Monday, October 27, 2014

Societas 2014

Since 1919, the students of Moore Theological College have published an annual magazine: Societas. I've been involved with the team that produces the magazine of the last two years, and the 2014 edition was launched last Friday. It contains articles from the students, along profiles of the college's students and faculty which I've found very useful in praying for the college.

Described as "a highlight of the diocesan calendar", Societas can be viewed online. Hard copies can also be obtained by contacting the college: 02 9577 9999 or email

Monday, September 29, 2014

Our Humble and Hearty Thanks

"There is something about gratitude that is so fundamentally different to grumbling." 
Back in February I wrote a piece that prescribed thankfulness as an antidote to grumbling, and speculated that the authors of the Book of Common Prayer had noticed the same dynamic. Well, it seems that the good folk at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation are also aware of this dynamic, as David Powlison - editor of the excellent Journal of Biblical Counseling - describes in this video:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Parish Family Tree

Long term readers of hebel will know of a slow, on going project to map the parishes of the Sydney Diocese.

View Sydney Diocese Parish Boundaries in a larger map

Partly this comes out of an appreciation of the Anglican parochial missiology. But it also comes from the present inaccessibility of parish maps. Well, related to this project has been an interest in the history of the formation of parishes in Sydney. Thanks largely to pre-existing family trees at St Philip's Church Hill and St Peter's St Peters, I've begun to compile a family tree of Sydney Anglican parishes. You might like to check it out below (click to expand):

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

From Sinner to Singer

Jesus said that it is not what goes into a person that makes them unclean, but what comes out of their heart. Out of the abundance of the heart come all kinds of sin: evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. This failure of heart, what Christian theologians have described as concupiscence or our tendency to sin, is described by the Apostle Paul in a tight little passage as the consequence of false worship.

Despite the beauty and delight of the world around us, we refused to respond to our Creator with a due sense of thankful or praise (Romans 1:21). Instead, we turned to from the Creator to the creation, worshipping it in his place, desiring the things he had made rather than our maker (Romans 1:23, 25). Through idolatry, our hearts became just as darkened and our thinking futile as the things we worshipped.

Paul is probably picking up on the idea prevalent in the Old Testament that we become what we worship. This is seen in Isaiah; the prophet is commissioned to preach to his idolatrous generation with the result that they deaf, blind, and dull hearted (Isaiah 6:9-10) – just like the idols they worship (Isaiah 42:8, 17-25)! Hence why one of things the Servant of the Lord brings is the restoration of sight to the blind.

Likewise, the Apostle John can describe our hearts in this manner. John can urge his readers to guard against idolatry (1 John 5:21; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:7, 14) because he knows that our concupiscence lies in our love of things in God’s good world (1 John 2:15-17). The problem lies not out there; it lies in mangled love or over-desires: ‘the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, pride in possessions’.  It is not hard to imagine as Andrew Cameron does that this is John’s commentary on that moment in the garden when sin was let loose on the world: (cf. Genesis 3:6) good for food’ [desire of flesh]; ‘pleasing to the eye’ [desire of eyes]; ‘desirable for wisdom’ [pride].[1] What John describes is our thankless, obsessive, destructive misappropriation of the Creator’s creation. Our love for the wrong things has bent us out of shape.

It was his reflection on these verses that led St Augustine to describe our propensity to sin as disordered love. Human beings are liturgical creatures – we are made to worship something. In our refusal to thank and glorify God, our hearts have turned to find something else to worship.
These are thy gifts; they are good, for thou in thy goodness has made them. Nothing in them is from us, save for sin when, neglectful of order, we fix our love on the creature, instead of on thee, the Creator.  (City of God, XV.22)
What is needed is for our misdirected hearts to be reordered, for our hearts remain restless until they come to rest in that for which they were made (cf. Confessions I):

But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally. (On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28)
Millennia later, the former Augustinian monk Martin Luther diagnosed the human condition in a similar way. According the Luther, our life and worship is incurvatus in se, turned in on ourselves.

Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake. (Lectures on Romans)
In his A Treatise on Good Works, an exposition of the Ten Commandments, Luther says the call to
“have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) and the call to believe in Jesus alone for your justification
(Romans 3–4) are, in essence, the same thing. To say you must have no other gods but God and to say you must not try to achieve your salvation without Christ are one and the same.
Now this is the work of the First Commandment, which commands: “Thou shalt have no other gods,” which means: “Since I alone am God, thou shalt place all thy confidence, trust and faith on Me alone, and on no one else.”
For Luther, idolatry is the fundamental root of our sins and problems; you do not lie, commit adultery, or steal unless you first make something more fundamental to your hope and joy and status than God.
Anything you look to more than you look to Christ for your sense of 
acceptability, joy, significance, hope, and security is by definition your god—something you adore and serve with your whole life and heart. That is an idol, by definition. 

