Sunday, June 28, 2009

6 good reasons to blog

Now I know where to go when I need to justify my blogging. :-)

Why Dr Charles Stanley is not a biblical preacher

Unusually for me I was watching the tele early on Sunday morning and I caught an episode of Dr Charles Stanley preaching on his television program. Now I know this guy has come under some criticism for his personal life, and that is not unimportant, but it is also not something i can comment on, not knowing the facts. His preaching is however something I can comment on, at least the one sermon I did watch.

He started off by reading 2 Timothy 1:3-7. Which is a passage from the Bible, so far so good. He then spent the next 30 minutes or so talking about his mum and what a great example of a Christian mother she was. Now nothing he said or suggested was wrong, but none of it actually came from scripture, least of all the scripture he read from at the beginning. It was a lovely talk on how Stanley's mother raised him as a Christian despite considerable difficulties and it contained many useful nuggets of advice on raising Christian kids. All very nice, it might have made a nice booklet on parenting, or a seminar on raising godly kids, but it had NOTHING TO DO with the scripture he read out. 2 Tim 1:3-7 was just a convenient spring board for him to talk about his topic. What made this worse, was that not only did he imply that he was teaching from the Bible by starting with a scripture, he continued to read his notes from the open Bible he held in his hand, but he never again read from the Bible, it was just a convenient place to hold his notes. This technique was highly symbolic of the whole 'talk' ( I dont think i can use the word sermon), the Bible was merely window dressing for what Stanley really wanted to say. Why do I have a problem with this?

1: A preacher should not suggest his/her authority to preach comes from the Bible if their message does not come from the Bible. It is dishonest.

2: Such preaching disempowers the congregation because they know full well they could never read 2 Tim 1:3-7 and get a Christian parenting manual out of it. They leave church that morning none the wiser as to how they can read and understand the Bible for themselves.

3: Such preaching obscures the true character of the Bible which is plainly not a document interested in American family values or childcare. The message may be harmless of itself, but by taking the place that should rightfully be filled with the proclamation of God's saving work in Christ it does great harm to the church and world that needs to hear.

I rest my case. (Let me know what you think :-))

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sources for theological reflection

Over the next month I am going to be writing course material for the reflective field education course that I run at Carey college. At the moment I am musing and reading on the subject of how theological reflection takes place and what sources we can or should draw on to do so. Here is my list (in no particular order):
  1. Biblical
  2. Theological
  3. (Church) historical
  4. Prayer/worship
  5. Experience
  6. Co-incidence (e.g. certain circumstances co-inciding with a desire)
  7. Pragmatism (linked but not necessarily congruent to co-incidence)
  8. Conversation/Community
  9. Heroes/mentors
  10. Observation of signs
Have I missed any?

For different Christians I think different sources take a more authoritative role in the process of reflection and discernment, and soe are often totally excluded. 1-3 have been the substance of a classic theological education. But I think it is probably fair to say that 4 should probably be paramount regardless of your biases towards the rest. Biblical reflection would then be an indispensible second, but this is tricky as most of us are so bad at this. It would also be interesting to diagram the way each one potentially critiques and moderates the others (e.g. Bible and theology, or prayer and pragmatism). The last two only occurred to me as I wrote the list down - but in my experience these can often be very significant in people's processes of reflection, although 10 is especially frought with issues. By articulating and evaluating the sources we draw upon to reflect theologically we should be able to move towards a more integrated and authentic process, which is a vital key to being an integrated and authentic Christian.

let me know what you think. :-)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Did this make your news?

From Barnabas Fund:

A Forgotten Disaster: Christians affected as Cyclone Aila hits Bangladesh
An under-reported yet devastating cyclone has hit Bangladesh and parts of eastern India, leaving at least 200 people dead and over half a million people homeless.

Bangladeshi Christians leave the remains of their house to search for food and shelter
Winds of up to 65 mph and massive tidal waves battered low-lying coastal areas, devastating villages and communities. River and flood-control embankments were destroyed, putting hundreds of coastal areas under up to eight feet of water; mud houses collapsed, while crops and fisheries were ruined by the inundation of salt water. It is estimated that 3 million Bangladeshis and 2 million Indians – at least half of them children – have been affected by the storm, which hit the area on 25 May 2009.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Maybe there is a place for the megachurch?

Hell for the superstitious Greek

For Plutarch superstition is "fears of punishment after death in the nether world and beliefs in 'judges and torturers and yawning gulfs and deep recesses teeming with unnumbered woes.'"

