising the question whether a 'theistic evolutionist' is an 'apostate' ... so not an entirely abstract/academic issue)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Admiration and distance from the great men of theology

I admire great theologians from the past. Their greatness lies, in part at least, because they spoke words which still, across many centuries, have the power to inspire, challenge, and enlighten us. Augustine of Hippo, for example, illuminates both exegesis of Scripture and the thornier problems of philosophy. Tertullian stands as a man for our time with his intensely intelligent development of theology in a new language (Latin), in the face of immense challenges from the philosophers and hyper-spirituals of his day. Luther set in train a reflection on Romans which to this day has not exhausted the mysteries of that book, possibly the greatest book of theology ever written. Calvin, well, he was a master of theology, the systematizer of the Reformation, who in these early years of the twenty-first century is inspiring a great movement known as 'the New Calvinism'.

None were infallible. Some parts of Augustine's famous work, The City of God, just seem odd to me. Luther was just terrible about 'the Jews'. Tertullian was a bit odd about the relationship of philosophy and theology: what has Athens to do with Jerusalem? Quite a lot really; and Tertullian with his philosophical approach to theology (like Paul with his Hellenistic rhetorical skills) underlines that! Calvin: where to start? Just about every Calvin aficionado has to defend Calvin from the charge of joylessness, and severity.

Here is another reason to distance ourselves from the faults of these great men:

remember our history - a post by Jody Stowell

he [satan] had a deceitful conversation with the woman - no doubt starting with the inferior of the human pair so as to arrive at the whole by stages, supposing that the man would not be so easily gullible, and could not be trapped by a false move on his part, but only if he yielded to another's mistake.

and do you not know that you are each an eve? the sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. you are the devil's gateway; you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. you destroyed so easily God's image, man. on account of your desert - that is, death - even the son of God had to die.

therefore satan, seeing that adam was the more excellent creature, did not dare attack him; for he was afraid that this attempt would fail. and i believe that if he had attacked adam first, adam would have gained the victory. he would have crushed the serpent with his foot and said: hold your tongue! the lord has commanded otherwise.

woman is more guilty than man, because she was seduced by satan, and so diverted her husband from obedience to God that she was an instrument of death leading all to perdition. it is necessary that women recognise this, and that she learn to what she is subjected; and not only against her husband. this is reason enough why today she is placed below and that she bears within her ignominy and shame.

Back to PRC: A challenge to modern exegetes of 1 Timothy 2:13-14: do you agree or disagree with the line of these four exegetes, that women are less excellent creatures than men?

In my understanding of current 'complementarian' v 'egalitarian' debates (referring to the general thrust of these around the blogosphere, not to any particular comments made on this blog in recent days), there is a very strong agreement between 'complementarians' and 'egalitarians' that men and women are ontologically equal and the dispute is whether men and women are role differentiated (women may not teach, exercise authority over a man) or not.

But this was not always so. The New Calvinists, for example, who are complementarian, follow a theological master who ranks women below men (as per the quote above).

From where does the change in recognition of the true status of women come? If from Scripture, where does that reading of Scripture come from compared to the reading more or less shared across many centuries by Tertullian to Calvin?

My suggestion is that "culture" - in this case the culture of vote-giving, education-providing, career-affirming 20th and 21st century Westernism - has changed the way we all read Scripture, at least reading Scripture so that we do not draw the conclusions these great theologians drew.

Perhaps if we understood better the role - the universal, pervasive role - of culture in reading the Bible, we could work better towards a common Christian understanding of women in ministry!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Calling Kiwi biblical bloggers

On a sidebar I am developing a bloglist of (mostly) Kiwi biblical bloggers.

If you are a Kiwi biblical blogger, or know of one, let me know and I will add you or your recommendation to the list.

I have one non-Kiwi blog, Biblioblog Top 50, 'cause that's a kind of guide to all the world's biblical bloggers!

So far I have Howard Pilgrim, Tim Bulkeley, Mark Keown, James Harding, and the Dunedin School (a collective of Dunedin/Otago Uni bloggers).

Follow up on Wright's Justification

I have now read Tom Wright's Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, alerted to it, and its confrontation with John Piper's The Future of Justification, by Gerald Bray's Churchman editorial.

There is much to like in Wright's book, notably, its large vision of the single purpose of God ("God's-single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world"), its comprehensive reckoning with the whole of Romans (offering an explanation for the chapters evangelicals are not so good at explaining, 2 and 9-11, as well as the much debated ones, 3-4, 5-6, and 8), and its generally inclusive approach to the 'old perspective' and 'new perspective' on Paul, illuminatingly offering Ephesians as the first Pauline writing to provide such combination. The style is brilliant - one of those rare theological books that reads like a thriller - hard to put down, easy to follow.

