10 Dec 2013
The Church of England has been thinking seriously about same-sex relationships. Very seriously, in fact, as is clear from the recently published Pilling Report, a report to the House of Bishops by a working group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling. (Hence the name.)
It's a long report, but it's definitely worth reading. However, if that's not your cup of tea, I'm going to try to offer a very brief summary of the report here, without much comment of my own.
The group consisted of four bishops and four other people. I have to say I was very impressed with the quality of the discussions the group has had. The members of the group were chosen to represent very different positions within the Church, and they have clearly listened carefully to each other and tried, very successfully, to understand each other. They have had conversations with innumerable people, seeking to learn about their experiences and convictions. At its best, the Church of England seems to be remarkably (perhaps incomparably) good at this kind of listening process. And for that I'm truly thankful.
But listening cannot continue indefinitely without action. What does the report recommend?
They couldn't agree.
The report itself was signed by seven of the eight members of the working group. In summary, as I understand it:
- Scripture is authoritative,
- but people sincerely disagree about what Scripture means for us today with regard to sexually-active same-sex relationships,
- so we'll have to learn to disagree about this issue (through a process of "facilitated conversations").
The dissenting member was my local bishop, Keith Sinclair, the Bishop of Birkenhead (in the Diocese of Chester). To summarise his position, as I understand it, based on his dissenting statement:
- Scripture is authoritative,
- but people sincerely disagree about what Scripture means for us today with regard to sexually-active same-sex relationships.
- However, the Church of England, the Anglican Communion and the Church throughout history have all maintained, with good reason, that Scripture is in fact clear on this issue,
- so to say that Scripture is not clear about this issue, and therefore that we'll have to learn to disagree, would amount to a significant change in the Church's teaching.
I think that's where the nub of the disagreement lies. (Mike Ovey has written an incisive blog post on the topic.)
So what next? Ian Paul is very concerned about the consequences of accepting the recommendations of the report. But he thinks that "the House of Bishops [HoB] can rescue this situation relatively easily" (emphasis in original):
Pilling is not proposing a change in Church policy or doctrine. They should accept this. Pilling is proposing 'facilitated discussions' to deeper our understanding of the issue. Personally, I doubt that these will make any progress at all—but I'm all for increased mutual understanding, even if it is understanding of how much we disagree, so I don't think the HoB could reject this. But in order to create any credibility at all for these discussions, the bishops need to agree to and implement an absolute moratorium on any liturgical change, however local and however 'pastorally accommodating.' The only alternative, as others have pointed out, would be a slow and painful death by a thousand (pastoral, local, liturgical) cuts.
25 Nov 2013
One hymn that expresses really well the Christian hope for the future is Arthur Campbell Ainger's 1894 hymn, God is working his purpose out. Each verse invites us to look forward to a time that is drawing nearer and nearer. Is it the time when God will take us away from the earth to live in some ethereal paradise for ever? No! Throughout the hymn we are invited to look forward to the time when "the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea" (see Numbers 14:21; Psalm 72:19; Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). It's such a thrilling hope, that it is difficult to express in words, still less in poetic metre!
21 Nov 2013
Way back in 1999 (that's 14 years ago), I used to be not too bad on the organ. (I say "I", but all the atoms in my body have been replaced a couple of times since then, so I'm not sure it really was me.) Since then, it's all gone downhill, but I did make a couple of recordings of my recitals before I turned to studying numerology and astrology (or whatever it was, I find it hard to remember things!). The following is taken from a little concert I gave at Southwell Minster, at the end of my year there. It's a set of variations by Marcel Dupré on the melody Noël Nouvelet. Apologies for the sound quality... anyone remember cassette tapes?
19 Nov 2013
Liverpool is a great city for unleashing one's inner organ-geek. Two of the biggest and best pipe organs in the country are here. Liverpool Anglican Cathedral has the largest organ in the country (10,268 pipes), and the organ in St George's Hall is the third largest (7737 pipes). Both were built by the legendary Liverpool organ builders Henry Willis & Sons.
Both organs are played magnificently by City and Cathedral Organist, Ian Tracey; I made my first visit to St George's Hall this lunchtime to hear him give a recital.
