Rowan, Baron Williams of Oystermouth

From the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official website:

Peerage for the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury

Wednesday 26th December 2012

The Queen has been pleased to confer a Peerage of the United Kingdom for Life on the Most Reverend and Right Honourable Dr Rowan Williams Lord Archbishop of Canterbury upon his retirement from the See of Canterbury.

Rowan Williams will be created a Baron for Life by the style and title of Baron Williams of Oystermouth in the City and County of Swansea.

Rowan WilliamsDr Williams does not actually retire until 31st December, but most likely his Christmas sermon yesterday was his last official duty. So today was an appropriate day to announce this honour for him, a customary one for retiring Archbishops of Canterbury.

Paul Trathen, on Twitter, commented:

Oystermouth?! Eh?!? St John Chrysostom gets to be ‘golden-tongue’ and +Rowan gets to be ‘Oystermouth’?!? 😉

Oystermouth CastleWell, the name “Oystermouth” comes from the ruined mediaeval castle which overlooks Swansea Bay, and which was no doubt very familiar to Rowan as he grew up and went to school in the Welsh city of Swansea. In fact the name has nothing to do with the shellfish for which the bay is well known, but is a corruption of a Welsh word. But Rowan’s new title was asking for comments like Paul’s.

I replied to Paul suggesting that Rowan’s title might mean that he has

A mouth hard to open but when it does you find pearls of wisdom?

In response to this, Paul wrote:

As you are not much of a fan, I thought you might suggest indigestible, an acquired taste, or slightly fishy!?! 😉

Well, I could have put it like that! It is undeniable (not least because it is well recorded on this blog) that I have had my differences with the retiring Archbishop. There was a time when, it seemed, whenever he opened his mouth it was to put his foot in it, rather than to bring forth pearls of wisdom. The Sharia law controversy was a particularly memorable example of that. He also admitted that he didn’t like the “political bits” of his role, leading me to suggest that he left it for an appointment where these “political bits” are not central. But I have to accept that he was landed with almost impossible tasks such as preserving unity through the 2008 Lambeth Conference and in the Church of England debate on women bishops. Could anyone else have done better with these tasks? Probably not.

Anyway, although Rowan is not dead, it seems to me bad form to speak ill of the newly ennobled. So I will repeat the substance of my tweet. As he transitions into his new appointment as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, I expect the new Lord Williams to live up to his “Oystermouth” title by opening his mouth in public only rarely, and only when he has genuine pearls of wisdom to offer to the church or to the world.

I wish Rowan and his wife Jane all the best as they return to the city and university where I knew Jane, and where she later met her husband.

I also wish all the best to Rowan’s successor, Justin Welby, now Bishop of Durham, as he prepares to move in the spring to Canterbury Cathedral and Lambeth Palace.

Restoring the Church of England to Sanity

An ancient poet, not Euripides, wrote:

Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

Archbishop Rowan Williams after today's voteIf we replace “gods” with the three persons of the Trinity, is this what is happening to the Church of England?

Certainly the church seems to have gone mad. Having decided in principle that it wants women as bishops, it has spent years going round in circles trying to find an acceptable formula for this, only to reject its chosen formula today, by a narrow margin. That is not the action of a sane and rational body. And it is a sad farewell for outgoing Archbishop Rowan Williams.

I’m not quite saying that today’s vote was irrational, because it may be that the proposed compromise with opponents was so insane that it was rational to reject it. Surely one can doubt the sanity of anyone who tries to push through a compromise which is completely rejected by one of the parties involved. But would that party have accepted any compromise?

It seems to me that the only way ahead now is the one suggested by Sam Norton in his post Please can we now do women bishops the right way? There is no future in trying to compromise between black and white. As the Apostle Paul asked, “what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, NIV) Of course, each side will say that they are light and their opponents are darkness, but that just proves the point. So, just as on the first day of creation God “separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:4), at this point there needs to be not a compromise but a separation. We just need to make sure that the kinds of procedures Sam outlines are followed. Then, unlike what has happened in The Episcopal Church in the USA, the separation can hopefully be an amicable one which does not lead to lawsuits and mutual anathemas.

