Monday, November 17, 2014

Why I'm resistant

Why do Christians treat the argument for blessing same-sex unions so harshly? Why do we - by "we" I mean what are usually termed conservative Christians - why are we so resistant to a discussion on this issue? Particularly when we are, not very, but at least more open to the egalitarian discussion, various social justice issues, millennial disagreements, classical versus more process theism, and so on. Why is this issue different?

One, it is new. Almost every possible interpretation, view, and heresy has been raised and shouted about at some point in the church's history. The blessing of homosexual relationships is not there in the church until a couple hundred years ago. It wasn't even a heresy! Not even an incorrect reading. People doing allegorical readings and historical-grammatical readings, Arians and modalists and Pelagians and Arminians and Calvinists, none of them saw this as a issue that needed discussion. Why has it only come up now?

Two, it is timely. Yes, the natural response is that the church has been blinded by a homophobic, or at least heterophilic, understanding of the Christian ethic. And this is possible. But is it not also possible that the church has been seeing clearly on this issue, and now faces a confusion of clear teaching? Neither is a priori true; and if one is theoretically possible, the other must be as well (working in both directions).

When we look at a culture which every sane observer has to admit has gone absolutely loco in its sexual ethic, and at the same time as the culture goes off the rails the church starts to read the Bible's teaching on sexual ethics slightly differently...the timeliness is suspicious.

Three, it is multi-pronged. Egalitarians read a different meaning in a couple of texts, and on that basis they interpret many other texts differently. In an even more profound way, to alter the traditional Christian understanding of homosexual relationships, the reader must read not two or three texts differently, but almost the entire narrative of the Bible. Right from Genesis to Leviticus to Matthew to Corinthians to Romans to Revelation. Two or three new interpretations are not combining to shed new light on our understanding: a dozen or more new interpretations are breathing fire on our understanding. These interpretations may be correct and the fire may be needed. The fact remains that it is a whole nexus of new teaching, not one or two changes.

Four, some of its friends are shifty. Not all, and probably not even most. But some of the people agitating for this change seem to have little interest in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And the beginning of the issue within the church came from pressure and writing from people with more interest in reshaping the church than reforming it in line with scripture.

Five, it raises methodological (hermeneutic) issues. Every theological dispute does, in a way. One of the streams of thought which has flowed into the river of same-sex marriage is a concern with the state of sexual ethics at the time the apostles (particularly Paul) were writing. If Paul is addressing specific understandings or formulations of homosexual behaviour, then the application to us now is greatly weakened or obviated. This approach puts the New Testament in a box and labels it "Greco-Roman context", so that a shove from the New Testament - against homosexual acts as consonant with the progressive sanctification of a Christian - is transmuted into a shove against part of the social box the documents were written in.

Six, the fruit is (at the very least) mixed. Advocates of blessing same-sex relationships often talk about the "fruit" of traditional teaching producing the poisoned fruit of shame, exclusion, suicide, homelessness, and so on. The relationship between Christian teaching and the dislocation of gay individuals is beyond my understanding and this blog; I will simply note that there appears to be a case to answer for the orthodox church.

But there are other kinds of fruit to consider. The drive to reconsider orthodox teaching on homosexuality has a distinct overlap with redefinition of scripture's function and authority in the church. Moving out from under scripture as the first and final (though not only) guide for the church seems to often lead to changing your mind on same-sex marriage, as well as the reverse process.

This is a conclusion to this meaningless list of reasons.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Surprise! It was the church...

(The context, here, is that I am involved in a multidenominational evangelistic youth camp.)

So I was involved in a conversation about leader growth and how we accept/reject leaders for camp. A great many wise things were said. And during the conversation I mentioned I was uncomfortable doing presbuteros-y things as a camp director. I feel weird asking leaders about their spiritual health, their ability to model Christ to kids, because I am a camp director rather than their elder or pastor. And someone else said that camp directors are not pastors and I was quite right to feel odd about it.

