Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Baptism quote

"At its heart, baptism is not so much a distinct practice as it is the liturgical summation of all the Christian practices. In this rite, the grace to which the Christian life is a response is fully and finally presented, visibly, tangibly, and in words. Here all the practices are present in crystalline form - forgiveness and healing, singing and testimony, sabbath keeping and community shaping, and all the others. Unlike each particular practice, baptism does not address a specific need; instead, it ritually sketches the contours of a whole new life, within which all human needs can be perceived in a different way. Under water, we cannot secure out own lives , but we can know, in a knowing beyond words, that God's creativity overcame the darkness that covered the face of the deep at earth's beginning, and that water flowed from Jesus' side on the cross, and that the new creation to which we now belong anticipates a city where the river of the water of life nourishes the roots of the trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. When a new Christian rises from the baptismal water, human needs are not just met; they are transformed. Even the need not to die no longer overpowers all other needs, and the true freedom of a life formed in love, justice, mercy, and hope is no longer too frightening to embrace. 'In baptism,' said St Francis, 'we have already died the only death that matters.'"

Craig Dykstra and Dorothy C Bass in Practicing Theology, pp30-1

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: Emerson Eggerichs, Love and Respect



This book is essentially a Christian version of "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus." It's central hypothesis is that men and women see the world differently and have different needs and that because of this misunderstanding often causes problems in marriage. (In this way it is also a bit like the five love languages stuff) The solution according to Eggerichs is that men need to love their wives, and women need to respect their husbands... whether or not they feel they deserve it at that moment in time. Eggerichs helpfully diagnoses the "crazy cycle" which is a vicious circle where withholding love or respect from your spouse causes your spouse to withhold the love or respect that you desire which causes you to withhold even more, etc, etc. This book is very practically focused and I have to say the advice is pretty good. A lot of people would benefit from reading this and I will definitely use some of this material in my own ministry. but I do have some significant issues with this book.
  1. it is too long and rambling, it needs to be half the length and have a much tighter structure
  2. Eggerichs never actually defines what exactly he means by love and respect he just takes it as a given, although we do get some clarity from his examples of what constitutes love and respect, these words have a wide potential range of meaning and it needed clarifying
  3. Eggerichs spends far too much time promoting his ministry and conferences, which is annoying
  4. Eggerichs overdoes how unique and original his teaching is, which is annoying
  5. this book is hopelessly stuck in middle America and it would have benefited from being based broader culturally, this limits its usefulness in other contexts
  6. the use of scripture in this book is appalling, proof texting, paraphrasing and downright inaccuracy abound, although none of his conclusions are 'unbiblical' as such, he behaves as if the scripture were written directly to address middle class 21st C American marital problems, this made it hard for me to recommend
In giving my final score to Love and Respect I need to take into account the final section, which I nearly didn't reach. This redeemed the book from one I couldn't really recommend to one I feel I can, with qualification. This contains some really good and truly Christian (rather than just pragmatic) teaching, but even that is still rather slap dash and would have benefited from a more theologically critical editing. Overall, some good practical advice, but with significant shortcomings.

[This book review was done under the Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers Program, go to http://brb.thomasnelson.com/ for details.]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

bad music is better

My Grandfather was a missionary in India back in the days before independence. He would treck around the place taking services and preaching. In some of the churches he went to they might not have a pianist able to lead the singing, in which case he would do double duty and play the piano as well. After one particular service a lady approached my grandad and said, "well, I guess it is better to have bad music than no music at all!" My grandfather never played the piano again.

Apart from being a salutary lesson about the power of unkind comments I also think the lady's statement was somehow missing the point completely. CS Lewis remarks in God in the Dock (p61-2) that when he became a Christian he was at first appalled by the "sixth rate" music and terrible singing that he found in churches. He soon worked out though that the point of the music wasn't whether or not it was good, but whether or not it was being used for true devotion towards God.