Archbishop-elect Justin Welby before today's voteOf course if the Trinity really wishes to destroy the Church of England, no human scheme will be able to preserve it. But it may not be too late for that body to repent, put its house in order, and find itself again under God’s blessing. Archbishop-elect Justin Welby looks like a good choice of leader for this difficult task. Today’s vote will have made the task harder, but the long term result just may be a cleaner and so stronger Church of England.

N.T. Wright on Scripture and the Authority of God

N.T. WrightThis is how N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham and now a professor at St Andrews, ends a paper on Scripture and the Authority of God:

Scripture is then part of the Spirit-given means, along with the koinonia of the church and the strange new-Temple significance of the sacraments, by which the people who find themselves in Act 5 [i.e. the church age] are able to improvise appropriately as they move towards the ultimate goal. The Bible is not an end in itself, in other words. It is there so that, by its proper use, the creator may be glorified and the creation may be healed. It is our task to be the people through whom this extraordinary vision comes to pass. We are thus entrusted with a privilege too great for casual handling, too vital to remain a mere matter of debate.

Amen!

This paper, adapted from something Wright wrote in 1991, has been published in six parts over the last month at The BioLogos Forum: N.T. Wright on Scripture and the Authority of God, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6 (the quotation above is taken from part 6). This seems rather unconventional material for BioLogos, but it is certainly an excellent paper.

Rowan Williams to leave "impossible" job

Rowan WilliamsI don’t intend to write much about the departure of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. As some of my readers will remember, I have in the past (in fact in 2007) called for his resignation. I am not now rejoicing that he is going, but I do think he has made the right decision, and that it might have been better for him to resign earlier. However, I will resist the temptation to give this post a title like “Better late than never”.

I am glad that the Church Mouse has broken his silence to post Farewell Rowan, tempted by a tweet from myself and no doubt by many other encouragements. But Mouse’s post is very positive about Rowan. Much of this is justified, as indeed

his time as Archbishop has been an impossible one.

He has at least managed to avoid open schism in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion. But, to provide a balance to the hagiography, I added my own comment, which I am copying here, for wider circulation and for the record:

Thank you for breaking your silence on this matter. But I don’t see the need to extend the convention of not speaking ill of the dead to those who have merely announced their resignation. In many ways Rowan has been an excellent Archbishop. But I still think he failed to show the kind of pro-active leadership which was needed, especially around the 2008 Lambeth Conference. True, he had an impossible task, but I think a stronger leader would have brought about a better outcome.

So can a new man keep the Anglican Communion together and begin to heal the huge fault lines within it? If anyone can, I would think it is John Sentamu – not least because he is the only tipped candidate who is not white British. Or will the new man preside over the Communion’s formal dissolution? If so, I suspect that Rowan will go down in history as the archbishop who allowed it to happen.

Rowan Williams to leave “impossible” job

Rowan WilliamsI don’t intend to write much about the departure of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. As some of my readers will remember, I have in the past (in fact in 2007) called for his resignation. I am not now rejoicing that he is going, but I do think he has made the right decision, and that it might have been better for him to resign earlier. However, I will resist the temptation to give this post a title like “Better late than never”.

I am glad that the Church Mouse has broken his silence to post Farewell Rowan, tempted by a tweet from myself and no doubt by many other encouragements. But Mouse’s post is very positive about Rowan. Much of this is justified, as indeed

his time as Archbishop has been an impossible one.

He has at least managed to avoid open schism in the Church of England and in the Anglican Communion. But, to provide a balance to the hagiography, I added my own comment, which I am copying here, for wider circulation and for the record:

Thank you for breaking your silence on this matter. But I don’t see the need to extend the convention of not speaking ill of the dead to those who have merely announced their resignation. In many ways Rowan has been an excellent Archbishop. But I still think he failed to show the kind of pro-active leadership which was needed, especially around the 2008 Lambeth Conference. True, he had an impossible task, but I think a stronger leader would have brought about a better outcome.

So can a new man keep the Anglican Communion together and begin to heal the huge fault lines within it? If anyone can, I would think it is John Sentamu – not least because he is the only tipped candidate who is not white British. Or will the new man preside over the Communion’s formal dissolution? If so, I suspect that Rowan will go down in history as the archbishop who allowed it to happen.