Here he is, introducing the St George's Hall organ in a video publicising a series of concerts for organ and orchestra taking place this year with L'Orchestra dell'Arte. For something like the full effect, turn the volume up extremely loud at the end!
And here he is again, introducing the organ, in a video also introducing Henry Willis & Sons, who are still going strong:
17 Nov 2013
What are we to make of this?
We could explain it away.
Or we could do what presbyterian pastor and theologian Peter Leithart does, and take what the Bible says about baptism at face value. "Baptism" is baptism, as he puts it.
I've just finished reading his excellent little book, The Baptized Body. You can read the first pages, or some articles on which the book was based (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), or a recent post by Leithart on the topic. Or read on, and I'll try to articulate his position. I have to say I find it quite persuasive.
For Leithart, baptism is a rite, involving symbols. Rites (and symbols) can be astonishingly powerful. All of our human relationships are conducted by means of symbols (words and meaningful actions). Some symbolic rites can have a real and deep effect on our identity. It might be a marriage rite, or a rite of inauguration into some office (president, barrister). Once the rite has been performed, the person has a new identity. So it is with baptism: it is a rite through which God (really and truly) gives us a new identity (and without recourse to any "supernatural" intervention).
More specifically, baptism is "the water rite of entry into the church" (p.32).
What then is the church? Clearly it is the historical (or "visible") church on earth into which one is admitted by baptism. But it is this same historical church on earth which is described as "the body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12; see Romans 12; Ephesians 4; Colossians 3). Fundamental for Leithart is that this doesn't need to be explained away: "Without qualification or hedging, the church is the body of Christ" (p.ix). "The body of Christ" is the body of Christ, as he puts it.
So the water rite of baptism really admits someone to the body of Christ, which means that the baptised person, as a member of the Church, becomes a partaker of all the benefits of being part of Christ's body.
Does this mean that the rite of baptism will guarantee eternal salvation? No, because apostasy happens (chapter 4). "There are hypocrites and false sons and temporary members within the body of Christ, and they will slip away, be cut off, or be denounced at the final judgment" (p.59). It is essential that the baptised person responds with faith (belief and obedience).
What about believers who (for whatever reason) are not admitted to the church through baptism? Will they be eternally lost? No. These people will be "eventually united to the body of believers in the eschaton" (p.78n11).
But if genuine members of the church can fall away, what about assurance? It is no different to the mainstream Reformed view. We are sustained until the end through God's grace, as we continue to trust in him. God knows (and chooses) who will persevere and have a place in the eschatological (or "invisible") church, but that information is not available to us now.
And I think that's the basic idea. I need to mull it over a bit more, but I'm liking it so far. Any thoughts? Compared with other (Protestant) views of baptism, this approach gives much greater significance to the historical church on earth, which resonates with my recent thinking (see my previous post). And it does seem to make good sense of the biblical material.
13 Nov 2013
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Church. Why? I suppose I’m beginning to appreciate the importance of the Church as a visible community of people on the earth. When Jesus returns to the earth and everything is renewed, the earth will be cared for by a renewed humanity, with Jesus at its head. And the Church on earth in our day and age is that renewed humanity. Or, perhaps better, she is becoming that new humanity. The Church on earth is the outpost of a presently-unseen city. She is embedded in the world, but lives personally and socially and culturally according to the customs of that city, awaiting the day when that city will triumph over all the pale and oppressive imitations that currently dominate the earth.
So I really can't continue to think of the Church primarily in invisible and "spiritual" terms, as though the visible Church on earth was no more than a temporary signpost pointing towards the real Church. I believe in one Church, not two churches.
So, as I was enjoying my first visit to Liverpool Central Library last week, taking careful note of where the books fell in the Dewey Decimal Classification, I was delighted to stumble across a small book on The Anglican Understanding of the Church by Paul Avis (1st edition, 2000). Delighted, because it was (1) about the Church, (2) about the Anglican understanding of the Church, and (3) small. So I borrowed it and read it (which is more than can be said for most of my books, which I tend to buy and not read). As I need to return the book to the library, permit me to jot down a couple of key points.
