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Showing posts from January, 2009

John Humphreys grills Rowan Williams

Just come across a fascinating BBC radio program, here, where John Humphries interrogates religious leaders and demands that they try and convert him. Only listened to the first part of the Rowan Williams interview so far. Williams says some great things and some not so great things. One thing he said which I appreciated, and which relates to the Contextual Theology thread currently running, is that it is often better to use crude physical imagery to describe God rather than abstract technical language because when we refer to God's arm, or God be like a rock, it is obvious that our language is metaphor and therefore a rather human attempt to grasp the unreachable, but when we use abstract words like omnipresent or eternal we start to think we have a handle on who/what God is.

In the first part of the interview at least, RW refers at least as much to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy as he does the Bible.

Let me know what you think :)

Headlines on the persecuted church

This month from from Barnabas Fund


Does anyone know what it is about Bangladesh that the current trend towards the radicalisation of Islamic countries doesn't seem to be taking place there? (Or maybe it is but not as quick?)

World peace in one easy step?

A notorious peace activist, Adrian James Leason, currently awaiting trial in NZ was speaking at a conference in Auckland a while back. He had come up with a foolproof plan for bringing about world peace. He said it was simple: Husbands love your wives (presumably quoting Eph 5:25 and Col 3:19?). And then give them lots of sons. Then all those mothers' sons will grow up with mothers who do not want their sons to go to war and kill other mothers' sons. And so there will be no war.

Now although I could see possible practical difficulties with the plan I thought it really demonstrated how insane war really is. As I was looking at my daughter this morning I thought to myself, how can anyone send someone else's children to war? Why would anyone let someone send their children to war?

Adrian is causing controversy again this month by including his six yearold daughter in a protest march against the atrocity in Gaza (and here). For which he has been condemned by some, but I…


This poem by Percy Shelley (1792-1822) was a favourite of my late Grandfather's. He could recite it from memory.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing besides remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Interpersonal rather than propositional?

To reflect on the 1st chapter of Bevans' book I have to say the two points that really stood out and appealed to me were: 1) the shift in theological thinking from propositional to relational categories and 2) the growing awareness of how the doctrine of the Trinity reveals a God who is to be understood primarily as relational.

In many ways this amounts to the same thing: to stop trying to conceive of God in abstract terms and then feel that signing a list of statements about God is an act of faith and to realise that God is not knowable in terms of propositions but only as God is personally encountered through the scriptures, church and everyday life.

Evangelicals have long been fond of saying "it's not a religion it's a relationship" but have then proceeded to reveal a list of philosophical propositions which require your intellectual assent before you can be considered a Christian. The problem for us religious types is that when you really understand that Ch…

James 1:2-4

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.This letter from James is probably one of the earliest documents in the NT. The early years of the church were marked by periodic bursts of persecution (e.g. Acts 5:17-42; 7:54-8:3; 9:23-5; 12:1-5; etc) and I think it fair to assume that even without overt acts of persecution the new sect of Christians would have been treated with suspicion by both Jews and Gentiles. The 'testing of your faith' is exactly that, your faith being put on trial. Because we in the western world so seldom (if ever) are put on trial for our faith we miss out on the benefit of developing endurance/staying power. For James, to be under suspicion, to be discriminated against or persecuted because of the faith is the path to maturity in the faith.


Specious Reasoning Disgusting

Israel has repeatedly insisted all of its weapons used were in line with international law and has blamed Hamas for the high number of civilian casualties...
"They (Hamas) were committing war crimes by putting the civilians in the frontline," she said. "If Hamas chooses to locate training camps, command centres... in the middle of the (civilian population)... look how populated it is... naturally they are endangering the lives of civilians. Hamas is accountable for the loss of the civilians."
[Source: Yahoo news]What a load of horseshit. Hamas is responsible for the 13 people it killed, giving the Israelis provocation, and destabilising the Palestinian government.Israel is responsible for the 1300 people it killed, destroying $2 Billion of property, and creating the conditions where a group like Hamas would gain considerable popular support.Israel's response to Hamas rockets was totally out of proportion and deliberately devastating to civilians. If they (and USA…