In this way it is in fact better to have bad music than good music in church. When the music is good, you might be mistaken into thinking that you were there to enjoy the music, or that the music was somehow the point of the exercise, or even that the music was glorifying God on your behalf. When it is bad there can be no mistaking that those who join in are more concerned with worshipping God than enjoying music.

The popular notion that churches with great music will atract people is of course true, they will attract people towards music. Churches with great devotion to God, however, will attract people to devotion to God.

Of course all this comes undone when the bad music is actually the result of the musicians picking inappropriate songs, not rehearsing properly, not bothering to learn their instruments to an adequate standard, or general laziness. The attitude of 'it's only church' is as antithetical to worship as the attitude 'the music must be perfect.'

Sometimes I dream of a church without music...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thesis update: another narrowing

Well folks I began this thesis doing a study of Paul's use of the Body of Christ as a metaphor for the Chruch, then I narowed it to only its use in 1 Corinthians, but even that was too big, I got stuck on 1 Cor 6:12-20 and have just had approval to write my whole thesis just on these verses.... good in that it is a lot less ground to cover, but bad in that:

"1 Cor. 6:12-20 is widely acknowledged to be one of the most difficult passages in the Pauline corpus. Commentators have described the paragraph as "disjointed," "obscure," "unfinished," "imprecise," "extravagant," and even "incoherent." Gordon Fee notes with understatement: "the passage is full of unique, and in some cases difficult expressions, which in turn have given rise to equally unique interpretations." Bruce N. Fisk rightly states that "[s]cholars continue to puzzle over the meaning and rhetorical function of 1 Corinthians 6.12-20."" From Brain Rosner, "Temple Prostitution in 1 Cor 6:12-20," Novum Testamentum, 40:4, 1998, 336.

Anyway, I'm having fun with it, and who knows I may even be the one to finally crack the nut and bring consensus to the troubled world of 1 Corinthians scholarship! (But I'd settle just to get the thing written.)

Biblical versus 'Greek' anthropology

I am really enjoying the book by Gundry mentioned in the last post. One important thing his book does is to really crush the argument that 'Hebrew' or OT anthropology only knew humanity as animated bodies rather than a body/soul duality. And so what I wrote earlier on this subject definately needs some modification. So here are some thoughts about the differences between OT/NT Duality and Platonic Dualism.

  • In biblical thought both the body and soul sin, in platonic thought the body is sinful, the soul pure.
  • In biblical thought the soul survives the body but is diminished by the loss, in platonic thought the soul is liberated by the loss.
  • In biblical thought salvation is either the preservation or the reunification of the body and soul, in platonic thought it is a purely spiritual affair.
  • In biblical thought 'you' are truly your body and soul, but for the platonist 'you,' the soul, have a body.

Of course ancient Greek thought was pretty diverse and so any generalisations are by nature somewhat blunt and inaccurate.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pauline Anthropology

Just came across this great quote from Robert Gundry in this book. A very useful sumary of Paul's anthropology.

“As a matter of fact, Paul’s anthropological duality does not display itself in a formally consistent use of any two terms. Sōma always refers to the physique, but so does sarx at times. A number of words refer to the incorporeal side of man and functions thereof: pneuma, psychē, kardia, nous, dianoia, phrenes, syneidēsis, ho esō anthrōpos. For the whole man, Paul uses anthrōpos. In other words, there is an ontological duality, a functional pluralism, and an overarching unity.” -p84

loose translation of terms:
Sōma = body
sarx = flesh
pneuma = spirit
psychē = self/soul/life
kardia = heart
nous = mind
dianoia = understanding
phrenes = thought
syneidēsis = conscience
ho esō anthrōpos
= the inner human (man)
anthrōpos = human (man)

And another good point:

“Paul is not interested in anthropology as an independent motif. Rather, he treats man as the object of divine dealings and as the subject of activity in the order which God created.” - p84-5

I think it is particularly helpful to talk in terms of "functional pluralism", that for Paul it is possible to talk about the different parts of a human, but to emphasise "overarching unity", that a human is not a 'spirit inhabiting a body' or a 'body with a soul' but the human is both the physical and the "inner" and cannot properly exist apart from as both. This is why Gundry uses the term duality - to imply unity, rather than dualism, which implies opposition.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Retreat