Central for Avis are the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist (the Lord’s Supper):
[B]aptism and the eucharist provide the primary ecclesiological condition for the mutual acceptance of one another as fellow Christians, united with one another through our union with Christ (p.49).
The sacraments thus have a vitally important role in making the Church visible, and lead us to work towards the visible unity of the Church.
Anglicans are committed, by their tradition of ecclesiology, to the visible expression of the Church's unity. They do not believe that a spiritual, inward unity is enough. Article 19 of the Thirty-nine Articles focuses entirely on the visible Church. It defines it as ‘a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance’ (p.76).
Avis first notes that "congregation" in this Article almost certainly refers to a national church made up of dioceses, rather than to a local worshipping congregation (the modern usage of the word). Then,
Second, contrary to a popular misconception, the churches of the Reformation — the Church of England among them — did not think of the Christian Church as essentially invisible. True, … there is undoubtedly an invisible dimension to Christ’s Church. But the Reformers did not believe that the true Church would ever cease to exist in a visible form on earth (p.77).
So the visible unity of the Church on earth is a real concern for Anglicans.
This concern is grounded for Anglicans in the normative model of the incarnation, which is the real visible embodiment of God in human life. The visibility of the Church, and therefore of its unity, is expressed in a number of ways: the public reading of the scriptures, the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, pastoral care, the exercise of episkope [oversight] and the practice of conciliarity in church government. These all entail visible, structural and institutional forms. They make us visible to each other and visible to the world (p.77f, emphasis added).
The Church became flesh, we might say.
12 Nov 2013
O loving Creator, bring healing and hope to those who, at this time, grieve, suffer pain, or who have been made homeless by the force of flood in Philippines.
We remember those who have died and we pray for those who mourn for them.
May we all be aware of Your compassion, O God, which calms our troubled hearts and shelters our anxious souls.
May we pray with humility with our troubled and struggling brothers and sisters on earth. May we dare to hope that through the generosity of the privileged, the destitute might glimpse hope, warmth and life again.
Through our Saviour Christ who lives with us, comforts us and soothes us. Amen.
Act, if you suspect that ongoing carbon emissions will make things even worse for those who are vulnerable to storms, typhoons and other extreme weather events.
11 Nov 2013
Some people remain unconvinced about anthropogenic global warming and climate change. I remain convinced that they are wrong, and that they have swallowed the lies fed to them by a massive and well-funded misinformation industry.
But sometimes it's worth leaving climate change to one side, and focusing on the rest of the environmental crisis. What "rest of the environmental crisis", do I hear you ask? Read on.
The first (and shorter) half of Jonathan Moo and Robert White's recent book, Hope in an Age of Despair: The gospel and the future of life on earth, is a sweeping survey of the many environmental issues facing us today. Helpfully, they divide this material into two chapters, leaving the subject of climate change to the second, and dealing with a range of other issues in the first.
So what are these other issues? They mention five:
- Biodiversity. "On average one species on earth goes extinct every eight hours. Up to 30% of all mammal, bird and amphibian species are threatened with extinction this century". "Most of the extinctions taking place are the result of habitat degradation and land use changed" (p.37), i.e., they are our fault.
- Water. Fresh water is in great demand, largely due to agriculture, and "By 2030 it is estimated that nearly half of the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress" (p.41). The oceans are also under stress. "Their acidity is increasing inexorably, largely due to growing amounts of carbon dioxide being absorbed in them as a result of our burning of huge quantities of fossil fuels." This "acidification will directly impact a wide range of marine organisms", affecting the whole marine ecosystem and food chain, and "could have far-reaching consequences not only for the ocean, but for millions of people who depend on its food and other resources for their livelihoods" (p.42).
- Nitrogen. Largely through the use of fertilisers, "Humans are responsible for doubling the turnover rates of the nitrogen cycle of the entire earth. ... The main immediate results include global acidification and stratospheric ozone loss, ... oxygen depletion of rivers ..., and a host of unpleasant side effects" (p.43). In the view of the Planetary Boundaries group, "we have surpassed the safe limit [of nitrogen use] by a factor of about four" (p.44).