Christians and Politics: Williams and Whitefield

I thank the publishers for sending me a review copy of The Politics of Witness by Allan R. Bevere. When I have time I will be reading and reviewing it, especially in the light of the discussion relating to my post Is every Christian in politics a “Dominionist”? But I am likely to be too busy to do this for the next few days.

Meanwhile I have a couple of links and quick thoughts to share on the subject of Christians in politics.

Archbishop Rowan WilliamsRachel Marszalek, newly ordained in the Church of England, reports on a visit to her diocese by the “notorious” Archbishop Rowan Williams. Part of her post is about a talk by the Archbishop “Making a Witness in the Public Square”. Here are some of his words as summarised by Rachel:

When you come into the body of Christ, you are to be loyal to God’s vision for the human race, over and above ethnic, National and even, swallow hard, family loyalties. It calls you also to be loyal to something that has not yet happened. For the Roman Empire this was seen as a rival claim. But we can not be loyal Roman citizens and in choosing not to be, death was the consequence for some. Christians work out a theology of citizenship which means that the country itself can not be treated as a god. …

The Roman Empire got it wrong in seeing Christianity as a rival claim. But the church was a great, big organisation. It was one legal system against another. The church has to step back and not compete for territory.

Rowan anchored much of what he spoke about in the work of William Stringfellow… Rowan quoted from ‘Conscience and Obedience,’ written in the late 1970s. …

When is it right not to obey the law, asks Stringfellow…when the law seems to be going in the opposite direction to God’s vision. Stringfellow proposes vocal advocacy – we do this and we take the consequences. Civil disobedience is not something Christians should never consider. We have to be able to say to the state – by what authority can you do this if it defies a Godward direction?

What can I say? Rowan Williams clearly wouldn’t endorse the kind of conservative Christian involvement in US politics which has been much discussed, and misrepresented, in recent weeks. But he would also reject the idea that Christians should keep out of political discussions and retreat to their own communities. These are thoughts I will bear in mind as I read Bevere’s book.

George WhitefieldMeanwhile Scot McKnight writes about Politics and Religion, the American Odyssey. A large part of this post is a discussion of the role of George Whitefield in pioneering Christian political action in North America. He finishes with some questions about how far Whitefield’s example can be followed today (emphasis as in the original):

Many may be uncomfortable with Whitefield’s attention to political issues in England and the USA, but there’s a big question here we need to discuss: Can a Christian pastor completely ignore the political? While the Anabaptist vision, as compared with the Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed views, may prefer more separation from the State and political issues, can the Christian preacher ever avoid the implications of the gospel for politics?

I will ponder these questions, and maybe some time I will attempt to answer them.

N.T. Wright: Paul doesn't direct women to teach

N.T. WrightAt the new BLT blog Theophrastus has posted about Deduction and Tom Wright’s Translation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12, and Suzanne McCarthy has responded. Yesterday I also responded to Theo, but only to one thing which he wrote, the UK publication and title of N.T. Wright’s The New Testament for Everyone. Now, as I promised yesterday, I want to discuss the main substance of Theo’s post, Wright’s take on 1 Timothy 2.

This, according to Theophrastus, is Wright’s rendering of verses 11 and 12:

They [women] must be allowed to study undisturbed, in full submission to God.  I’m not saying that women should teach men, or try to dictate to them; rather, that they should be left undisturbed.

Compare this with NIV 2011:

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

ESV differs mainly by reading “exercise authority” rather than “assume authority”, for the Greek authentein. And it is that one word difference which has been the focus of huge controversy over the last few years, and indeed has provided the main grounds on which Denny Burk has rejected and condemned NIV 2011.

The innovative part of Wright’s translation is something different, in his rendering of the Greek ouk epitrepo not as “I do not permit” but as “I’m not saying that … should”. In other words, he understands epitrepo not as “permit” but as something like “direct”. But is this a plausible translation of the Greek? Theophrastus quotes Wright’s “rather extensive discussion of his reasoning in translating the passage this way”, but at least in the rather extensive quotation Wright offers no justification for his rendering of the Greek. Well, this is a commentary “for everyone”. But he does offer an interesting alternative paraphrase of verse 12:

I don’t mean to imply that I’m now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way that previously men held authority over women.

So perhaps here Wright is suggesting that epitrepo means something like “appoint”.