[Source: Dale Martin, the Corinthian Body, 156]

Which suggests that that was probably what the uneducated masses of the Greco-Roman world believed in. Which in turn makes you wonder how that migt have influenced early Christian thought... hmmm.

monkeys and sex

"Reflecting quite common ideas, Soranus [a 1st/2nd C. physician ] tells young women that they must be careful what they look at during sex: women who gazed on monkeys during intercourse have borne children who resembled monkeys. Women should also be sober during coitus, since drunkenness may produce 'strange phantasies' in the mind, which may then imprint themselves on the body of the resulting fetus."

[Source Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body, 26]

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Believe the Bible or Science?

One of the more frustrating conversations to have is when you try and suggest that the scientific theory of evolution does not really contradict the creation accounts of Genesis. It doesn't matter if you are talking to a young earth creationist fundy or a frothing at the mouth anti-theist, they both think that you are trying to wriggle out of the 'plain meaning' of scripture. The argument really runs either:
  1. people have always read creation accounts as literal scientific historical accounts and you are just trying to change that because of the proof for evolution
  2. if you are not going to take the creation accounts literally then you cannot take the gospels literally either

Both are simply based on false assumptions about the nature of the texts concerned and the history of their interpretation.

The most obvious reason for thinking that even the original prescientific authors and readers of the creation accounts did not take them in the same way that we do a scientific historical account (apart from the fact that science and history as we understand them were not relevant concepts to these people) is that they provide two totally different accounts right next to each other. In Genesis 1, the world is made in seven days in a particular order, in Gen 2 it is made in one day (or age) in a totally different order. There are many more interesting differences between each account, but I think the point is made.

Then there is the history of interpretation. In fact the literal scientific (read literalistic) reading of Genesis is a relatively modern idea. Christianity Today recently ran a very useful article describing Augustine's interpretation of the creation accounts. Augustine's issue was not evolution, but the doctrine of creation from nothing (which was in those days considered scientifically absurd, but these days sounds remarkably similar to some understandings of the big bang). But he shows that even long before Darwin the creation accounts in scripture were not being understood in a literal scientific historical manner. It is actually young earth creationism which is the novelty.

The creation accounts are sources of theological truth, and careful reading of them shows what their theological concerns are. While they express theology, they make no attempt to answer the questions of science. The complaint that this then disallows a historical reading of the gospels stems in turn from a misunderstanding of the literary nature of the Bible. That is, the Bible, although usually packaged as such, is not one book. It is a collection of ancient books each of which need to be approached slightly differently depending on the type of book it is. If you try and interpret a letter to a dysfunctional church (e.g. 1 Corinthians) in the same way you do an erotic poem (e.g. Song of Solomon) you will become unstuck pretty fast, for reasons which i hope are obvious. The gospels, while not historical accounts as we would understand a modern historical account to be, are intended to be eyewitness accounts of actual historical events. While this by no means proves their accuracy or reliability (that is for another day), it does demand that they be interpreted differently to the stories of creation, and means that someone (like me) committed to the truth of the Bible, is not being inconsistent when they accept evolution (as science not as worldview) but also believe in the literal historical resurrection.

Science, properly understood is not in opposition to faith. Science is merely the observation of the world around us. Science can prove things, in the sense that it on the basis of all the observations we can make (taxonomy, DNA, etc) evolution appears to be the process by which the world has arrived at this wonderful array of diverse forms of life. But Science cannot disprove or prove the resurrection which is by its very nature outside the realm of the observable and repeatable. Neither can science answer the questions of purpose and ethics, although it can inform them. So I don't believe science, but I do accept the observations of scientists. The problems arise when some scientists try and argue the implications of their observations in regard to things outside of their domain of expertise. Science is neither an argument for or against God. Rather it is an exploration of the world that God has given us. The fact that it only gets more interesting and complicated with each new discovery should not surprise or dismay us, it is just further evidence of the greatness of the Creator.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Why the Jews survived as a people when no one else did

Further to the last post, I was watching a lecture by Yale Professor Christine Hayes, and she makes the point that the reason the Jews have such an extraordinary long history when so many larger and more advanced civilisations dissapeared off the map, is their robust monotheism. Which meant that when the ultimate national disaster happened (being wholesale exile and enslavement) rather than accepting that their god had been defeated by the enemy's god they interpreted the event as an act of their soveriegn God. This interpretive act effectively stopped them from being assimilated by the conquering culture and allowed them to maintain a unique identity. Now this is an entirely secular argument, not one that needs God to be real for it to work. (Although if God is real then obviously God might have a hand in the survival of God's chosen people as well.) But I think this same point applies to the contemporary Christian's ability to maintain a Christian identity even through the most traumatic and harrowing circumstances. If you are able to interpret the event as being within the will of a soveriegn God then you will be able to survive it with your commitment to God intact. But if the event is interpreted as having happened in spite of the best efforts of a limited god your willingness to identify with that god will be compromised. After all, it makes no sense to give all your loyalty to a deity than isn't always in control.