How the World's Family Values are Changing

Due to the spread of western culture, the development of centralized forms of government, large scale migration from rural to urban areas, and changing employment patterns, most developing countries are seeing far reaching changes to traditional patterns of family life (whatever they may be in that particular context). Anthony Giddens provides the follow list:
Clans and other kin groups are declining in their influence.There is a general trend towards the free selection of a spouse.The rights of women are becoming more widely recognised, in respect to both the initiation of marriage and decision-making within the family.Arranged marriages are becoming less common.Higher levels of sexual freedom, for men and women, are developing in societies that were very restrictive.There is a general trend towards the extension of children's rights.There is an increased acceptance of same sex partnership.[Source: Giddens, Sociology (5th ed), 2006, 211-2]Now obviously there are reactions and co…

Steve Riley on Human Dignity

[Steve who was interviewed earlier here gives his pub/BBQ answer to the question: What gives a human dignity? Please comment, with questions, requests for clarification, and even rebuttals, he wont mind. I'm hoping this will turn into a good discussion as human rights are something we all talk about but seldom think critically about.]

Contemporary (ethical and legal) usage of ‘dignity’ is still informed (albeit opaquely) by a Christian view of dignity which insists that Man is Imago Dei and, as such, elevated above the rest of Creation. That notion of being our qualitatively different to the other bits of Creation (and even higher animals) seems to me correct and doesn’t necessarily need God or any messy metaphysics. Because of things like sophisticated cultural practices, the meaning that we invest in the world, distinctive forms of consciousness, a distinctive susceptibility to mental and not just physical suffering, means that we are different to other animals. How these fa…

1 Samuel 1-4: Biblical family values?

One of the great ironies of the present day is the use of the phrase 'Biblical family values' to champion the cause of Western (American?) style nuclear families with authoritarian patriarchal leadership and neat polite children. I don't know what Bible those 'values' are found in, but it's not a translation I've ever come across. Incest, polygamy, wife swapping, rape, prostitution and rebellion seem to be some of the 'family values' protrayed in the Bible. But I'll get to most of those another time. here's 1 Samuel chapter 1-4 in brief.

Chapter 1
A man has two wives, one is fertile (Peninnah) one is barren (Hannah).Hannah promises God that if God gives her a boy she will dedicate the boy to God (no alchohol and no hair cuts).God gives Hannah a boy, Hannah gives the boy (Samuel) to the high priest (Eli) the moment he is weaned, and leaves Samuel at the temple as a servant.

Chapter 2
Eli (the hight priest) raises Samuel (who gets to see his mum a…

God's will and human freedom in Jeremiah 18

A historic and still current issue of debate in Christian theology is the relation of God's sovereignty to Humanity's free will. In Protestant understanding this is often worked out as the Calvinist verses Arminian debate. A passage which I think encapsulates well the general teaching of scripture on this point is Jeremiah 18:1-11

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Come go down to the potters house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.Then The word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do this with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? Says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so you are in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break do…

Models of Contextual Theology 1: CT as a Theological Imperative.

In the first chapter of the Models of Contextual Theology, Steven Bevans lays out why it is imperative to do Theology contextually (i.e. it must be done). Because all theology is contextual (e.g. patristic, reformation, feminist, black, etc) Christian faith cannot be understood apart from which ever particular context it is found in.

For Bevans:

Contextual theology (hereafter CT) is NEW because theology was traditionally thought of as an 'objective science of faith' (p3) whereas CT approaches faith as something 'unabashedly subjective' not meaning 'relative or private' but reality that is 'mediated by meaning.' This meaning is given 'in the context of our culture and our historical period, interpreted from our own particular horizon and in our own particular thouht forms' (p4)

But CT is also traditional/OLD in that 'every authentic theology has been very much rooted in a particular context in some implicit or real way.' (p5)

CT needs to be…

Idols or something else?