What's not to like? I would love to see a larger book, or a second volume, one which extended the thesis proposed here to engage with Roman Catholic doctrine of justification, and also with other NT material on justification. The former interests me because (not being well versed in "impartation") I would like to be clear whether Wright's critique of "imputation" is mutatis mutandis an affirmation of "impartation" or not; though in the same breath I need to say that Wright, as myself and others do, constantly attempts to transcend the medieval divide between impartation and imputation with emphasis on the Christian being the one who is "in Christ"; and, further, does not deny imputation so much as minimise its importance within the greater scheme of the true Pauline doctrine of justification.

But a more important "not to like" is that I am yet to be convinced that "righteousness", as Wright conceives it, is unambiguously "covenantal faithfulness". In the book itself Wright is convincing on this, but turn to Romans itself and take in a passage here and there, and "righteousness" seems often to be an antonym for "sin": righteousness is right living as much as it is right relationship (as I was taught in my old vicar Dick Carson's Youth Tea Bible study), where "right relationship" certainly coheres with "covenantal faithfulness". In other words, Wright who is ever alert to the need for "both ... and" rather than "either ... or" as he sets out Pauline theology as far as he is able according to Paul himself, may fall down at this, actually key point: righteousness is obedience to God's commands as well as faithfulness to God's covenant.

Enough for now, suffice to say in conclusion to this post - I may return later with further thoughts - Wright has my very great admiration for being thoroughly evangelical! For evangelical means going to Scripture, wrestling with Scripture, listening to Scripture, and testing all voices of theology with the light of Scripture. Wright does this. He seeks to be beholden to Scripture alone (in this case, to Paul himself and not to his interpreters, even though they be of the stature of Luther and Calvin).

The great challenge for his critics, and a point I think Bray misses in his editorial, is that Wright is only incidentally saying "X is wrong on doctrine of justification". Wright's main thrust is: "This is what Paul is saying justification is through the total of Paul's writing, and it is a little different to what some of his interpreters are saying he says when they work with less than all Paul's writings - I may be wrong, but if I am, you must show me with an explanation of the whole, and not a convenient part of Paul's body of work."

That is quite a challenge!

Response 2 to some issues raised earlier about WO

Request 1: If equality has nothing to do with the demands of women to be accepted for ordination, then please explain this further with respect to Genesis.

I am not sure the extent to which “equality” has something to do with the “demands” of women to be accepted for ordination because I have little or no experience of women “demanding” ordination. I can imagine that equality may figure in a range of conversations about the ordination of women such as (a) women and equal to men (pace Genesis 1) so, all things being equal with men applicants for ordination in respect of calling, gifts, abilities, women should be accepted for ordination, and (b) women should not be denied ordination on the grounds that they are women because women are equal to men in status as redeemed creatures of God (pace Genesis 1 and Galatians 3:28).

But, personally, I do not see how equality can determine an answer to questions about the ordination of women since (c) where there is opposition to the ordination of women it often if not always seems to involve this presupposition, “The (ontological) equality of men and women is not in question; what is in question is the role-suitability of women for the function of ordained ministry.” According to this presupposition a drive for “equality” has no bearing on the matter since the ordained role of priest or bishop is a role confined to men by virtue of the gender restriction on the original apostles and/or the representational aspect of the role – Jesus was a male (the ‘catholic’ argument), or a role not permitted to women – 1 Timothy 2:12 (the ‘evangelical’ argument).”

Question 1: women have an unquestioned role as ‘helpmeet’, a wide ranging role, one consistent with being ordained a deacon, but what is the scriptural justification for jumping from that to overseer and/or instructor?

The question of ordination of women to roles of priest and bishop when put in this form requires some careful calibration with the character of Anglican theologising.

Recall something I have said in a post below:
… a reminder, first, of Anglican approaches to interpreting Scripture. These I summarise as follows: (1) nothing repugnant to Scripture (2) anything consistent with Scripture (3) everything revisable according to Scripture.

(1) is a consistent principle of interpretation through all history of theology

(2) is the hard won result of arguments with Puritans, tested subsequent to the Elizabethan Settlement, never resiled from despite temptations to do so at different times in English history since E1, thus, for example, we subscribe to the orders of deacons, priests, and bishops, as consistent with Scripture though this is not required by Scripture

(3) is the principle of the Reformation, put into practice by the English Reformers, and subsequently has empowered Anglicans to consider proposed changes to faith and practice, including consideration of the ordination of women.

Anglicans, in other words, are prepared to accept church practices which are not “repugnant” to Scripture but which may not be “justified” by Scripture because (e.g.) Scripture simply offers insufficient material for a “scriptural justification”.
A trivial example is the lack of scriptural justification for placing flowers in church as part of church decoration; a substantive example is the lack of scriptural justification for holding annual synods. We do both because they contribute to the life of the body of Christ here on earth.