But what does this Greek word mean? The gloss in Barclay Newman’s Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament is simple: “let, allow, permit”, and that seems to fit with the 18 New Testament occurrences of the word. But the Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon of classical Greek gives a rather different picture of the meaning of this word, within the Greek language as a whole. Here is a summary of its definitions:

A 1. to turn to or towards; to overturn upon.
2. turn over to, transfer, bequeath.
3. commit, entrust to another as trustee, guardian, or vicegerent; also a son for education; refer a legal issue to any one.
4. c. dat. only, rely upon, leave to ; refer the matter to a person, leave it to his arbitration.
5. Med., entrust oneself, leave one’s case to; also, to entrust what is one’s own to another.
6. Pass., to be entrusted.
B 1. give up, yield; later c. inf., permit, suffer: abs., give way.
2. intr., give way.
C. command.

Senses A5 and A6 don’t apply here as the verb is active. Sense A4 “rely on”, which might fit Wright’s interpretation, is attested only from several centuries before the New Testament. The “later” version of sense B1 corresponds to Newman’s “let, allow, permit”. But this was not the only sense of the word in Hellenistic Greek, as LSJ cites two second century AD papyrus examples as evidence for its sense C “command”. I note that in many, but not all, of the other New Testament occurrences “command” fits just as well as “allow”; in Mark 10:4 epitrepo is used where the parallel in Matthew 19:7 is entellomai “command”.

So can the controversy about 1 Timothy 2:12 be resolved by understanding epitrepo as “command” or “direct”? Wright seems to think so. But if he is to convince people of this, he needs to offer an explicit scholarly exegesis of this Greek word in its context, and not rely on what people might infer from his renderings of the verse. And there is bound to be strong resistance in certain quarters to even the strongest of arguments which might undermine deeply entrenched patriarchal understandings of the church.

Wright's NT for Everyone: Not the Kingdom in the UK

In May I wrote about The Kingdom New Testament, the new title for N.T. Wright’s new version. As I noted in an update two days ago, the former Bishop of Durham’s translation is now scheduled for publication on 25th October, by HarperOne (a Murdoch company) and can be ordered from Amazon.com – but not from Amazon.co.uk.

The New Testament for EveryoneI thank Theophrastus for the information, at the new BLT blog, that apparently the same version has been published in the UK under a different title, The New Testament for Everyone. This is presumably why the American title is not on offer in the UK. The UK version, published by SPCK (nothing to do with the Murdochs), is already available – it was published in July. I presume that US readers can order the UK version from Amazon.co.uk, as Theophrastus, at least, has a copy.

I wonder why yet another title has been chosen for this UK edition, after “The King’s Version” and “The Kingdom New Testament” were both rejected. It seems perverse that a title including “Kingdom” is acceptable in the anti-monarchist United States but not here in the United Kingdom.

But how suitable is this version “for everyone”? As I haven’t seen the text I cannot judge it. But in the past (the link is to a 2005 comment which I found from Google, but my criticism dates back to a 2002 paper) I have been critical of the claims made that ESV is “one Bible for all of life”, and of similar claims for other versions. I don’t agree that any Bible version is suitable “for everyone”, even for all English speakers, as different people need different kinds of translation. For this reason Wright and SPCK would have done better to stick with the title “The Kingdom New Testament”.

Theophrastus also discusses this version’s interesting rendering of 1 Timothy 2:11-12. I intend to discuss that in a further post.

Virginia earthquake: Wilkerson's prophecy fulfilled?

David Wilkerson’s earthquake prophecy seems to fit well with worldwide events this year, or at least it has offered a convenient grid for some people to fit their interpretations of events into. There has been a major earthquake in Japan, a minor one in England, and earthquake panic in Rome. But despite the Tea Party’s best efforts last month, the prophesied economic meltdown has not yet happened.

The latest candidate for a fulfilment of Wilkerson’s prophecy is of course Tuesday’s earthquake in the “Old Dominion” state of Virginia. This caused damage, but thankfully no known casualties, in Washington DC. In New York, 300 miles away, it was felt strongly enough to cause panic. Meanwhile Hurricane Irene is heading straight for the capital city and the Big Apple, and is expected to hit them at the weekend.

So could this be what Wilkerson prophesied? Well, it certainly fits one of his predictions for the earthquake:

I believe it is going to take place where it is least expected.