In like manner, John Calvin wrote in his Christian Institutes that “the human heart is an idol factory” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, I 11.8). Our hearts and minds are perpetually industrious in imagining new things to love and worship. This long tradition of equating sin with idolatry was neatly summarized a few years ago by moral theologian Oliver O’Donovan:

 [I]t is possible, notwithstanding the truth that we love and know only the good, also in a sense to love evil. We love evil by resting in the pattern of loves and dreads that comes immediately to us, treating our dreads as though they were equally real with the goods we love. ... This is perfectly expressed in the traditional Christian doctrine of original sin, described memorably by Martin Luther as an incurvatus in se, a self-enclosure. In sin we divide the good world God has made into two “worlds”, one good and the other evil, and we make our own contingent perspectives the criterion for the division. And this gives a new, negative sense to the term “world”, which we have hitherto spoken of positively as God’s creation. This negative sense is characteristic of the New Testament, and points to the reality a constructed world, a world of our own imagination, pitched over against the created world and in opposition to it.[2]
The great human tragedy is that despite being the divinely commissioned image-bearers in the world, we turned from reflecting that image to the creation and love of other images. We exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped idols of our fashioning. Out of the abundance of the heart comes all kind of impurities, and our hearts had grown ruinous. Yet whilst the human heart spewed forth impurity, the Jesus Christ – the very image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15) – came forth to heal our hearts. His work is summarised by Hebrews 1:3 as such:

He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…
Hebrews goes on to say that this purification came through Jesus’ own blood (9:14). He has put away sin once and for all (9:26), enabling those purified by him to serve the living God. The end result as pictured in Hebrews 13 is a life issuing forth as a sacrifice of praise. Those purified by Jesus the great high priest are enabled to live a life of worship to God. Along the same lines Paul encourages the mind set on the Spirit to be transformed, as the body worships God (Romans 12:1):

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
This is the antithesis of the perverted worship of Romans 1. Whereas in Romans 1 humans were dishonoured in their bodies, worshipping and serving creatures, disapproving of God which issued in a depraved mind, in Romans 12 Christians are instructed to present their bodies in the service and worship of God, which leads to the renewing of their minds, that they may approve God’s will. The achievement of Christ is to turn God’s enemies into those who are by the Spirit conformed to the image of God’s Son. We are set free from sin to respond to God by grace. In other words, we are turned from sinners into singers. We do not live under slavery to sin. The prayer of conversion is, with John Donne, that God would “Come | And recreate me now grown ruinous.”   We are made fit to worship the true and living God. Far from being hostile towards and unable to please God, I am someone who lives for the praise of God’s glory. Rather than being incurvatus in se, I live (in another of Luther’s phrases) coram Deo; that is, before God, before his face, and in his presence.

This is not to deny the presence of sin in Christians, what Don Carson describes as “shocking, inexcusable, forbidden, appalling, out of line with what we are as Christians.” But to be a Christian is to have one’s darkened heart renewed by the Spirit, so that the abundance of this heart, by God’s grace, produces fruit. Having been purified by our high priest, we are transformed from idol makers to glory reflectors, from incurvatus in se to coram Deo, from sinners to singers.

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:6)
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

[1] Andrew Cameron, Joined-up life: A Christian account of how ethics works (Nottingham: IVP, 2011), 52-53.
[2] Oliver O’Donovan, New College Lectures 2007: Lecture 2 ‘Admiring’.

Friday, August 15, 2014

For Christ’s sake, stop calling me a sinner

Language is important. The language we deploy shapes our imagination of how we perceive the world and ourselves. Christians, committed as we are to an ontological and moral realism in creation, have a peculiar interest in the way we use language. We hope that our language reflects the order God has created, preserved, redeemed, and will one day prefect, all for the sake of his Son. This is a humble project; the finiteness of our creaturely minds, and the disordering of our hearts, makes us dependent upon revelation to be to understand the world. The way Christians speak of themselves and the world around them is contingent upon God’s revelation to us in Christ Jesus, the one through whom and for whom all things were made. It is the particular work of the Holy Spirit to renew our minds, thereby freeing us to attend to and participate in this moral order.