Jeremiah 10:5:

Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they
have to be carried for they cannot walk.Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot
do evil, nor is it in them to do you good.
The language of idolatry is very popular still (and I'm not just thinking of 'pop idol' TV shows). In fact half the google searches that have picked up this blog have been to do with idolatry, which is interesting given that I dont believe I have dedicated much space to the idea. Now in my observation we (Christians) usually interpret idolatry as anything which we worship (give our 'worth' to) in place of God (the only one who truly has a right to our worship). This often then stands for career, or wealth, status, possesions or relationships that we put up as 'idols' in our own lives in place of God, e.g. instead of seeking to do God's will with our lives we seek what will bring us the most wealth.
But as I have been reading through the pro…

James 1:1

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes
in the diaspora: Greetings.
James is held in church tradition to be the (half) brother of Jesus (Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal 1:9), who became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13-19; Gal 2:9-12) despite his unbelief in Jesus prior to the crucifiction/resurection.Even if this is a different James writing here the only credential the writer sees fit to give is one of servanthood towards both God and Jesus. This is an unashamedly Christian document and yet by refering to the recipients of the letter as 'the twleve tribes' James is showing both how he understands the Christian community to be a continuation of Israel but also the fulfillment/restoration of Israel (which had been reduced to only two tribes by the time of the Roman occupation). He also demonstrates this sense of continuity in the letter by drawing heavily (and directly) on the Old Testament.This fulfillment/restoration…

Why All Theology is Contextual and Why It Matters

For the last forty years there has been an increasing shift in the academic study of theology towards an understanding of theology as contextual. This is both a good thing and a scary thing and its something everybody needs to get a handle on and understand. I am currently reading a book called Models of Contextual Theology by Stephen Bevans (Orbis, 2005) which I found for a bargain price on Trademe (the NZ version of EBay). I thought I would share my reading/thinking with you on the blog and I would appreciate your thoughts, whether you can see the relevance and importance of thinking contextually, and how the insights of thinking about faith contextually affects your own thinking. What follows here is not so much from the book as a prelude to the book from me. After this I intend to deal with the book chapter by chapter...

What is contextual theology?

Contextual theology is an insight coming from the post-modern era that essentially recognises that depending on who, where, and whe…

Communion: Symbolic Meal or Love Feast?

Almost any church you go to in the western world observes a ritual meal in which token amounts of bread and wine/juice are consumed as a way of remembering Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Depending on which tradition you belong to the method and explanation of this ritual will vary. but whether brethren or catholic it is still essentially the same idea (at least from the point of view of the meal). Now the first question is how did we get from the early christian practice of a full community meal to this token meal that we now share? Darrell Pursiful writes about this historical movement from full meal to a token symbolic meal here and here. Essentially, for a number of reasons located in particular social, philosophical and political conditions this change took place over the first few centuries of Christianity. But my question for you is, should we change the way we do it now? Would it be a more meaningful act of fellowship to return to sharing a full meal together, rather …

Regarding Gaza

By Rev. Alex Awad, Dean of Students, Bethlehem Bible College
December 31, 2008

One hundred tons of bombs are Israel’s way of saying to the captive citizens of Gaza, Merry Christmas, Happy Eid (feast) and Happy New Year. These “gifts” that were showered from US-made F-16 fighter jets demolished government buildings, mosques, a university, hundreds of homes and snuffed out many lives – among them scores of children. Like many in this part of the world and around the globe my heart aches when I read and see pictures of the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and likewise when I see Israelis killed or injured by Qassam rockets. However, I have a special love for Gaza and its people. Before the strict closure of Gaza, Bethlehem Bible College used to have an extension there. I went to Gaza once every Thursday to teach our students and often I stayed the night there. Interacting with Gazans in class, in church and in the community, I learned much about the kindness and the hospitality of the…

Guest Interview: Stephen Riley

Well I am pleased to be bringing you the first guest interview for Xenos, from an old and good friend of mine Steve. Enjoy, and let us know what you think.

[My questions are in italics]

Hi Steve, how you doing?
Just fine and dandy JR. Happy New Year.

How do you know Jonathan?
We were in a student band together in Lancaster. Called Glass Half Full, we were a pretty funky outfit with some great songs and C-razy instrumental workouts. Not quite as tight as the Berlin Philharmonic, not quite as cool and the Jimi Hendrix, we always guaranteed a good time and positive vibes.

How would you describe the essence of your existence in less than ten words?
All being is becoming, unfortunately without a goal or purpose.

What do you do for a living?
I’m a Senior Lecturer in Law. I lecture and write on legal philosophy.

How would you describe your religious/spiritual/political/worldview convictions?

On the one hand, I try to keep utopia in mind. There are many reasons why we don’t h…

Thesis Proposal Translated

Having been rightly rebuked for posting unintelligible academic-ese by putting my thesis proposal on the blog I will now provide a translation into more accessible language. Am I forgiven?

