Monday, January 25, 2010

What is the church we are trying to help through hermeneutics?

Just a brief post to assure that this blog remains 'alive' ... am in the midst of moving to Christchurch from Nelson and finding quiet moments to write hard to come by.

I see, catching up on some media reading, that for the fifth year in a row Church of England attendance figures have fallen. Further, the average age of churchgoers is 61 (though this may be an improvement as, apparently, there are more children in church). Whether or not our ACANZP attendance figures have also been falling and our average age is 61 I do not know (only God does, as we do not keep 'whole of our church' figures). But I would readily believe it to be true simply because it is possible to walk into Anglican churches in our land and be simultaneously encouraged by the fullness of the congregation and discouraged by the high proportion of elderly people in the it.

OK, all sorts of things can be said about these situations, what to do, and all that. Here I simply make the point that hermeneutics is a contextual discipline in a variety of ways. One of those contexts (for example) for hermeneutics and questions of human dignity is valuing people created in God's image and redeemed through God's love. But another context is (what I will call) 'the future of the church'. A challenging question for ACANZP this year is this: what conclusions might we reach which enhance our mission as a church with respect to lowering our average age of attenders?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The world and the church

In our Hermeneutical Hui on sexuality we will be taking a next step on a journey as a church (associated with the journey of the Communion) in exploring issues in our understanding of the Bible such as Does God through the Bible approve or disapprove of faithful permanent stable same sex partnerships (am hoping we are all agreed that God disapproves of casual sexual relationships of any kind)? To get to that question we are probably going to engage with questions such as What is the Bible, Does it have authority in the church, Is the (obvious) disapproval of same sex relationships in the Bible altered by change in understanding of homosexuality in modern times? And, although some people vigorously disapprove of these kinds of issues being teased out, there will be at least in some people's minds questions of what is 'normal', 'harmful' and the like, including, perhaps, the question whether 'marriage' is a term which can be extended beyond relationships between men and women.

Then, almost certainly, whether mentioned or not, there will be a strong shared sense of the right within a liberal democracy to be able to think, talk and publicly discuss what one believes about matters as fundamentally important to humanity as the ethics of human sexuality, including the ethics of homosexuality.

But in the world (or 'world') the approach to homosexuality moves forward rapidly. Is the church being lost in the wake of the following from the UK ... or is a new kind of fascism rising up in the strangest of guises - this time named 'Liberal Democrat'?

"Faith schools should be legally obliged to teach that homosexuality is "normal and harmless", and gay civil partnerships should be replaced by true marriage, Nick Clegg said last night.

In a pitch for the gay vote unprecedented in its scope, ahead of a general election likely in May, the leader of the Liberal Democrats threw down the gauntlet to his opponents. He called on the Tories, and in particular the Conservative leader David Cameron, who has voted against gay rights, to prove that they really supported full gay equality."

The rest of the report is here in the Independent.

(David Cameron may have an easy way out of this. In Sharia conscious, Church of England established Britain he can point out that 'faith schools' cannot be legally obliged to teach what contradicts their faith. So either faith schools must go, or no such legal obligation can be imposed. My sense is that the former option would be more unpopular with the voters than resisting Nick Clegg's challenge.)

H/T a retweet from Simon Sarmiento

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Questions tied to a frame

OK if we are to make progress on hermeneutics and homosexuality we need some questions. But before the questions we might need a framework onto which the questions may be tied. The framework could help us both frame the right questions we need to ask and assist us to ask all the questions we need to ask.

Here is an initial offering concerning the framework. I will give it in note form rather than as an essay. Actually even the framework consists of questions - we could call them 'preliminary questions'.

The Bible - what is it, how do we read it, what do we do with what we read, along with a number of other questions, are one part of the framework from which we frame questions about homosexuality.

The church - what is it, what role does the Bible play in its life, what is happening in the church which matters in respect of asking questions about how Christians should live, what is God's purpose for the church - ooh, I can think of lots more to say, but will stop here for now.

God - who is God, and who is God in relation to humanity? What does God say to us, how do we hear God's voice?

Society - human beings with just the rarest of exceptions live with other human beings, in couples, families, clubs, societies, church fellowships, social networks, workplaces, teams.

Culture - all humans live in a cultural context, or cultural contexts.

Development - society x culture = development of life. How we live today is different to living in 1800 AD, 800 AD, 800 BC, and 8000 BC. Some things remain the same (we breathe, we bleed when cut), some things are different.

Law - all humans live in contexts governed by laws (unwritten and written).

What else?

Friday, January 8, 2010

What is truth and how do we know it?