That there might not be explicit scriptural justification for women being in the roles of overseer and/or instructor need not restrain us from making appointments of women to these roles, providing we understand this as not repugnant to Scripture. The latter determination involves a range of assessments from the evidence of the New Testament for women being widely involved in the ministry and mission of the church to texts such as 1 Timothy 2:12-15. With respect to the former the general argument is that an extension of what we find explicitly in the New Testament (deacon, patron, co-labourers in the gospel, shared instruction by Prisca and Aquila) to roles of overseer and/or instructor is appropriate; with respect to the latter, I argue, that 1 Timothy 2:12 is not a universal prohibition on any woman at any time being appointed to the role of overseer and/or instructor.

Request 2: a scriptural defence of the importance/necessity/worth/integrity of the role of lay women

In my understanding of the New Testament’s narratives of ministry and mission, a wide range of ministry roles are commended explicitly or implicitly. These commended roles are held by men and by women, and they go well beyond the New Testament equivalents of our Anglican ordained roles of bishop, priest and deacon. The New Testament church seemingly could not function without this breadth of ministry. Nor can our modern church function without people taking up the many roles beyond the ‘clerical’ ones. Along such lines lies a scriptural defence of the important/necessity/worth/integrity of the role of lay women (and, of course, of lay men).

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Response 1 to issue raised earlier about WO

(With reference to some issues raised in a comment to a post below)

Argument 1: Jesus did not ordain women as pastors/teachers, or call women to teach and therefore have authority over men so Paul (in, e.g. 1 Tim 2:11-15) confirms that this is right and proper in respect of the order of the church, undergirded as it is by creation and the fall – so arguments about the meaning of ‘authentein’ are possibly irrelevant – including the fact that naming the animals was a role given to Adam and not to Eve. The consequential challenge is to demonstrate from either Genesis or Jesus that women are called to the role of teaching and having authority over men.

I do not think this can be responded to in an Anglican context without a reminder, first, of Anglican approaches to interpreting Scripture. These I summarise as follows: (1) nothing repugnant to Scripture (2) anything consistent with Scripture (3) everything revisable according to Scripture.

(1) is a consistent principle of interpretation through all history of theology.

(2) is the hard won result of arguments with Puritans, tested subsequent to the Elizabethan Settlement, never resiled from despite temptations to do so at different times in English history since E1, thus, for example, we subscribe to the orders of deacons, priests, and bishops, as consistent with Scripture though this is not required by Scripture.

(3) is the principle of the Reformation, put into practice by the English Reformers, and subsequently has empowered Anglicans to consider proposed changes to faith and practice, including consideration of the ordination of women.

To the argument: some minor points to begin with. When engaging with Genesis 1-3 (indeed 1-11) which are important chapters lying at the foundation of all theological reflection about humanity and our relationship to God, some things are theologically ‘clear’, some less so.

Thus at the end of Genesis 1, one of the theological implications of creation is made explicitly clear, namely, that we are made in God’s image, and that we are made ‘male and female’ in that imaging-in-creation, implying a fundamental ontological equality between men and women; and at the end of Genesis 2, another fundamental point is made, that we are made male and female for the purpose of marriage, and marriage is to be an exclusive lifelong commitment.

Less ‘clear’ is the theological lesson of Adam naming the animals. It’s reasonably clear (I suggest) that this signifies a superiority of humanity over the animal species. But can we be clear about other implications of this naming? To draw from that some difference in role between Adam and Eve would have implications beyond the roles of husband and wife, or men and women in ministry: naming animals is a kind of scientific role, should we conclude that women may not be scientists? This would be an absurd restriction on women-in-science, and an outrageous basis on which to make the restriction. Consequently we should look for something more substantive, and, better, much clearer from Genesis before we start drawing conclusions about Genesis providing a basis for restriction of women in teaching and in leadership roles.

The major points for consideration from the argument set out above, then, are these: (a) the (apparent) lack of ordination of women, by Jesus, to the roles of pastors/teachers, and/or Jesus calling women to teach and have authority over women, and (b) the implications of the story of creation and the fall in respect of the relationship between Adam and Eve for ministry roles for women (the connection made explicit by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:13-14).

(a) What did Jesus commission the apostles to do, was it a commission limited to their gender?

At the end of Matthew, Luke’s, and John’s Gospels, and at the beginning of Acts, there are narratives of commissioning of the disciples, mostly, but not exclusively with ‘the Twelve’ in view. But the commission – to baptise, to teach, to make disciples (say, from Matthew 28:20) - is not worked out in practice in terms of an exclusive ministry order of the apostles and of their explicitly ordained successors. Notably in Acts we find ad hoc arrangements being made, along with a broad cast of Christians carrying out the commission of Jesus. One ad hoc arrangement is the commissioning of deacons in Acts 6 because the workload for the apostles has become too great. (The initial deacons, incidentally, are male, but by Romans 16 we have at least one female deacon named). Another ad hoc arrangement is the way ministry leadership develops and incorporates other ministry leaders: Barnabas, for instance, sent to Antioch from Jerusalem (sounds like an ‘official’ extension of the commission of Jesus from Jerusalem based apostles), but then taking initiative to go up to Tarsus to find Saul/Paul to bring him back to Antioch (seems like an unofficial, but inspired thing to have done).

