Sunday, May 10, 2015

Productive citizens

"Increased child-care benefits for working parents." Great news on the face of it, but behind it sits the notion that Australian parents should be economic units contributing to the greater financial well-being of Australia. The child-care package announced today (on Mother's Day!) by Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison is designed to help trim the Budget, for example tighter benefit caps, while also encouraging parents (mainly, but not always mums) to re-enter the workforce. Amy and I are happy to receive welfare if we qualify, but the underlying assumption is that it's better for Amy to be in the workforce. With steep house prices, Amy may end up doing that and extra childcare benefits could be very helpful.
"[However] the extra spending of $3.5 billion over four years is contingent on the Senate passing cuts in last year's budget to Family Tax Benefits, including stopping payments entirely to single-income families when children turn six."
If governments have a role in protecting and encouraging human flourishing then why must it be measured financially? Why is it that single income families can't flourish? This is because financial prosperity is the matrix of progress in much of the secular world. One of the challenges of Christianity to help challenge this status quo and carve out cultural territory that is not measured financially. Books read, songs sung and people loved.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Good Governance for Presbytery

Presbytery meetings are unusual because they include procedural or administrative items and theological and pastoral discussion. They're the building blocks of the Presbyterian Church, take substantial time and sometimes make decisions with significant ramifications. So here are my tips to making Presbytery better.

  • The moderator needs to keep an eye on the clock, moving procedural items along quickly to give time to theological and pastoral items
  • A good clerk is worth their weight in gold
  • Presbytery should keep a list of standing orders, little ways of doing things that are peculiar to that particular group and that can be given to new members. 
  • If possible meet during the day, this allows for extended discussion and breaks for networking (being kept up late is generally a bad pastoral move)
  • Circulate material, agenda, reports, correspondence requiring action etc several days before meeting
  • Develop a standing order where, non-controversial items are automatically approved and delegated
  • Use the devotion time as a time to preach a short sermon, rarely do the ministers get to hear each other
  • Don't pad reports, there's no need to persuade, just present the information
  • Don't be afraid to attempt to persuade and negotiate during discussion though
  • A good moderator should flag when the discussion is loose and informal and then flag when Roberts Rules should be adhered to closely
  • Meet in a geographically central location
  • The seating arrangement will affect the dynamic of the discussions

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Why do we keep fighting the Atonement theory battles?

Battling for the supremacy of a particular atonement theory, is counter productive. Here is a very recent example from Michael J. Kruger at the Gospel Coalition website: 'Did Early Christians Believe in Substitutionary Atonement?' Undoubtedly they did to a degree, although it seems they preferred the Battlefield metaphor (Jesus' death is an ambush of his enemies, rescuing the captives and bring peace.) until Anselm reminded us of the Judiciary or City-Gate metaphor (The just punishment of sin is carried out and clemency is simultaneously provided, the former on Jesus and the latter on us.)

Kruger opens his article rightly rebutting the lazy secular historiography that says that various aspects of Christian theology are modern inventions. These types (of the Dan Brown school of theology) should read Origin of the Species before commenting on Christian doctrine! It's an evolution of previous material, not a 'deus machina' of new doctrines. (Even in Islam, which is a 'deux machina' of sorts as Muhammad receives his revelations in the Arabian desert, is a mashup (fan fiction?) of Christianity.) Anyway Kruger says Substitutionary Atonement gets a bad rap for being brought into the limelight by Anselm. (Incidentally you could say the same thing about the Trinity and Athanasius or Original Sin and Augustine, Jesus and the New Testament or even Moses and the Law!) On the one hand I want to cheer Kruger's attacks on the vagaries of Bishop Peter Carnley or Rob Bell. But on the other hand I'm left wondering why he staunchly sticks to the schema of competing atonement theories? Aren't there five different metaphors, some of which get more airtime or prominence than others, which have been more or less favoured through Christian history? Just because the Judiciary (law court) metaphor didn't get as much air time before Anselm doesn't change it's prominence in Romans.

You can see it all in Kruger's final paragraph:
The Epistle to Diognetus shows that the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement and the imputation of Christ's righteousness are not wholesale inventions of later Christians, but were present, at least in seed form, early in the history of Christianity. Did some Christian groups hold other views of such matters? Sure. But the continuity between the teachings of this epistle and the writings of Paul himself (see especially Romans 5) make it evident that the substitutionary atonement/imputation view goes back very early indeed.
But a more fruitful contribution would have been to demonstrate the relative place of each metaphor in Scripture, and note how the various 'atonement theories' is simply drawing out the Biblical focus of a particular atonement metaphor. Given the rise of Biblical Theology, it seems wiser to note within a given piece of Scripture which Atonement metaphors are present or emphasied.

[Mosaic of Jesus carrying the Cross from Christ the King Chapel, photograph by Mark Scott.]

DID EARLY CHRISTIANS BELIEVE IN SUBSTITUTIONARY ATONEMENT?