One contemporary linguistic glitch in the Christian world today is the way in which Christian’s are described as “saints and sinners”, or using the term coined by German reformer Martin Luther, simul iustus et peccator. This phrase seeks to capture the ongoing presence of sin in a believer’s life, alongside the reality that in Christ they are cleansed and renewed. It gives account of one’s experience besides gospel truth. 

It is curious to note though the absence of the term “sinner” in Paul’s description of Christians. Whilst “saint” is used throughout the Pauline corpus to describe Christians, including six of Paul’s introductions (Romans 1.7; 1 Corinthians 1.2; 2 Corinthians 1.1; Ephesians 1.1; Philippians 1.1; Colossians 1.2), the term “sinner” is nowhere used to describe those who belong to Jesus.  This is not to deny the ongoing presence of sin in a believer’s life. The task of sanctification and perfection is ongoing. Sin may mar our lives, but we are charged with presenting our bodies in worship for the renewing of our minds, the re-ordering of our heart as St Augustine would put it. We who live according to the Spirit no longer live according to flesh; we are to walk in the light, and not the darkness. What is most true of us is not sin, because it has no mastery over us. Despite the presence of sin in my life, I am not sinner, but a saint who trusts that the same God who justified me will bring that work to completion in my sanctification. The gospel shows me that I am much more broken and stained by sin then you could ever imagine;. Yet his grace has appeared; God has adopted me as his child, declaring me to be a saint of the Most High.

It seems then that the description of saints as sinners is a category error. Archbishop Glenn Davies comments that:

“Clearly the Bible affirms the presence of sin in the life of the believer will continue until their death, but this is not to be equated with the term ‘sinner’. […] To use the term ‘sinner’ is to fly in the face of the whole teaching of the Bible, that those who belong to God’s people are ‘the righteous’ and not ‘the wicked’.”
The Apostle Peter, following the lead of Psalm 1.5, uses this dichotomy of wicked/sinner against the righteous in his first letter:

‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinners?’ (1 Peter 4.18)
Biblically and theologically, we are dealing with two diametrically opposed categories: saints and sinners. Those in Christ, and those outside of him. To be a sinner, is to be, as Luther described it, self-enclosed – incurvatus in se. But conversion and repentance is the beginning of a reordering of our love. Apprehending Christ’s work of salvation done to me and for me, we cease being curved in upon ourselves, as we are sanctified in him. Clearly then, Christians can only belong to one of these theologically laden categories.

If language matters, then the practice of describing believers as “sinners” is dangerous. We are allowing our experience to drive our theology. The reality is that through our union with Christ, we are ontologically and theologically speaking freed from slavery to sin. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins described it, “I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am”. If anyone does sin, our advocate in heaven is able to cleanse us, and the perfecting work of the Spirit continues to redirect our desires towards Christ. I take that the part played by regular confession in corporate worship inducts into this dynamic of sanctification and grace; us we hear the call to repent, make confession of our sins, and assured of our forgiveness, we respond with praise and thanksgiving to our God and his Son who freed us and cleansed us by his blood. When we call one another “sinner”, we fly in the face of this glorious gospel truth: that Jesus, the friend of sinners, died my death, securing my adoption by our heavenly Father. We are saints of the Most High. For Christ's sake, will you stop calling me a sinner?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Why Liturgy?

Alison and I recently put together a Lenten supplement to our work last year during Advent. What follows here is the introduction I wrote for the resource, briefly outlining the place of worship in formation. You can view the rest of the resource here.

One way of approaching Christian anthropology is to say that humans are lovers. We are what is known as Homo Liturgicus; liturgical animals, who can‘t not worship. That before you say anything else about humans, whether it be as rational beings or believers, you must say that we are lovers. The centre of gravity of a human person is not the brain but the kardia – the heart. Although there is deep and complex relationship between our heart, mind, will, affections, and body, we are, when it comes down to it, made to love and be loved. 

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
                                                                                    (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”
                                                                                    (Matthew 22:36-39)
"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."
                                                                                    (Augustine of Hippo)
It follows then that one of the major changes wrought on humans by the entry of sin, evil and death into God’s good world was on our heart. We become people who loved the wrong things. We love the creation rather than the creator. We make good things ultimate things, instead of receiving them as gifts of a kind and gracious Father. And instead of cherishing something for the thing itself, we use and abuse them, as we look to them to give something they weren’t created to provide. Our desires are disordered.