- Food. Considering "our dependence on machinery in modern agriculture ... it is estimated that 7-10 kilocalories of energy are expended for every kilocalorie of food consumed in the USA. We are, as one recent writer has said, essentially eating fossil fuels. This cannot continue indefinitely" (p.46). Moreover, increased demand for land for biofuels and "the increasing consumption of meat and dairy products" (p.49) are putting great pressure on the supply of food.
- Land use. "All of the factors discussed in this chapter ... relate in one way or another to how we use the land" (p.50). "Overall 8 million square miles of land worldwide have been degraded as a result of unsustainable agricultural practices; that is nearly one hundred times the area of Britain". "Just in the years since 1970, about 20% of the Brazilian Amazon alone has been cleared" and "it is feared that if too much of the Amazon is felled, the region could transform irreversibly ... to semi-arid savannah" (p.51).
Now—global warming or no global warming—we seem to be faced with a major environmental crisis. People (and corporations and organisations and governments) are definitely taking steps to tackle this crisis, and those steps will make a real difference. But they need our support. Are we helping them in this, or are we just making things worse?
1 Nov 2013
This Monday (4 November) is the start of a new year of Bible readings, and I'd love you to join me and many other people in reading the Bible together!
The basic idea behind a lectionary is that, whereas we could all sit at home on our own and follow our own personal Bible reading plans, it's really much better if we read the Bible in community.
The vast majority of Christians would recognise this when it comes to their local church. There are plenty of sermons available online, and we could sit at home listening to them (or watching them), but we choose to gather with other Christians in local congregations to listen together to what God wants to say to us.
There are two ways in which this can be taken further. One is by extending that principle beyond the local congregation. There's something to be said for multiple congregations following the same scheme of Bible readings for their Sunday gatherings. The preachers can then ring each other up during their preparation and help each other to hear what God is saying to us through the passage. If you have friends or family who go to a different church, you can discuss together what you heard on Sunday, and find that you are talking about the same thing. Ultimately, it could be the case that the whole church throughout the world is listening together to the same passages of Scripture on any given Sunday (which is what the Revised Common Lectionary to a significant extent actually achieves).
The second way of taking this lectionary idea further is to apply it to our Bible reading through the week. Most Christians (hopefully) make a regular practice of reading Scripture during the week. There are plenty of schemes available, and when these are widely used, we can find ourselves reading the Bible together in community. So, for example, if you read something in the morning that perplexed you, wouldn't it be great if your friend or housemate or colleague had also read the same passage that same day, and could help you to make sense of it?
The Church of England has a rich tradition of Bible reading, particularly for clergy. The Book of Common Prayer daily services of morning and evening prayer work through the Book of Psalms every month, the Old Testament every year and the New Testament three times per year (approximately). But if you use the (very helpful) daily prayer page on the C of E website (or here), the daily readings follow the Weekday Lectionary from 2005/2010. This takes you through the whole Bible every year, but with a few exceptions and with quite a lot of gaps in the Old Testament books.
If, like me, you try to read the Bible through every year, then the C of E Weekday Lectionary can serve that purpose, as follows:
- Download the lectionary (and print it off, if you still enjoy the feel of paper!). This will help you keep track of things, even if you use the daily prayer link above, or the calendars (in various formats) from here
- Note that books generally appear from start to finish in a predictable way. It's easy to spot the gaps and fill them in
- The lectionary follows the church year, and does clever things with Sundays before Lent and Sundays after Trinity
- Watch out for important feast days: they have their own readings, which displace those in the lectionary
- All the Psalms are included, except 58, 83 and 109
- The Apocrypha features in the later Sundays after Trinity, but there is always an alternative reading if you prefer to read the Bible...
- Every Old Testament book is included, except Lamentations, although some Old Testament books appear only twice every four years. I'm assuming you can live with that. It's a bit complicated with Chronicles and Ecclesiastes, which appear in different places in different years, and fall on weeks that may be omitted entirely. Worth keeping track of them
- The entire New Testament is included every year (except for the genealogies in Matthew and Luke)
- Some gaps might appear in the week after Advent 4 and the readings for 7-12 January (but don't worry about those for Jeremiah, Micah and 1 John, which are covered elsewhere)
- If Epiphany falls on a Sunday, the readings for the week following Epiphany 4 will be omitted (1 Corinthians 15 comes after Easter, by the way)
- Some Sundays before Lent might not happen. Most of the disruption is taken care of, except for Joel and Genesis
- Some Sundays after Trinity (19-22) might not happen. Again, the disruption is mostly taken care of, except for 2 Kings
I think that's all, and I hope it might be approximately correct. Do comment or get in touch with any inaccuracies or questions!