But I do have pastoral responsibilities. I do have spiritual authority over leaders while on camp (and, to some degree, before and after it). How can I not? I decide (with co-directors) who is qualified to be a leader, what it means to be a leader, what behaviour will make us send a leader home. I cannot do any of these things without feeling and being in some way responsible for my leaders' wellbeing (spiritually, mentally, emotionally).

Essentially a camp director will by necessity be a little bit like a pastor or elder. We can't help it. So I was thinking about what would make me more comfortable with that. And I realised it would be best if roles that included pastoral duties...were performed by pastors.

I want stuff to be run by churches. I don't want to gather up four dozen leaders from a dozen churches to run this camp. I want churches to run their own camps, within their own demesne.

The interesting thing is that my denomination has been trying to get its own youth camps off the ground, and leaders such as myself have been apathetic because multidenominational parachurch organisations already do that camping stuff. They do it bigger, slicker, and better organised.

But I'm now starting to realise the pastoral benefits of church camps which are smaller, rougher, and not always as smoothly administrated. If you think why is this person trying to exercise spiritual authority over me the answer is because that is part of them serving in this church. There are so many things which I can't follow up on with my leaders. I don't have the time, the energy, the authority, or the long-term consistent involvement in their life to disciple them properly.

I've been feeling increasingly weird about parachurch organisations. Surprise! What I wanted was the local church all along.

Monday, June 30, 2014

What does it mean for God to be angry?

So I read a book called God is Impassible and Impassioned by Rob Lister. It's an excellent analysis of the debate over God's passibility for people who just don't have the time or mental energy to read the vast literature. In the second half Lister does a good job of developing the implications of God being impasible and emotive.

But he also takes Weinandy (slightly) to task for talking about impassibility strictly as God not experiencing anything analogous to human feelings, when in fact the doctrine is more about God's emotions always being voluntary rather than forced upon him by the world. In a footnote Lister says that God is responsive to the world, but never passive - his reactions, emotional and otherwise, are always chosen rather than evoked. It is worth noting, as Lister does, that Weinandy seems to have walked his definition back slightly - but I haven't yet read up on that.

As someone who (tentatively) endorses impassibility in the strict sense that Weinandy originally advanced, I want to talk a bit about what it means to have emotion.

Scripture often talks about God being wrathful - usually at Israel. What does this mean? If we narrow the scope to purely righteous anger at sin and evil, we are dealing with an emotion which humans occasionally experience and which it would not be heretical to ascribe to God. So far so good. What does it mean for God to be righteously angry?

We experience anger as a certain sensation. It is mental and physical but we do not reduce it to constitutive elements. It is provoked from us. None of these traits can be true of God. If his emotions are voluntary, then he does not experience sensations of anger - he either draws them upon himself or expresses them without "feeling" them. He does not have a body - he is spirit. He does have a mind, which seems in some respects like ours - order, logic, law of noncontradiction - but we see this only in how he talks to us, and how his actions match up with his words.

What I am saying is that God's righteous anger is something we see in his condescending actions towards us. We do not see God in himself, except as Jesus makes him known. And of course Jesus has emotions - he has taken on human nature. What I am saying is that God's energies, his extension of his power into the world, express righteous anger. But this does very little to establish that God chooses to be angry.

The anthropopathic language, in both Testaments, is clearly right and true. I would not hesitate to say in a sermon, "God is angry in this passage". By that I mean God is expressing anger, that anger is the pure and holy response to the situation; but I do not mean that God is wracked with fury. Because I do not have any special access to the face of God. God reveals how he chooses to relate to us, and we trust that his self-disclosure is founded upon truth. I emphasise we trust because we have no ability to probe God's immanent character apart from his self-disclosure.

And if God chooses to be angry, does he also choose to not be angry at evil? Is the atonement God's way of showing that he has flipped an internal switch in his relationship to his elect?