The work of the Holy Spirit amongst who have been united to Christ and justified by grace through faith is to reorder our desires so that we love in the right way. This is the work of sanctification, grounded in our justification that changes our hearts to love in a right way. One of the ways this happens is through worship – as we apprehend the generosity of our heavenly Father and the work of his Son, our affections change. As we hear the gospel again, we apprehend the beauty and majesty of Christ, and so worship him. And this happens with our bodies. You and I are embodied beings. We inhabit a body. As we stand, sit, or knell, as we sing, pray, or declare, as we partake in the sacraments, we worship with our bodies. And what we do with our bodies has the power to shape and drive who or what we love. That is to say the practices in which you habitually engage have such power to shape what you ultimately love. Our heart’s desires are shaped and moulded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate daily and weekly.

Worship plays a transformative role in our growth towards Christ likeness. And liturgies – the practices that we habitually partake in – when they are charged by God’s word and his Spirit, they reorder our hearts and minds to desire God and his kingdom. It expels the disordered loves that have occupied our heart, and brings forth a new affection. Worship forms who we love. And we are what we love.*

* James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom.

Thursday, February 06, 2014


"I am troubled, Sir," said I, "because that unhappy creature doesn't seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation. She isn't wicked: she's only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right."

"That is what she once was. That is maybe what she still is. If so, she certainly will be cured. But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler."

"I should have thought there was no doubt about that!"

"Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman-even the least trace of one-still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there's one wee spark under all those ashes, we'll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there's nothing but ashes we'll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up."

"But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?"

"The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But ye'll have had experiences . . . it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticising it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.
    – C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
It has been suggested that our habits serve as a fulcrum to direct our love.* That is to say the practices in which you habitually engage have such power to shape what you ultimately love. Our heart’s desires are shaped and molded by the habit-forming practices in which we participate daily and weekly. If that is true, there is then perhaps no other habit more destructive than grumbling. The Bible consistently warns against it. Repeatedly throughout their time in the wilderness Israel are reported to have grumbled against the Lord: the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against the LORD. – Exodus 16:7
“How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me." – Number 14:27
And reflecting on those years in the wild, Paul writes:

We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. – 1 Corinthians 10:9-10
It was Jesus’ own assessment of those who rejected or doubted him during his ministry (John 6:43). It is presented as an opposite habit of Christlike humility in Philippians 2 (cf. v.2), whilst Peter contrasts it with genuine love and service, which are to be free of grumbling in the way Christians show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:8-9). And the Apostle James, who has much to say about the power of the tongue (James 3:1 ff.), cautions against grumbling in these last days:

Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. – James 5:9
Whilst the normative Christian practice is one of patience and waiting, grumbling kills our steadfastness. Instead of feeding and strengthening our hearts as James encourages Christians to do, grumbling poisons our desires, our love, our heart. Instead of waiting it leads to impatience and hastiness. Instead of building one another up in love, grumbling turns us against one another. It kills our endurance, leading to the double minded instability James warns his readers against. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the cultivation of the habit of grumbling leads to an expectation that things can never change. Grumbling kills our hope, leading to malice, bitterness, and cynicism. It is a serious soul killer, as C.S. Lewis vividly portrayed in his description of the woman who has so habitualized grumbling that she herself has been reduced to a grumble.

What then is the balm to grumbling? Thankfully, there are what James K.A. Smith describes as habits, virtues and practices that are so charged with the gospel of God that they feed our hearts and direct our love more and more towards God, his church and his world. Thanksgiving seems to play an important role in producing endurance without double-minded grumbling (cf. James 1:2-8). The cultivation of receiving gifts with thanksgiving from God’s generous hands is a counter habit to grumbling. I suspect actually that this is why the Anglican divines incorporated so much thanksgiving into the Church of England liturgy. The practice of kneeling side by side with your brothers and sisters as you thank the “Father of all mercies” with the “…most humble and heart thanks for all they goodness and loving kindness to us and to all men [sic]” forms a humility and patience. After thanking God for the bounty of creation and all the blessings of this life, you thank him for his “inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ”. And as you pray this prayer of thanksgiving, you hear again the gospel and God’s extravagant generosity towards you; and this melts your heart, so that you worship anew the Lord who is compassionate and merciful (James 5:11).

There are of course many other habits and practices that can be employed against grumbling. But thanksgiving is foundational to producing the patience and endurance during good times and bad that firstly continues to hope for the coming of the Lord, and secondly serves others with love and imagination until the end comes, and all things will be made new.

* See Practice Makes Perfect? Exploring the Relationship between Knowledge, Desire, and Habit, Michael R. Emlet, JBC 27:1 (2013), 26-48; Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Cultural Liturgies), James K.A Smith, Baker Academic 2009.