Paul's Theology of the Church as Body : The background, function and effect of ‘The Body of Christ’ as a metaphor for the Church

'The body' is an important idea in Paul's theology generally, and ‘the body of Christ’ is perhaps even more so in Paul's theology of the church. However there is no agreement among Biblical scholars as to how the phrase should be understood. As a Jew and a Roman Citizen the apostle Paul could have potentially drawn upon Hebrew anthropology, Greek anthropology and Greek political philosophy to construct ‘the body of Christ’ as a metaphor for the Church. This thesis will examine Paul’s use of this metaphor in the four places where it appears in his writings, i.e. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians.

The principle way in which I am going to do th…

Christian Mission as Social Development

An interesting and impassioned article in the Timeshere. It is written by an atheist who acknowledges the importance of conversion to Christianity in African development. It links nicely into the previous post and how how one's world-view, in particular our view of what it means to be human (philosophical anthropology) can have a significant effect on our lives. Let me know what you think :)

Hebrew versus Greek Anthropology

So one of the central questions I will will be researching for my thesis is whether Paul is thinking like a Greek or a Hebrew when he talks about the church as being the 'Body of Christ.' Although Paul was a Hebrew and educated as a Rabbi he also grew up in a Greek city and seems to have been educated in Greek rhetoric, so either is possible. Anthropology is the study and philosophy of what it means to be human. Here are some differences:

Greeks opposed form and matter, body and flesh. Hebrews did not, their word for body/flesh, basar, describes the whole life physical life substance of a human.Greeks contrast one and many, whole and parts, a body and its members. Hebrews had no word for the whole body, but almost any part could be used to represent the whole.Greeks had a body and a soul, the soul was the essential ego which would eventually be liberated from the material body. The Hebrews were an animated body. The Hebrew person did nothave a body, they were a body. (S…

Thesis Proposal

For those who might be interested, what follows is the research proposal which I will be pursuing half time for the next two years. 40,000 words later and I will have my masters degree! I have just started reading towards this today and will be sharing questions and insights from my research with you as things go on, so here it is. Let me know what you think :)

[edit: in response to comments about the accessibility of this post a translation is provided here]

Paul's Somatic Ecclesiology: The background, function and effect
of ‘τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ’ as a metaphor for the Church

Σῶμα is a significant concept in Pauline theology, and ‘τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ’ is perhaps even more so in Pauline ecclesiology. However there is no consensus as to how the phrase should be understood. As a Hellenised Jew the apostle Paul could have potentially drawn upon Hebrew anthropology, Greek anthropology and Greek political philosophy to construct ‘the body of Christ’ as a metaphor for the Church. This …

Who are the Nations in Matthew 25:32?

Thanks to Sarah, David and Jane, and Fiona, for contributing to the discussion here on how we should read Mathew 25. This is something of a response to Sarah's argument, not because I think Sarah must agree with me, or that I even have a hard and fast opinion on the subject, but because there are some problems with her argument which need fixing if it is to be convincing.

Firstly, I like Sarah's summary of the message of the first two parables in Matt 25, of the Ten Virgins: "the kingdom of Heaven is an imminent event that is coming but will take a bit longer than expected!" and of the parable of the Talents: "we need to do the best with what we have and keep on working untill the master returns." I don't know that anyone would disagree with that. But it is fair to say that the climactic and sudden event that the parables describe is usually thought of by Christians as describing the end of history when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead and…

Bible Reading Plan for the New year

If you are anything like me then your new year often starts with a few resolutions, which you will invariably fail at. This year I want to get more exercise and read more poetry. The exercise is going well, but then I used to do so regularly until the sleepless nights of being a parent set in. Now the kiddies are sleeping through the night. The poetry is trickier, I am not good at reading poetry because I read too fast. So I am trying to just read a couple of poems at a time and return to them. Reading fast is good for novels and text books when the aim is to process events and information. But when it comes to poetry if you dont slow down and savour the words it's rather like gobbling down a delicately seasoned meal, you will miss the whole point - which is to savour and dwell upon the artful creation. One of the reasons it is good to read the Bible in its original languages is because it forces you to read slower, to notice each word. I have just started to learn Hebrew…