29 Oct 2013
In John’s day, there were people who were departing from the church (and taking others with them), who claimed a deeper knowledge of the truth, who denied that the man called Jesus was (and still is) the Son of God, and who took a free-and-easy approach to what the "unenlightened" speak of as "sin".
But, in reality, these people were leaving the light and walking into the darkness. They did not know God, whatever they claimed, and the hatred that filled their lives demonstrated that they were still under the power of the evil one—particularly their hatred of those who held to the traditional faith of the church, as passed down by John and other eyewitnesses (and as recorded for us in the New Testament).
John wrote his first letter to warn the church about these people, and to urge those he loved as his "little children" to keep walking in the light. He wrote to remind them that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh to deal with the problem of sin through his death, and to destroy the works of the evil one. The love that Christians had begun to find for one another demonstrated that they genuinely knew God and that by their faith they had overcome the world—the world that will hate them, just as it hated Jesus himself.
Does 1 John strike you as being relevant for us today?
24 Oct 2013
Do "almost a half" of male clergy in the Church of England "not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus or in his bodily resurrection"? And do a significant proportion also deny other fundamental Christian teachings, such as the Trinity?
These claims were made around 8 minutes into a talk by Paul Perkin this week at the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Nairobi.
As far as I can tell, the statistics come from a survey undertaken in 2002 by Christian Research (who seem very competent) for an organisation called Cost of Conscience (click on the link and I'll let you form your own opinion). I can't find the raw data, but if you send a cheque for 50p to Cost of Conscience, they will post to you a 16-page report entitled "Believe it or not! What Church of England clergy actually believe" (the 50p includes postage and packing, by the way).
- Believe without question
- Believe but not sure I understand
- Mostly believe
- Not sure I believe this
- Definitely don't believe
Of course, many clergy were quite willing to concede that they weren't able fully to comprehend God and many of the beliefs that they apprehended wholeheartedly. So they ticked the second box. But it seems that all except the first box were lumped together as "doubt or disbelieve", and hence the shocking statistics.
I'm quite willing to believe that plenty of clergy do have such levels of disbelief. But it's clearly not as bad as Paul Perkin made out. It wasn't that bad in 2002, and, given the considerable growth in the evangelical (particularly charismatic) parts of the Church of England in the 11 years since the survey was undertaken (see the first part of the talk), it seems at least plausible that the situation in 2013 is considerably better than it was in 2002.
Now, all repeat after me: "Show me the raw data!!!!"
23 Oct 2013
Calvin isn't bothered with idle speculation about the nature of God:
Let us then willingly leave to God the knowledge of himself [which we shall do] if we conceive him to be as he reveals himself to us, without inquiring about him elsewhere than from his Word (Institutes, I.xiii.21).
So, in chapters 10-13 of Book I of the Institutes, Calvin is keen to open the Scriptures to us and show us God, as he relates to us as Creator (God as Redeemer is the subject of Book II). And in so doing, Calvin isn't concerned to fill our minds with lists of attributes and the like, but
the knowledge of God set forth for us in Scripture is destined for the very same goal as the knowledge whose imprint shines in his creatures, in that it invites us first to fear God, then to trust in him. By this we can learn to worship him both with perfect innocence of life and with unfeigned obedience, then to depend wholly upon his goodness (I.x.2, emphasis added).
Perhaps this practical emphasis on fear, trust, worship and dependence explains why chapters 11 and 12 are devoted to the subject of idolatry and dishonourable practices in worship? Scripture, in speaking of God, prescribes that "nothing belong to his divinity is to be transferred to another", and Calvin saw that happening in his day, in the way images were being used and honoured in the context of worship.
