Friday, November 23, 2012

More on Women Bishops

Three of the best articles I've read about the women bishops vote:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Women Bishops and Yesterday's Synod Vote

It's worth saying right from the start – I'm not on Synod. Had I been able to vote yesterday, I would probably have voted “yes”. But I grew up in the conservative evangelical camp, and I know a good proportion of the 44 clergy who voted “no” yesterday.

I think it's important to debunk a few myths.

First, this isn't about equality. I know to outsiders it looks like it is, but it isn't. It's actually about identicality, and there's an important difference. Everyone (I hope) on synod agrees that men and women are equal in status and in the sight of God. Everyone agrees that men and women are not identical on a purely biological level. The question is to what extent men and women's differences work out as differences in the roles they play within church.

Secondly, this isn't about rights. No-one has the right to become a bishop. It isn't a “promotion”. It's a horrible job where you can't be part of a normal church fellowship and work far too many hours with far too many people who expect you to have all the answers. Jemima Thackray wrote a great piece in the Telegraph this morning where she argues that the real question should be whether women can have the opportunity to serve in this job. In some ways the even more important question is “Is God calling women to serve in this way?”. Women who say they should have the right to become bishop shouldn't have it, because they don't understand what they say they want.

Third, this isn't about traditionalists in the house of laity spoiling everyone's party. Yes, this time it was voted down because people thought it didn't cater well enough for those who would rather not have a woman bishop. Personally, I'd have voted for the motion because I think it does cater well enough for conservative evangelicals, even though conservative evangelical friends say it doesn't. But last time, 2 years ago, the archbishops proposed a motion which would have catered well enough for them. It was overwhelmingly passed in the houses of clergy and laity, but voted down by modernists in the house of clergy. If those clergy had passed it then, we'd have women bishops by now.

So what is this actually about? It's about how we handle profound disagreements. The Church of England as a whole has been rightly trying to keep people on board, and be as accommodating as possible to those who have good reasons for disagreeing with women bishops, while still trying to move ahead with them. The problem is that the Church's structures are somewhat Byzantine, and sometimes working at counter-purposes and it therefore moves very slowly indeed.

What we haven't done enough of, I think, is actually discussing the reasons for disagreement rather than stating them. For example, a lot of the opposition hinges around one paragraph in Paul's first letter to Timothy. I have listened to a fair bit of the debate, and I've only heard that paragraph discussed by those against women bishops. Now I can see several ways to argue that the paragraph doesn't apply to women bishops today, but I don't really see that argument being engaged with at a national level. Of course, all that discussion should have happened decades ago, but as far as I can tell it just hasn't been done.

The C of E will get there in the end, but in the meantime we need to be patient, we need to be loving, and we need to keep listening to each other, and not just letting it wash over us, but engaging with what the other person is saying. Then, maybe, we'll be able to move on from this and work together for God's glory.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Puritans - Their Origins and Successors by D.M. Lloyd-Jones

Puritans have a very bad name in most of the Church, apart from a small section of it where they have a very good name. That small section mostly owes its existence to some conferences started by Lloyd-Jones and J.I. Packer in the 1950s. This book brings together Lloyd-Jones's closing addresses from those conferences from 1959 to 1978, on diverse topics such as:

  • biographies of individual Puritans (Henry Jacob, Howell Harris, William Williams)
  • some figures from the Evangelical Revival (Edwards, Whitefield) and how they were influenced by the Puritans
  • Puritan views on a number of topics, especially church order, church and state and religious experience
  • in depth studies of the teaching of one Puritan in one area (e.g. Bunyan on unity)

Lloyd-Jones roughly sees the Puritans as starting with Tyndale, reaching full flowering from Knox and ending in 1662. The key to Puritanism seems to be discontent with the C of E, and of course Lloyd-Jones pushes quite strongly that the logical consequence of Puritanism is leaving the C of E. I'd love to have seen him address why the energy of the movement and so much of the good they did just vanished within just a generation of them leaving in 1662.

I don't agree with the Puritans on everything, and I'd love to see some day a sensitive treatment of how so many of them ended up so wrong on culture, etc. I don't agree with Lloyd-Jones on everything - it's telling that when he draws the distinctions between Knox and Hooper who started out very similar but diverged, I agree with Hooper and I'm pretty sure Lloyd-Jones agreed with Knox.

Having said that, I really enjoyed this book. Lots of food for thought - lots to agree with, and lots of reasons to be all the more surprised that those who most love the Puritans today in the UK tend to be strongly opposed to some elements of Puritan theology which I quite like...

People who cannot see this subjective element in Calvinism seem to me never to have understood Calvinism. Calvinism of necessity leads to an emphasis upon the action and the activity of God the Holy Spirit. The whole emphasis is upon what God does to us: not what man does but what God does to us; not our hold of Him, but 'His strong grasp of us'. So Calvinism of necessity leads to experiences, and to great emphasis upon experience; and these men, and all these older Calvinists were constantly talking about 'visitations', how the Lord had appeared to them, how the Lord had spoken to them...