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."