Without canvassing all that the New Testament says about ministry in the days of the apostles, I note two items from a more extensive list of things to consider:

(1) when the apostolic band (Paul, an apostle; Silas, a companion to the apostle; and Timothy, arguably, yes, a minister of the gospel ordained by Paul; plus, the ‘we’, read for the first time in 16:10, is suggestive of Luke, another companion of the apostle joining the band) reach Philippi, their first convert is Lydia, a woman, whose household (without mention of a husband) is baptized, and whose leadership is such that she ‘prevailed’ upon the band to stay. Looks like Lydia was the first leader of the church in Philippi!

(2) The reference to ‘apostles’ in Romans 16:7 which raises significant questions as to (a) the extent of ‘the apostles’ in those days, (b) whether women were numbered among those called ‘apostles’, since one reading of this verse (NOT fairly witnessed to by the ESV) is, “Greet Andonicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” One reason why they might have been accounted as ‘among the apostles’ is that this couple are the ‘Joanna, wife of Chuza’ (i.e. ‘Joanna = Junia’, and ‘Chuza = Andronicus’, h/t Richard Bauckham) of Luke 8:3, Joanna being one of the disciples of Jesus.

In short, the complex, even messy evidence of the New Testament itself, undercuts any subsequent tendency towards a simple deduction that because none of the Twelve were women, therefore Jesus did not intend women to engage in the apostolic commission to teach and to lead the church.

(b) Given the supportive citation of the story of Adam and Eve in creation and the fall when Paul prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12 and justifies it in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, what are the implications of the creation and the fall for ministry roles for men and for women?

In a number of ways, this simply takes us to the way we read 1 Timothy 2:12-15 and apply it to life today. Here goes again! The roles of women in the ministry of the early church of the days of the apostles does raise the question whether Paul was laying down in 1 Timothy 2:12 a blanket ban on all women teaching and leading men in mixed gender congregational settings; a ban on Phoebe, Prisca, Lydia, Junia, Euodia and Syntyche, to say nothing of the prophesying daughters of Philip the Evangelist undertaking any kind of teaching role or leading role in the mixed congregations of the early church. Imagine the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 was not, in fact, in line with a general and, it should be said, somewhat draconian policy, given the esteemed women mentioned above circulating in the life of the early church (most notably, perhaps, Prisca/Priscilla). How might 1 Timothy 2:13-14 have been understood?

“For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”

The first thing that would not have been understood is that women are inherently prone to being deceived and consequently untrustworthy of the role of teacher because this would make a nonsense of the entrusting of the role of teacher to women (re other women and children) in Titus 2:3-5. It would also make a nonsense of the role of Prisca/Priscilla as a teacher of the faith.

More likely is that 2:13-14 would have been understood in terms of the danger of women taking a stance, as Eve did, in which (a) they listen to the word of the devil and permit it to deny the word of God, (b) act upon that word and thus disobey the word of God, and (c) draw men along with them in their disobedience. In the particular context of the Ephesus of 1 Timothy, Paul’s prohibition may have had particularly in mind (i) the cultural context of female dominated religion, i.e. the cult of Artemis in Ephesians (ii) the pervasiveness of false teaching affecting the church, especially a false doctrine of marriage as something to be forbidden. To this false teaching, incidentally, 1 Timothy 2:15, with its affirmation of the goodness of childbirth (and intrinsically also of sex and marriage), may have been a rejoinder.

In other words, 1 Timothy 2:13-14 is invoked because of a specific problem at Ephesus (a problem not confined to Ephesus in the long history of the church), but the implication is that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not apply where women are faithful and obedient to the word of God, allowing the word of God to deny the word of the devil.

Consequently the story of the creation and the fall does not set out for all time a rule for the role of women in relation to men which precludes women from teaching or leading men. We might note, incidentally, that the role of women as ‘helper’ (Genesis 2:18, 20) is a general role of support and supply, of companionship and partnership in the enterprise of life. Nothing in Genesis 2, which ends with male and female as ‘one flesh’ and not as two people in distinct roles, implies a rule for all time about the specific role or roles of women in relation to men, least of all an implication about not teaching or leading men.

If it did then Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, and Phoebe should have been roundly castigated in Scripture for their disobedience to that rule. But in fact we find the opposite: these women are honoured for the way in which they discharge their callings.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Not forgotten ...

... is my intention to respond to some challenging questions posed by Rosemary a few days ago ... but some urgent priorities on my desk need attending to ... and today is an Auckland day trip to Laidlaw College ...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Reading Paul on the ordination of women

A respondent to my post below (see Rosemary's comment to the post) about an editorial of Gerald Bray in The Churchman raises several important points which I would like to respond to, not least because with the points comes a charge that I (and people reading Paul like me) are undermining the integrity with which Paul wrote.