I am not arguing that an impassibilist has to hold to Weinandy's original strict definition. I am saying that if you want to talk about voluntary emotion in God, a la Lister, you have to maintain a very deep disjunction between divine emotion and human emotion on every level and attribute. The easiest way to do this, it seems to me, is to say God's energies - the economic trinity - expresses emotion to us. This self-disclosure is founded upon something true to God's nature ("the economic trinity is the immanent trinity, and Rahner is its prophet") but we don't understand the "something true" in God because we don't know God. We only know him as revealed through Jesus, and Jesus reveals God as united to human nature. The person we see when we look at Jesus is Jesus. Through him we see the Father, as every child is in some way the image of their parent, but we are first and foremost seeing Jesus. Not the Father or Spirit.

To conclude: God relates with anger. I don't think he is angry.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Checked my phone nine times on the bus.
Still no reply. Unsurprised.
You don't ask someone out by text message,
which is why I did.
How could a palm of screen link us heart to heart?
How could I declare my true affections in one hundred and sixty characters?
Perhaps if I knew Mandarin.

I will never know enough.
I know the process well enough to sabotage, watchmaker
No one is to blame. No one is at fault.
All my romantic failures are accidents. First a rear, and then the ending.
I don't know how to drive.

There are living people on the bus and I try to fall in love.
Nothing. Once a day is my limit.
If I stay on the bus it might keep going. I don't have to get off.
We can race towards the dawn, bus driver. You might be tomorrow's
lucky winner.
Your uniform, your cropped hair, your professional demeanour.
If it is you
I promise I won't let on.
Just don't let me off until the dawn.

The bus driver does not hesitate. Sticks to schedule.
Hauling reality a little closer to plan.
No love in this bus. I touch the corner of my eye.

Check my phone again.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


The worst prayers come in the shower.

Do you love the idea of a wife more than me,
Son of dust,
Says the Lord?

My heart is all in reach
I cannot grasp the smallest.

Monday, June 24, 2013


So the United States charged Edward Snowden with a few things, including espionage. He's probably guilty of communicating classified material to an unauthorised person - that's materially shown by the information be leaked to the Guardian. Espionage, however, is a crime of intent. It's hard to argue that he reasonably expected the information would be used against the United States when he was giving it to a reporter.

But whatever. I'm an Australian.

I sat down and thought for a bit about surveillance in Australia. And I really have no reason to think the federal police, or ASIO or whomever, is doing the same thing here. I also have no reason not to think that they are doing the same thing.

The Australian government has, since September 11 2001, stuck with the USA. It makes sense to maintain a military alliance which has been central to our security since the beginning of World War Two. What bothers me is that the Australian government has also been remarkably craven when it comes to being part of the broader "war on terror" - extraordinary rendition (a term which is the definition of Orwellian - it means kidnapping and torture), broader and broader powers for police and national intelligence agencies, and the chorus of fear-mongering used to justify all these things.

So when I imagine Australia being (secretly) asked to spy on certain Australian citizens without warrants or any real evidentiary basis and then give the results to the FBI or NSA or DHS or any of the alphabet of terror, the request is met with "Sure, here you go!"

An election has been called for later this year. Why aren't our federal politicians being asked about this? Is this done in Australia? Would you allow it? What limits would you place on it? Instead we get another round of speculation about internal Labour Party politics and ugly barracking about our ass-backwards racist fearful pointless policies intended to stop refugees from coming to our shores.

I don't like the idea of government employees being allowed to spy on me without a judge allowing it. I don't. I'm more scared of it than being blown up by a pressure cooker bomb. The spying thing is a betrayal. The bomb is a crime, and it doesn't deserve my fear.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Problem of Suffering...

...runs like this: God is omnipotent (can do anything) and omniscient (knows everything). He is also perfectly good. But there is suffering in the world. Either God cannot do anything about this suffering (not omnipotent and/or omniscient) or he chooses not to, in which case he is not perfectly good.