Chapter 13 is devoted to the doctrine of the Trinity, which is fundamental to our understanding of God. This is a subject I've grown to love in recent years, largely through hearing or reading things by Mike Reeves, Ellis Potter and others (if I'd have read their books, I'm sure I could have added Sam Allberry and Tim Chester to that list). But I have to say I found Calvin's treatment quite heavy going. There were evidently plenty of controversies in his day about the Trinity, and a lot of the (39-page) chapter is devoted to those. Nonetheless, Calvin gives a clear articulation of the what we mean by "Trinity",
that Father and Son and Spirit are one God, yet the Son is not the Father, nor the Spirit the Son, but that they are differentiated by a peculiar quality (I.xiii.5).
(That's "peculiar" as in "distinctive", by the way.) And he describes the distinction between the three Persons as follows:
to the Father is attributed the beginning of activity, and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity (I.xiii.18).
(It is possible to see these distinctive characteristics of the three Persons reflected in the way that everything in the world exhibits identity, relationality and movement through time, as Jeremy Ive does in his fascinating thesis, drawing on the work of Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven.)
The remainder of Book I looks at how this Triune God relates to the world, as its creator and sustainer.
11 Oct 2013
Have you ever read or heard anything like this?
Freedom of choice means that temptations will occur. Robots with no free will are not tempted, they can only respond according to their programming. But Adam and Eve were different. Being made in the image of God, they had free will which, for them, necessitated the option of rebellion, an option that was provided by the devil. If it hadn't been him, it would have been something else later on!
I certainly have, many times.
As an explanation for the fall, I'm uneasy about it for two reasons.
First, it's not an explanation you can find anywhere in the Bible. If there really was such a simple explanation for the fall, isn't it strange that it isn't spelled out for us?
Second, and more significantly, if having free will means that sin is inevitable, then why hasn't God fallen into sin? Does God not have free will?
No, I don't think we can explain the fall so easily. But is that a problem? Should we expect to be able to explain sin easily? I don't think so. In fact, perhaps the reason it isn't easy to make sense of sin is that sin quite simply doesn't make sense! Can we look at sin in our own lives and say, "Yup, it makes perfect sense why I did that, I have free will, so I was bound sooner or later to turn and spit in the face of the One who has shown me nothing but kindness and mercy all my days"? What nonsense. I'm no more bound to sin by my free will than I'm bound by my free will to rub my face in horse manure. Or to eat Marmite. And however free our wills are, Adam and Eve's wills were definitely freer, so if free will can't explain why we sin, then it certainly can't explain why they sinned.
9 Oct 2013
OK, this is slightly boring and nerdy, but I've been trying to get my head round the Church of England Weekday Lectionary (2005/2010), and part of that is to figure out the Sundays of the church year. It's slightly confusing, because Christmas can happen on any day of the week, and Easter is all over the place.
But here it is, with dates included, based on the list of Sundays in Common Worship. Sundays marked with an *asterisk do not happen every year. Dates in (parentheses) are for leap years. Note that there are up to five Sundays before Lent, and up to five Sundays after the 18th Sunday after Trinity, and of these ten, only five or six fall in any given year (and it's approximately equally likely to be five or to be six). I think it's all correct: comments welcome!
8 Oct 2013
Money is a funny thing.
When you pay out some money (when you "spend" it), the money doesn't actually get spent. That is, nothing happens to the money. It doesn't get consumed. It doesn't get worn out. It doesn't get used up. It just gets moved around.
When you don't pay out some money (when you "save" it), the money isn't actually saved. That is, it isn't saved from anything. Had you not "saved" it, nothing would have happened to it. It wasn't in any danger. It wouldn't have fallen off a cliff and died had you not "saved" it. It wouldn't have been consumed. It wouldn't have been worn out. It wouldn't have been used up. It has been saved only from being moved around.
That's not to say that moving money around doesn't do anything. It's a bit like electric charge. When electrons move around, there is an electric current, and things happen. When electrons sit still, nothing happens. But electrons don't get spent or saved. They just move around or sit still. It's the same with money. It doesn't get spent or saved. It just moves around or sits still. And when it moves around, things happen. People do things. Work gets done. Things get made. Goods get moved around.
It's not that nothing gets spent. Time can be spent. Energy can be spent. Fossil fuels can be spent. Resources can be spent. But money does not get spent.