A story in the news today is the ramming of a ship in Antarctic waters. One ship is Japanese. One ship (actually a small Stealth bomber shaped boat) is NZ registered. The former is a ("scientific") whaler. The latter is an anti-whaling protester. But which ship rammed which? According to this report, the whaler rammed the protester. And the photo to illustrate the article certainly looks like that is the case.

But here is a video of what happened (sourced from Roarprawn):

As Kiwiblog notes, watch the wake of the protest boat moments before the ramming occurs.

Who rammed whom? What is the truth and how do we know it? In part the answer to the latter question rests with the concept of evidence. But what is the best evidence here? The photo or the video?

For what it is worth, I suggest the video is the better evidence. Note that the validity of this evidence is independent of 'perspective' - that it was shot from the whaler is neither here nor there in respect of the visual of the protester's engines starting up.

Mutatis mutandam - such questions, and the concept of 'evidence' are important for how we study the Bible.

Naturally readers of this blog will put all this together and think of ... Jonah and the whale. A most interesting tale on which we can spend time debating concepts of truth, fiction, fact and fable!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Marinating views on homosexuality (UK style)

Marinating has to do with absorbing, changing taste and texture slowly. Andrew Marin is a US writer who is making his presence felt around the theme of (in my words) 'a new approach by evangelicals to issues concerning homosexuality', particularly with this book, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community. Peter Ould of An Exercise in the Fundamentals of Orthodoxy reports this comment by Andrew Marin after a visit to the UK:

"But the main difference that stuck out to me though, was that from the numbers of straight conservative Christians I talked to in England about the gay community I continued to receive two profound answers that were very consistent among almost everyone I talked to (I’m going to paraphrase here):

'Gays and lesbians are such an ingrained part of mainstream culture that their sexuality isn’t a big deal and we’re (Christians) are already over it'.


'The church isn’t giving the younger generation any theological or practical framework on how to properly engage this topic, and because of that the next generation is scared to say what they believe because they know it won’t be accepted; or they are torn because since there is no framework, how can a traditional interpretation of Scripture actually be lived out in culture when their examples are either dodging the question all together because they don’t want to make a scene or they’re a part of a small minority that thrives on making a scene?'

And from my perspective, therein lies the great debate within conservative Christendom in England. Which route is the church going to take – they’re over it (?), are they going to dig their heals in like American Christians have and fight (?), or are they going to try to figure out how to peacefully and productively engage a growing population of people that doesn’t need conservative Christianity to exist?
What are your thoughts?"

Peter Ould's own response to these comments by Andrew Marin is this:

"Well I’ll tell you what I think. I think the people Marin has listened to are absolutely right. The “culture war” about the acceptance of GLBT people and institutions like Civil Partnerships is over here in the UK. Conservative Christians need to be concentrating on the real issue which is how do we do mission in a country which has a completely different ethical basis than the Judeo-Christian model which we might prefer but that we need to recognise simply no longer runs the roosts in Britain.

"We need to equip the new generation of spirit-filled believers not with the old fashioned rhetorical devices of standing on street corners and berating a pagan culture, but rather with the theological tools to think clearly and biblically about human sexuality in the twenty-first century and how best to reach out to a broken society. Do we do that mission by always telling people they’re sinners, or do we love people first and wait for the Spirit to move in them, never compromising what we believe but at the same time never compromising on recognising the imago dei in everyone?"

I myself, here in Aotearoa NZ, do not want to offer a view on what our 'younger generation' is thinking. Partly because I am not confident of being closely in touch with it; partly because what I do think I know suggests that their might be a mixed response, some quite conservative, some quite open to the way things have generally become in our society (where we too, like the UK, have civil partnerships, except we call them civil unions).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Bible and Cricket

Of course a passion of the Bible is enriched by a passion for cricket. Both, for example, involvement considerable hermeneutical challenges (will that pitch take spin on the last day?). And, as we see in this comment on Cricinfo, the Bible contributes much to the commentary on cricket:

"Mushtaque points out that Smith fell two runs short of a truly beastly number of career runs. He's currently on 6664 ..."

Smith here is Graham Smith, South African captain, and the comment comes after a marvellous knock against England for 183!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 The year of Hermeneutical Hui 3

This blog began after Hui 2 with the idea that some posts and (hopefully) some discussion might be a fruitful contribution to Hui 3 - the 'big one' where we get to discuss Scripture and Sexuality.

I understand that Hui 3 will go ahead next year (I am on the organising committee :) ) and that it could be mid-year that it is held - dates should be confirmed in February.

So, roughly six months to go, which means this blog should get a bit more focused on the question of Scripture and sexuality!

Incidentally, some questions exist, in my mind and in others, about the readiness of this church to engage in the task at hand - the interpretation of Scripture. Our second hui involved quite a lot of interpretation of our personal experiences!!