Here are the important points:

"... if I’m not to trust the plain meaning of Paul on that matter, what other matter can I not trust him on? Salvation? Eternal Life? He wrote quite a bit about the necessity of people being able to trust in his integrity .. and yet you’re telling me that he’s not to be trusted in this particular case. The implication is that I can’t trust him on any other issue either ... [and], just continue to make sure you uphold the apparent justice issue, and continue to lack trust in Jesus actions and undermining the authority of Paul ..." That is, (1) what is the 'plain meaning' of Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-15?

"... the devil has convinced us that we must hold upfront positions in order to be equal, we must seek leadership in order to be fulfilled. In fact that service can ONLY be seen in those roles." That is, (2) the church today is deceived into thinking that equality of women with men requires the ordination of women.

"... Rather downputting of so many women who don’t see their roles that way isn’t it Peter? But don’t concern yourself about them ..." That is, (3) the goal of ordaining women, and the continuing upholding of that goal is at the expense of women who do not seek ordination as a validation of the ministry they do have.

Here I will not attempt a long answer for which I can refer to some posts on Anglican Down Under I made some time ago, here, here, here, here and there. So, some brief responses:

(1) on the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the question is whether any exegete understands the 'plain meaning' because there is vigorous scholarly debate over (a) the meaning of the word, authentein, in 2:12 (to have authority or to usurp authority), and (b) the meaning in 2:15 of 'being kept safe, or being saved through childbirth, or by bearing children, or by bearing The Child.' In my view the difficulties in 2:15 raise the serious question whether the prohibition in 2:12 is not only concerned with female usurpers of authority but also with the content of their teaching as doctrinally unsound because it involved denial of the inherent goodness of our sexuality (see also 1 Timothy 4:3).

My argument is that, in the light of the positive affirmations of women in ministry leadership elsewhere in Paul's writings, these uncertainties mean we cannot be confident that we understand the plain meaning of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 to be a universal prohibition for all time of all women who might be ordained to the priesthood or episcopacy (which ministries normally include teaching and leadership). I accept, of course, that many Christians believe they read Paul in 2:11-15 plainly and have excellent grounds for rejecting the ordination of women. This belief necessarily includes a confidence in understanding authentein and the tricky questions concerning salvation in 2:15 which I (and other esxegetes) do not share.

Incidentally I am not at all satisfied that engaging with Paul's writings by asking questions of it should incur charges of 'not trusting' him. Plenty of questioning of Paul goes on in the evangelical wing of the church, let alone within the whole church. Is it trusting or not trusting Paul, for example, to downplay or even deny the validity of speaking in tongues or exercising spiritual gifts such as words of knowledge (1 Corinthians 12, 14) as many evangelicals do?

(2)It is quite possible, indeed probable that in some places in the church people are deceived into thinking that equality of women with men requires the ordination of women. (Intriguingly this could mean that many Protestants have been deceived by the devil but all of the Roman and Eastern churches have withstood the devil's wiles!!) But arguments for the ordination of women do not require a linkage with 'equality'. Speaking personally (i.e. not trying to second guess the arguments of others) I support the ordination of women as a recognition of calling, gifts, and abilities of women the church discerns as able to fulfil the role of deacon, priest or bishop. In my view the church should not ordain women as a matter driven primarily by justice considerations but foremost as a matter of responding to the discernment of the will of God.

(3) I am well aware that in various parts of the church there is an unfortunate clericalism whereby the earthly glory and praise for ministry roles goes primarily to the ordained with lay ministers being ignored, taken for granted, or generally overlooked when ministry is commended - a clericalism which has simply extended its scope with the ordination of women. This post, for example, bears witness to that fact.

But I fail to see any necessary linkage between ordaining women and putting down the ministry of women who are not ordained. Speaking personally I make it my aim not to glorify ordained ministry, especially not in comparison to lay ministry. Speaking from the Diocese of Nelson where lay and ordained ministry, of men and of women, mingles side by side, and where lay and ordained ministers are welcomed and encouraged to participate in our annual Leadership Conference, I humbly assert that it is possible to affirm the ordination of women and to affirm the ministry of women who are not ordained, without anyone being put down.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Undermining creationism, supporting women's ordination

I have never thought of this argument before, in respect of engaging with creationism as an interpretation of Genesis 1 in which each 'day' is literally 'twenty-four hours':

"In particular, it is impossible to be dogmatic about a twenty-four hour creation day when the sun and moon were brought into being on the fourth of them—how was the ‘day’ measured before that?"

This blow comes from an editorial by Gerald Bray in The Churchman - an editorial tackling a number of controversies within Anglican evangelicalism. To be fair to the breadth of the concerns of Gerald Bray in this particular context he also aims his sharp mind against the ordination of women:

"Within the church itself, the ordination of women is clearly against the teaching of the New Testament, particularly if it leads to giving them authority over men in the church (as it must do if they are to be appointed bishops.) Others may take a different view, but the Apostle Paul cites both creation and the fall as grounds for this prohibition (1 Tim. 2:11-15) and we are not free to dispute his judgement in the matter. Unpopular as it is, we must be prepared to take a stand on a matter of clear biblical principle, even if we get into trouble with our peers and contemporaries for doing so."