Now, it does make some sense to say "I will spend some money" or "I will save some money". It means (respectively) "I have some money and I'm going to make it move around in exchange for goods and services" or "I have some money and I'm going to make it sit still for the time being".
But what does not make sense is to say "my scheme will save money" in an absolute sense. It might save me money, in that I can keep my money sitting still for the time being. But my cunning plan won't actually save money, because no money will be saved as a consequence. Money does not get saved.
So when, in the name of austerity, everyone tries to "save" money, what actually happens? No money actually gets saved. All that happens is that money moves around more slowly. People lose their jobs and end up sitting around doing nothing, supposedly so that money can be saved. But no money is actually saved.
It's a funny thing, money.
7 Oct 2013
Here's an image from the 2013 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC AR5) (part of Figure TS.12 from the Technical Summary):
It shows the observed temperature change (black), along with the temperature from various scientific models of the climate. Some models include contributions to climate change from human activity (pink shading, with the "average" given by the dark red line), and some models consider only natural contributions (light blue shading, with the "average" given by the dark blue line).
Now here's the optical illusion part.
- Note how the black line appears to be going up to the right. This is an optical illusion. In fact, the black line is pretty much horizontal, which shows that global warming isn't happening.
- Note how the black line appears to be nowhere near the blue shaded area. This is an optical illusion. In fact, the black line is very close to the blue shaded area, which shows that most of the change in global temperatures can be explained by natural causes.
- Note how the pink shaded area appears to be closer to the black line than the blue shaded area is. This is an optical illusion. In fact, the pink shaded area is no closer to the black line than the blue shaded area is, which shows that human activity is not a significant contributor to the change in global temperatures.
It takes practice, but with enough will-power and enough squinting, you should be able to convince yourself that anthropogenic global warming is just an illusion. Go on, give it a try!
30 Aug 2013
Recently I went to a church service in which I paid attention to the words we were singing (for a change). At the end, as far as I could recall, we hadn't sung anything about God's works. The songs were very God-focused, and God was spoken of as being eternal and sufficient for our every need, but not one of God's past or future acts was mentioned. No mention of God's work in creating everything. No mention of God's mighty deliverances of old. No mention of Jesus' works on the earth, or his death or his resurrection. No mention of God actually doing anything in the future (except continuing to be eternal and sufficient). No mention of what we want God to do in our lives (except to be sufficient). No mention of what we expect God to do at the return of Christ.
First, we need to think about the songs we choose and the songs we sing. God is made known to us not as the God who simply exists, but as the God who acts, in history, for our deliverance. The Psalms are full of this (the title of this post is from Psalm 92:4). It's not that every song we sing has to mention God acting in some way. But if none of the songs we sing mention anything God has done or will do, then something has gone seriously wrong.
Second, it strikes me that there must actually be some appeal in thinking of God's eternity and sufficiency quite apart from his works in history. Why is that? Why do we like to think of God as the one who is transcendent, outside of time, and far beyond this world? Is it because we ultimately long for something similar: to escape this world, and to exist for ever in the timeless glory of God's eternity?
Next time you are in church, pay attention to what you sing, and ask yourself at the end, What acts of God did we sing about?
19 Aug 2013
William Walsham How's classic hymn, For all the saints, helps us to look forward to two things. First, we look forward to being with the Lord when we die:
The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
But wait—there's more! We're not going to spend eternity in that paradise we enter when we die. As Tom Wright would put it, there is life after life after death: the bodily resurrection of the dead at the return of Christ to the earth. The hymn continues...
But lo, there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
1 Aug 2013
The New Testament letter to the Hebrews is a richly structured book. The basic message of the letter is clear enough. The recipients of the letter were facing severe temptation to give up on being Christians, and to return to the Judaism of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the letter was written to warn them not to do that, and to remind them that being a follower of Jesus is unspeakably glorious and wonderful in comparison (despite superficial appearances to the contrary). And the basic message for us today is clear enough: Jesus is amazing, so don't give up on him! But within the letter, various themes are repeated and developed and connected in all sorts of ways, so it's difficult to give a simple or definitive outline. Nonetheless, I think a few basic contours can be discerned. Something vaguely like this, perhaps...