Why is the act of Retreating a spiritual displine? A good retreat involves a radical change of context, where the rhythms and clutter of everyday life are exchanged for an environment in which they cease (at least momentarily) to be relevant. In that new context you are able to become more aware of your self and of the voice of God. Retreats are therefore close to essential for repentance, times of discernment, and the interpretation of scripture. Ideally everyday will include a retreat of some sort, and working in more substantial retreats to the rhythms of your week, months, and year, is a core principle of self care and spiritual growth.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Home away from home

I'm just reading (or rather skipping through) Erich Gruen's excellent book, Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans (Harvard, 2002). In it he suggestes there were two ways in which the Jews related to their situation as diaspora, i.e. living being away from their homeland. The first was negative, to think in terms of "exile, a bitter and doleful image, offering a bleak vision that leads either to despair or to a remote reverie of restoration." Or a positive approach, to seek "refuge in a conforting concept: that Jews require no territorial sanctuary or legitimation. They are "the people of the Book." Their homeland resides in the text." (p232) And how did the diapora Jews "make their home in the text"? Well, primarily by meeting regularly with each other, to read and interpret those texts in their diaspora locality (p116).

I think this is an important concept for us Christians given how much pressure, traditional forms of church, and especially the 'sermon' is currently under. As a diaspora ourselves we need to maintain our emphasis on making our home in the text and not the world. We need to ensure that in the desire to do something different we do not lose that diaspora imperative to regularly meet for the reading and interpretation of the text that gives us our identity, that we don't stop being 'people of the Book.'

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Max Lucado, Fearless





I haven't read anything by Max Lucado for about a decade, I read one book and then overdosed by reading another three or four. Since then I had never felt the urge to return. But when Thomas Nelson offered me a free copy if I review it I thought, "what the hey, a free book is a free book." However, it was no chore to read, this is vintage Lucado, and provided you haven't read too many recently this one comes recommended. Lucado invites us to imagine life without fear, in todays climate of sensationalised crime and terrorist threats it is a welcome invitation. Lucado combines anecdotes and stories with Biblical exegesis which he weaves together artfully. Lucado moves systematially in chapters through the fears that modern western humanity seems to be plagued with. The chapters are short and read deceptively lightly but you have to be careful because there is a lot packed in. In fact read reading Lucado too fast is a bit of a waste, his prose is more like poetry and needs to be savoured. Lucado's use of scripture is a good example of imaginative exegesis where he exposes the metaphoric and emotional resonances of the biblical text. If you are looking for a sustained theological or biblical examination of fear then you will be dissapointed, but if you are looking for a book that reads like a poetic devotional sermon written by a master story teller then you won't be.


[This book review was done under the Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers Program, go to http://brb.thomasnelson.com/ for details.]

Thursday, September 3, 2009

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

History as the organising principle of your high school education?



Interesting: Using history as THE organising principle for a school curriculum? I think you'd get sick of Egypt by the end of the year, and will the school sports have to be done naked when you are studying the Greek era?

Incorrect: To extrapolate from the fact that Christ was born in the Roman Empire that God has uniquely picked western civilisation as the place to reveal his plan and save his people.

Disturbing and Incorrect: The dual assumption that the home of Christianity is western civilisation and that America is itself the zenith of western civilisation.

Final question: Why with such a cool name, not have wagon making as the organising principle of a school curriculum? By 6th grade every kid could have made their own wagon!

Two quotes on theological education

A couple of neat quotes from the introduction to To Teach, to Delight, and to Move: theological education in a post-christian world, edited by David Cunningham:

"Saint Augustine believed that the chief goals of Christian theology, like those of rhetoric, should be 'to teach, to delight, and to move.'" - p3

"The real curriculum of any educational institution is the conversation the students and faculty have amongst themselves." - p4

I like the way both quotes call us far beyond the mere impartation of facts and into the arena of relationship and formation of both the individual and the community.