What I find disagreeable here is the easy assumption that not being 'free to dispute [Paul's] judgement in the matter' is the end of the matter. This is wrong-headed. The crucial judgement in the matter is the supposition that 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is a universal application through all time to all church contexts. We are free to question that supposition (for it is our judgement of the application of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and not Paul's) and, if we think we have some answers to the questions we pose the passage, to dispute supposition by arguing that there are circumstances in which women, like men, may be validly ordered and authorised for the ministry of leadership of congregations, parishes, and dioceses. In doing so there is no need to dispute Paul's own judgement in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (i.e. that a particular circumstance required his prohibition).

Just as Bray astutely observes that on a close reading of Genesis 1 there is a contradiction between the use of 'day' as a literal measure of time passing when the basis of time passing, the presence of the sun and the moon has not yet occurred, so we may astutely observe on a close reading of the New Testament that there is a contradiction between 1 Timothy 2:11-15 understood as a universal prohibition and the evidence of the ministerial authority of women according to Romans 16 and other passages.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

His Piperness and His Wrighteousness

Have started reading Wright's Justification (see a few blogs below). Managed to buy this book at our local conservative Christian bookstore. Honestly, I did ask if Piper's book was there as well, but, no, they had it not. Fortunately, thanks to a commenter below, I have been able to download it, from here. You can too, if you want. It's a 2.23 Mb file.

Well, it's too soon to give a verdict on either book, or a comparison between the two, or whether Gerald Bray's recent Churchman editorial is on the money (also see a few posts below for the link).

But here's the thing. Wright writes like the wind. He is brilliant. Better, BRILLIANT. Such turns of phrase, such intelligent pithy summations of complex issues. It is an exhilarating experience to read Wright at his racy best. Piper writes well but, well, a little pedestrian by comparison to his nemesis.

More soon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Unbearable texts: Baldman, Robin, and Child-killers

Even the most diverse set of interpreters of the Bible might agree on this simple proposition: 2 Kings 2:23-24 is one of the most challenging texts to preach on in a family service!

Doug Chaplin of Clayboy offers a thoughtful series of responses to the possibility of preaching on the passage.

Would you preach on 2 Kings 2:23-24? What would you say? Might one be spared the task because the lectionary should judiciously omit the passage? (!!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

This books points us in the right direction

As an observer of many developments in Christian debates over homosexuality, I have had much to ponder.

One of the things I ponder is the question of whether we are framing the issues in a way which will lead us beyond tit for tat argumentation ending in non-negotiable stand off. There is something unproductive, for instance, in the conservative Christian community saying to homosexuals, "You are in the wrong, you must change, when you do you will find church to be warm and welcoming", and homosexuals unchanged by this, in some instances remaining in fearful invisibility, in others remaining composed and bold in response, "We are who we are, we are not wrong, why are you afraid of us?". There is also something unfruitful for our mission when this leads to societal perceptions that the church is 'anti-gay'. What would Jesus do? The gospels imply that Jesus would do things differently, that he who answered loaded questions with unexpected answers that evaded traps would frame the matters which vex us in a way which would avoid the traps we have fallen into.

Andrew Goddard has read a book which may be helpful. He offers a comprehensive review here - comprehensive in the sense that it might just mean one doesn't feel the need to actually read the book for oneself. The book details are:

Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community, IVP USA, 2009. ISBN 978-0-8308-3626-0

("IVP" for those unfamiliar with this publisher is a leading evangelical publishing house).

Any thoughts?

Andrew Marin's blogged thoughts are here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Graham Stanton, 1940-2009, RIP

Arguably NZ's greatest biblical scholar, Graham Stanton, Lady Margaret's Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge, has died.

Notice of his death, and a brief memorial is posted here.

It was my privilege as a theological student in Dunedin to hear Graham Stanton lecture at the Knox Theological Hall in 1985 or 86, and later to meet up with him briefly at a conference in the UK in the early 1990s. More recently I reviewed one of his books, which he noticed because he mentioned it to an uncle of mine who lives in Cambridge!

He was a gentle man, a generous scholar, and a gracious Christian.

For a fuller obituary, see here.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Cranmer on Interpreting Holy Scripture

A post by Mark Thompson on a lecture series by Ashley Null (the world's foremost expert on Cranmer) has led me to the first Homily in the great, but little read, Books of the Homilies. This homily is various entitled, HOMILY ON THE READING OF SCRIPTURE, and A FRVITFVLL EXHORTATION TO the reading and knowledge of holy Scripture. The whole is accessible here (and all the homilies of the two Books of Homilies here).