In summary, for suffering to exist in the world God must either be powerless over it, or be a real big jerk.

This question of whether suffering is compatible with belief in God (I mean the God of Abraham and Paul, the great unchangeable I AM) perplexes and discourages many Christians. It is often a stumbling block for those seeking God. And it has been a powerful argument for atheism for thousands of years.

I am a Christian, so I will approach the problem from a Christian point of view. I will be making certain assumptions that I feel no need to defend. I do not have to defend all of my faith every time I defend part of my faith.

What's the problem? 
The problem of suffering is even bigger than you think. Every terrible thing that happens on this planet happens, in one sense, because God does not prevent it. Every death. Every rape. Every mugging, mutilation, assault, arson, war crime, and act of littering happens because he does not prevent it. I believe he does not cause these things to happen, he does not actively will them, but nonetheless he certainly allows them to happen.

But let me restate the question of "what is the problem?" in a slightly different way. How do you identify this problem? When you say that the world should not be this way, should not contain suffering, against what are you comparing it? No human has ever experienced a world without suffering. Yet suffering is not only not hardwired into our expectations of the world, we actually expect or hope for a world without suffering.

This could be called imagination. I call it an awareness of what we are supposed to be and have. What we all silently expect is a perfect world. Most people try to create it for themselves while knowing it is impossible, but that is their desire: a perfect world. I believe perfection is not just a concept.

Perfection exists, and its name is God.

Perfection exists, and the state of humanity experiencing perfection is called perfect relationship with God. Heaven. The new creation.

So the problem, phrased differently, is: why am I not in heaven already?

Why not straight to heaven? 
If God is so good and loves us so much, why didn't he create the world and put us all straight into heaven?

Well, he sort of did that.

God created humanity and put them in a garden. He told them to take care of the garden. He visited regularly. The only negative instruction he gave them was don't eat from that tree there, because if you do you will die. Humanity was created to obey God and reflect his glory, to see and revel in his total amazing perfection. Adam and Eve (yes, both of them) chose to disobey God's instructions and make their own rules. They wanted to run their own lives.

God doesn't kill them. He could have wiped away the world and started again. Instead, he boots them out of the garden and they have to work for a living. But he promises them that one day Eve's descendants will triumph over the serpent - that is, the creature that tempted them into disobeying God.

What does all this have to do with you? Well, if you were put in Adam or Eve's place you would make the same decision. That's what makes you a human - all humans are disobedient now. You can't overcome what you are. Ever since the first two humans disobeyed God we have all been unable to obey God. We are all sinners.

It is this sin which messed the world up. God created the world as good, harmonious, fruitful. Human sin made it chaotic, painful, riddled with suffering.

It is humanity that is responsible for suffering. I don't mean that you yourself directly cause your own suffering, but the choices of Adam and Eve - the same choices you yourself would make - have broken the world. We choose to disobey God every day. Can we really get pissed at him when we suffer as a result of past disobedience?

Can't God fix it? 

Yes he can. He's omnipotent.

But consider this. Your sin is mixed up with the suffering in the world. Your sinful desires don't cause the suffering, but they come from the same source: the original sin of humanity. God can sweep in and take away the suffering. In fact, he is going to.

But when he does he will deal with the problem at the source. He will judge sin, and everything that is not perfect will be swept away by his anger. This includes people. Have you ever sinned? Have you ever done one thing that would not make God proud of you as his child? Then you're going to be swept away by his wrath as well.

God has provided a way out of this problem. He sent his son Jesus to pay for everyone's sins. Everyone who trusts in Jesus is shielded from wrath because God sees Jesus' perfection instead of human sin (Jesus being God, and therefore perfect).

The only reason God holds back the end to suffering, the re-creation of the world, the terrible flood of his righteous and judging anger, is so that as many people as possible will be saved by trusting in Jesus. Suffering will end. Judgement will come.