But while there have been riots, fires and looting in the UK this month (I have not commented on them before as I am still on vacation), the panic in New York doesn’t seem to have led to looting in Times Square – although who knows what might happen in the aftermath of a hurricane? More seriously, there is no way that this minor quake can be understood as

the biggest most disastrous earthquake in history.

Washington National CathedralIn this week’s quake the most seriously damaged building, it seems, was the Washington National Cathedral, according to Wikipedia “the seat of … the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori” and thus the spiritual centre of the largely apostate Episcopal Church. I use the word “apostate” here not so much concerning its abandonment of the true gospel or its promotion of homosexual practice as in relation to its policy, in direct contravention of apostolic teaching (1 Corinthians 6:1-6), of persecuting orthodox congregations through the secular courts. Now I am not claiming that this damage to the cathedral (minor of course compared to the damage to Christchurch cathedral in New Zealand just six months earlier) was the result of divine judgment. But from an orthodox Christian perspective it certainly seems to be poetic justice.

So as Christians what lessons can we learn from this week’s event? It doesn’t seem to have been the fulfilment of David Wilkerson’s prophecy. But perhaps it can be understood as a reminder and a warning that the USA, and indeed the whole world, has earned God’s judgment, and it is only by his grace that we are spared the total destruction which we deserve:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

2 Peter 3:9-10 (NIV 2011)

There is nothing in this world which cannot be shaken, even if it is not supposed to be in an earthquake zone, even the centres of world political and economic power. “Dominion” may have become a dirty word in politics, but this quake can teach us that true kingship belongs not to the “Old Dominion” but to God. So let us all take a lesson from the letter to the Hebrews:

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Hebrews 12:25-29 (NIV 2011)

N.T. Wright: Jesus in 3D

Brian LePort has an interesting post N.T. Wright on the Chalcedonian Definition. For those who don’t know, the Chalcedonian Definition was the climax of the early church’s quest to define the nature of Jesus as both God and man,

perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; … in all things like unto us, without sin; … in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved …

This definition was and still is accepted by the church of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches, and most Protestants also consider it a touchstone of Trinitarian orthodoxy. But it was and still is rejected by some Oriental churches as well as by non-Trinitarians.

N.T. WrightWright, as quoted by LePort, writes:

the Chalcedonian Definition looks suspiciously like an attempt to say the right thing but in two dimensions (divinity and humanity as reimagined within a partly de-Judaized world of thought) rather than in three dimensions. What the Gospel offer is the personal story of Jesus himself, understood in terms of his simultaneously (1) embodying Israel’s God, coming to rule the world as he had always promised, and (2) summing up Israel itself, as its Messiah, offering to Israel’s God the obedience to which Israel’s whole canonical tradition had pointed but which nobody, up to this point, had been able to provide. The flattening out of Christian debates about Jesus into the language of divinity and humanity represents, I believe, a serious de-Judaizing of the Gospels, ignoring the fact that the Gospels know nothing of divinity in the abstract and plenty about the God of Israel coming to establish his kingdom on earth as in heaven, that they know nothing of humanity in the abstract, but plenty about Israel as God’s true people, and Jesus as summing that people up in himself. The Council of Chalcedon might be seen as the de-Israelitization of the canonical picture of YHWH and Israel into the abstract categories of ‘divinity’ and ‘humanity.’ I continue to affirm Chalcedon in the same way that I will agree that a sphere is also a circle or a cube also a square, while noting that this truth is not the whole truth.

In other words, the true Jesus is a three-dimensional person in a Jewish real world context, living the life of a real man and doing the works of a real God. But the Byzantine theologians took him out of that context and flattened him into a two-dimensional abstraction derived from Greek philosophical concepts of divinity and humanity. They were not wrong, but they gave us only a small part of the picture.

Sadly most of the church today sees Jesus in the same way. He is worshipped as a static two-dimensional image, even when portrayed in three-dimensional statues, and honoured for the important things he did 2000 years ago. He is not understood as the living God. Nor is he taken as our fully human example, as I posted about him being nearly five years ago.

The world has recently rediscovered 3D cinema. In a few days from now the BBC will offer 3D television for the first time, for the Wimbledon finals. It is time for the church to rediscover the real 3D Jesus, and broadcast him to the world.