In the course of this homily on reading Scripture Cranmer (almost certainly the author) writes about understanding Scripture (I have emboldened the most pertinent sentences):

"How most commodiouslie and without all perill the holy Scripture is to bee read. Read it humbly with a meeke and lowly heart, to the intent you may glorifie GOD, and not your selfe, with the knowledge of it: and read it not without dayly praying to GOD, that he would direct your reading to good effect: and take vpon you to expound it no further, then you can plainely vnderstand it. For (as Saint Augustine sayth) the knowledge of holy Scripture, is a great, large, and a high place, but the doore is very low, so that the high & arrogant man cannot run in: but he must stoope low, and humble himselfe, that shall enter into it. Presumption and arrogancy is the mother of all error: and humility nedeth to feare no error. For humility will only search to know the truth, it will search, and will bring together one place with another, and where it cannot finde out the meaning, it will pray, it will aske of other that know, and will not presumptuously and rashly define any thing, which it knoweth not. Therefore the humble man may search any trueth boldly in the Scripture, without any danger of errour. And if he be ignorant, he ought the more to read and to search holy Scripture, to bring him out of ignorance. I say not nay, but a man may prosper with onely hearing, but hee may much more prosper, with both hearing and reading.

Scripture in some places is easie, and in some places hard to bee vnderstood. This haue I sayd, as touching the feare to reade, thorow ignorance of the person. And concerning the hardnesse of Scripture, he that is so weake that he is not able to brooke strong meat, yet he may sucke the sweet and tender milke, and deferre the rest, vntill he wax stronger, and come to more knowledge. For GOD receiueth the learned and vnlearned, and casteth away none, but is indifferent vnto all. And the Scripture is full, as well of low valleyes, plaine wayes, and easie for euery man to vse, and to walke in: as also of high hilles & mountaynes, which few men can climbe vnto.

GOD leaueth no man vntaught, that hath good will to know his word. And whosoeuer giueth his minde to holy Scriptures, with diligent study and burning desire, it can not bee (saith Saint Chrysostome) that hee should bee left without helpe. For either GOD Almighty will send him some godly doctour, to teach him, as hee did to instruct Eunuchus, a noble man of Aethiope, and Treasurer vnto Queene Candace, who hauing affection to reade the Scripture (although hee vnderstoode it not) yet for the desire that hee had vnto GODS word, GOD sent his Apostle Philip to declare vnto him the true sense of the Scripture that he read: or else, if we lacke a learned man to instruct and teach vs, yet GOD himselfe from aboue, will giue light vnto our mindes, and teach vs those things which are necessary for vs, & wherin we be ignorant.

How the knowledge of the Scripture may be attayned vnto. And in another place Chrysostome sayth, that mans humane and worldly wisedome or science, needeth not to the vnderstanding of Scripture, but the reuelation of the holy Ghost, who inspireth the true meaning vnto them, that with humility and diligence doe search therefore. He that asketh, shall haue, and he that seeketh shall finde, and he that knocketh, shall haue the doore open (Matthew 7.7-8).

A good rule for the vnderstanding of Scripture. If wee reade once, twice, or thrice, and vnderstand not, let vs not cease so, but still continue reading, praying, asking of other, and so by still knocking (at the last) the doore shall be opened (as Saint Augustine sayth.) Although many things in the Scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken vnder darke mysteries in one place, but the selfe same thing in other places, is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and vnlearned."

Cranmer recognises that Scripture is not always easy to understand, values the role learning and scholarship bring to understanding Scripture, but is confident that even the unlearned and those without access to the learned can understand Scripture with God's help and a willingness to (a) read a passage repeatedly and (b) search for another passage in Scripture to throw light on the difficult passage.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Barth on Romans (re Piperighteousness and Wrighteousness)

I appreciate very much the engagement with my post below linking to Gerald Bray's editorial re the Piper, Wright exchange on righteousness and Romans.

Yesterday I had a few minutes to indulge in a visit to the John Kinder Theological Library where a copy of Wright's Justification book was on its new books stand. A few minutes dipping into it assured me that Wright has not indulged himself with a superficial flirt over the issues. (Though it was not long enough to be able to say that at every point in his argument he offers a depth that Bray implies is not there in the book).

Anyway, it happens that I am very slowly making my way through one of those books which fall into the rather large category called "Books I should have read much earlier in my pretentious life as a scholar". In this case it is Karl Barth's commentary on Romans. This comment from his preface to the second edition is worth reproducing here:

"For example, place the work of Julicher side by side with that of Calvin: how energetically Calvin, having first established what stands in the text, sets himself to re-think the whole material and to wrestle with it, till the walls which separate the sixteenth century from the first become transparent! Paul speaks, and the man of the sixteenth century hears."

A wonderful statement of the goal of hermeneutics ... and a challenge for our assessments of Piper and Wright: who breaks down the walls between the first century and the twenty-first century?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Wrighteousness of God

One of the storm-centres of hermeneutics today concerns our understanding of Romans, Galatians, and justification as taught by Paul in those epistles. The storm is the whirlwind generated by the (so called) New Perspective on Paul, in which the "old" storm-centre, debate between the Catholic impartation of righteousness through the sacraments and the Protestant imputation of righteousness through faith, is challenged by focusing on justification through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. The New Perspective is in fact several perspectives, associated with scholars such as E.P. Sanders, J.D.G. Dunn, and N. T. Wright. The last mentioned's great populist influence means he has been subject to extraordinary critique, including a recent and widely noted one from John Piper, leading American pastor and preacher.