- The supremacy of the Son (1:1-4), even to angels (1:5-2:18)
- Anticipation of the next section: "a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (2:17, quotations from the ESV)
- Jesus the High Priest (3-10)
- Faithful (3:1-6), calling for faithful obedience, and for us to draw near (3:7-4:16)
- Merciful High Priest (5:1-10)
- Call for faith and endurance (5:11-6:12)
- Anticipation of chapter 11: "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (6:12)
- The certainty of God's promise (6:13-20)
- Anticipation of next section: "a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (6:20)
- A priest after the order of Melchizedek, calling for us to draw near (7)
- Jesus' priestly work: offering up himself (8:1-10:18)
- Call for faith and endurance (10:19-39)
- Anticipation of chapter 11: "But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls" (10:39)
- A call for faith (11) and endurance (12:1-17), because the new covenant is better than the old (12:18-29)
- Offering sacrifices pleasing to God (13:1-16)
- Conclusion (13:17-25)
24 Jul 2013
Baptism is slightly topical at the moment, with the Church of England putting an article on its website yesterday entitled Top 10 facts about Christenings (see the helpful commentary/critique by Jake Belder), and (perhaps not unrelated?) with a baby having been born recently (maybe you heard?).
So it seems a good excuse to put up a few thoughts I was having a while ago about the Anglican understanding of infant baptism.
Most people in the Reformed tradition would (I think) argue that infants should be baptised because their parents profess faith in Christ. But, as far as I can tell, there is no hint of this in Anglican practice. On the contrary, an infant is baptised on their own profession of faith. For example...
this Infant must also faithfully, for his part, promise by you that are his sureties, (until he come of age to take it upon himself,) that he will renounce the devil ... . Dost thou, in the name of this Child, renounce the devil ... ? Foreasmuch as this Child hath promised by you his sureties to renounce the devil ... it is your parts and duties to see that this Infant be taught ... what a solemn vow, promise and profession he hath here made by you."
Common Worship 2000 (emphasis added):
The president addresses the candidates directly, or through their parents, godparents and sponsors ... Do you reject the devil ... ?
Indeed, John Stott wrote in 1964 (emphasis in original):
[N]either the Bible nor the Prayer Book envisages the baptism of an unbeliever; they assume that the recipient is a true believer. ... There is no baptism in the Church of England except the baptism of a professing believer, adult or infant. The adult candidate’s declaration of repentance, faith and surrender is followed by baptism and the declaration of regeneration. The same is true of an infant in the 1662 service, where it is not the godparents who speak for the child so much as the child who is represented as speaking through his sponsors. The child declares his or her repentance, faith and surrender, and desire for baptism. The child is then baptized and declared regenerate. So he is regenerate, in the same sense as he is a repentant believer in Jesus Christ, namely in the language of anticipatory faith or of sacraments.
In other words, the Anglican view seems to be that infant baptism is actually credo-paedo-baptism: the infant is baptised because he or she has professed faith in Christ. (But, of course, the infant cannot speak for him/herself, so the parents and godparents speak on behalf of the child.)
Now, this may seem somewhat bizarre, to assume that a child is a believer, with no direct evidence for that, and then to put words into the child's mouth and receive the child into the church through baptism. Well, perhaps. But I'm not sure it's any more bizarre than assuming the child is an unbeliever, with no direct evidence for that, and then to exclude the child from belonging to the church by not having them baptised. (No child is "neutral", and there is no "neutral" space which is neither inside the church nor outside the church.) And I certainly don't think it's any more bizarre than just guessing. For example, I'm not sure it makes sense to assume that children of believers will probably not be recipients of the grace of God until their late teens at the earliest, and then, on the balance of probabilities, to assume that they will live the first part of their lives as unbelievers. Why restrict the grace of God in that way? No, but I think the question of whether or not to baptise an infant should not be based on assessing the probabilities (in either direction), but ought to be based on pastoral considerations, reflecting on how best to bring up a child within a Christian family and within the life of the family of believers. And, in that case, doesn't it make sense to assume that the newborn baby genuinely belongs, even if later in life they might disown their family, rather than to do things the other way round?