Who is right? readily becomes, Is it Wright? (!!)

Gerald Bray takes up the question in this editorial in The Churchman wittily titled, The Wrighteousness of God.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sometimes it is embarrassing to be an Anglican

... like when Anglican inanity can be mentioned in the same article about the plight of women as Islamic cruelty, as Rosemary McLeod has done recently, writing for Fairfax Media, under the title of Vital Work for a Ruling Gender.

Among the stupid and painful things involving women suffering from male dominance she highlights this:

"But maybe the quaintest treatment of women is currently in the Anglican cathedral in Blackburn, England.

Worshippers there are offered a separate supply of "untainted" communion bread for those who object to its being consecrated by a woman priest.

A special container of bread blessed by a bloke is produced during Sunday morning service there if a woman is presiding, as may now be the case, since Sue Penfold has become one of its three canons.

She may have an advanced degree, but you never know where she's been, or if her fingernails are clean.

Worryingly, visitors from out of town could attend services at which she presides without knowing that proper male- blessed bread is available.

They could find that she had blessed it, having consumed it, and come over all queasy.

The church hierarchy at Blackburn opposes women's ordination, so how Dr Penfold sneaked in there is a mystery.

The congregation normally numbers 200, six of whom are known to reject her blessing on the grounds that women should not be ordained in the first place.

Such shenanigans are of great interest to lapsed Anglicans like myself, who never had such vital, pressing matters to torment ourselves with - it was all men in my day.

Nor did we ever wonder why they wore frocks, which were sometimes lavishly embroidered.

I always assumed this was in natural deference to the superior sex who carried out the most vital work in the place or worship. I refer, of course, to their splendid flower arranging."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The contribution of experience to hermeneutics

The Diocese of Niagara (Canada) has announced a new 'sacrament of blessing' which may be used for the occasion of civil marriage/partnerships. On their website one can find this material in support of a theological background to this new sacrament.

Reading it I am struck by the explicit and unembarrassed exaltation of the role of experience to trump the united witness of Scripture, tradition, and reason.

Indeed a paragraph in the introduction to this document nicely captures the flavour of the document as a whole (my italics):

"The first essay, A Theological Justification of Blessing Same Gender Relationships, by Brian Ruttan, argues directly for blessing of committed same gender relationships by integrating common Canadian social experience into the theological foundations provided by scripture, reason and tradition."

About 1001 questions run through my mind when I read this kind of thing! But the question which jumps out at me is this: who decides that 'common Canadian social experience' is worthy of integration into theological foundations along with scripture, reason and tradition?

But, generally, the question I am highlighting here on Hermeneutics and Human Dignity is this: what role does experience play in hermeneutics?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

People, gospel, issues in human sexuality

Richard Kew is as thoughtful a priest as you can get, with the added bonus that he has deep knowledge of both TEC and the C of E, having worked for many years in the former, and grown up in the latter, to which he has recently returned to work. His whole post, sparked by reading Oliver O' Donovan's recent book, A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The churches and the gay controversy (London: SCM Press, 2009), and discovering that one of his 'nearest and dearest' is actively gay, is worth reading. I give just a few paragraphs here:

"Rather than pontificating, he graciously nudges us to look at issue within the context of the changed realities with which we live in an evolving culture. Each relatively short chapter asks us to come at the topic using tools of ethical and theological scholarship, Scripture, hermeneutics, and measuring these against the substantial doctrines of creation and redemption. Sometimes he speaks overtly about being logical and reasonable in our quest, but on almost every page he is whispering this as if between the lines.

Why is it, he asks, that this one little thing has proved so explosive and divisive? Well, comes back the answer, it depends what you mean by 'one little thing?' How little actually is this? In the fourth century the church as it went through the exercise of creed-making seemed to be riven over one little iota, but in reality that discussion was about a great deal more because at stake was affirming a truthful understanding of the nature of God or one that is idolatrous. Are we, he asks, in a similar situation here?

While never exactly giving a definitive answer to such a question, by leading us along a number of different pathways as we approach the topic he leaves us nodding and saying, "Yes, there is an enormous amount at stake here of which differing understandings of human sexuality are merely the trigger."

Part of what is being said is that we have probably not given as much attention as we should to the changing social climate of the world in which we now live. Certainly since the nineteenth century, and especially within Anglicanism, there has existed a 'liberalism' that has modulated disagreement and enabled diversity to exist within the context of a generous unity. This underlying liberalism has been able to step back, untangle the skein, reconcile conflicting views, tone down exaggerated positions, forge coalitions, square circles, and in the process find a commonsense way through (page 5)."

Richard Kew does not do hermeneutics per se here as he reflects, but he leads us into the nuances of the contexts of society and church in which we seek to do hermeneutics. Worth a look.