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Showing posts from February, 2010

God and Guinness: a Book and Beer Review

I love God, and although it is very much a lesser and less frequently indulged love, I also love Guinness.  I also have a small personal connection with some of the ancestors of the Arthur Guinness who founded the Guinness brewery and dynasty(s).  So the title of this book was too hard to refuse.  It is well written, light and fast paced, an easy read with lots of fascinating facts and takes the reader from the beggining of the brewery in the 18th century up to the modern day.  As a bonus there is a brilliant introductory chapter that introduces the history of beer and civilisation and of beer and Christianity.   So far so good, 4/5 stars.

I did dislike a few things though.  The book is a little uneven as Stephen Mansfield slips from historian to motivational speaker to preacher, this is OK but in a couple of places he quotes historians without even mentioning their names, i don't expect footnotes, and there is an adequate sources section in the appendix.  more annoying than this …

Warning: Evangelistic Message

Just been having a chat about how certain churches tend to operate on the assumption that anything that grows the church must be good and that even the gospel might need changing if it doesn't result in church growth.  It reminded me how I once challenged an evangelistic group that were visiting my university in the UK.  I asked them why their message was all about God as your best friend and going to heaven when you die, and had nothing about sacrifice, the cross, and the commitment that Christ asks from us.  The reply I got was instructive: "well who would want to become a Christian then?"  It is worth noting that this reply wasn't delivered with any trace of irony or sarcasm.

So this would be a good point to demonstrate how far from the NT such an attitude is, but that will have to wait for another day.  The new academic year is beggining and I need to make this quick.  Here is my alternative evangelistic message, and maybe it explains why I am not a very good eva…

Kasemann Quotes

Been enjoying reading Kasemann today.  Here is a smorgasbord of his brilliance!  All quotes from Perspectives on Paul, SCM 1973.
On idealism, 
Contemporary theology is still having to pay for the fact that it is still a victim of the heritage or curse of idealism to a greater degree than it cares to admit.  It could have learned as much from Marxism as it did from Kierkegaard and would then have been unable to go on assigning the absolutely decisive role to the individual. - p11In relation to the interpretation of 1 Cor 2:11 as suggesting "as a spiritual being man is called to knowledge of himself," (p14) he writes,
We are bound to ask whether nineteenth-century New Testament exegesis was not the victim of a disastrous mistake, and that on the basis of a single verse. - p15In conclusion to a chapter on anthropology (what it means to be human - excuse the non inclusive language, man person of his time and all that!),
Man cannot be defined from within his own limits, but he is e…

Rolf Potts on the body of Christ

I'm really gutted not to be able to include this in my thesis, but it just isn't going to fit.  I'll just have to find another way to get the Wittenburg Door into my bibliography.  BTW if you have yet to discover this magazine . . . you need it in your life!
I’d consider myself a post-evangelical.  I have a private, Jeffersonain faith – one that would make most evangelicals a little nervous.  But that’s fine.  Paul says in the letter to the Corinthians that we are all part of the body of Christ.  People tend to think this means the spiritual body is an expression of hegemony, a sum of evangelical components: you know an alliance of schoolteachers, accountants with fish symbols on their BMWs, born again organizers of ping pong tournaments, and so on.  But I’d reckon American evangelicals are themselves just parts of a larger body that includes Egyptian Copts, Peruvian Catholics, and syncretistic Nigerian Mennonites.  Not to mention the quiet post modern types who feel a par…


Just found this blog, was attracted by seeing the acronym ASBO, which if you have spent any time in innercity UK will mean a lot to you.  That (above) wasn't the best but it fitted in with the last post.  I could spend all day looking at these, could come in handy for all sort of applications and they are kindly offered for free use for anything and anyone.
Go there and enjoy :-)

Converting Theologians: Quote of the Day

We can never get away from prejudices, but we must keep trying to become more independent and at least to penetrate more deeply into the problems with which we are faced.  It is probably more difficult for theologians to be converted than other people.  Perhaps one is on the way when one has decided not to howl with the wolves or bray with the asses.[Kasemann in the foreward to Perspectives on Paul]

Aggression and Misogyny

I continue to be perplexed by the (usually American) suggestion that aggression is a male Christian virtue.  Michael Patton seems to think that it is not only a virtue but an essential pastoral character trait. It is worth saying, from my own experience, that aggression is totally not the way to deal with confrontation either in pastoral work or wider life.  I am a naturally aggressive person but I have had to tame that aggression especially in conflict situations.  Aggression always escalates the situation and sends signals to the other party that they too need to become more aggressive.  It is a posture of insecurity and fear rather than confidence and love.  Aggression seeks to persuade through intimidation and vehemence rather than sound argument and compassion.  Aggression closes the heart to the Spirit and fills it with bile towards your opponent.

What Patton, and by implication John Hobbins, need to realise is that aggression and misogyny are both results of the Fall (See Genes…

Mythologizing: Quote of the Day

After a brief discussion of Bultmann, Johnson comes out with this gem: 
I have come now to realize that the task of preaching is not to demythologize the gospel, but to remythologize the world with the gospel.[Johnson, The Glory of Preaching,p70] I think that might even be worthy of a place on my study wall . . .  I just have to figure out what it actually means first! :-)

More on Paul and Sexual Purity

I've just been readnig Jerome Neyrey, Paul in Other Words, 1990, in particular the section on "Body Language in 1 Corinthians," (pp102-46).  Like Countryman, Neyrey makes extensive use of Mary Douglas' work on purity.  However while Countryman shows how Jesus and Paul radically reinterpret (or even subvert) the ancient Hebrew conceptions of purity found in the Torah, Neyrey seems determined to shoehorn almost anything Paul says into the polarised anthropological model he has distilled from Douglas.  Paul is thus portrayed as an authoritarian obsessed with physical and social purity.

As far as my own research goes a crucial illustration of the sort of thing Neyrey does that I dont find convincing is his treatment of 1 Cor 5-6.  Countryman observes that the common theme is that of property rights, the incestuous man has not respected his father's sexual property by having sex with his step-mum, other Corinthian Christians are taking their brothers to court to defr…

3 Reasons why I will never be a Rev.

This post is not offered to insult or question the motives of the many good Christian leaders I know (and all those I don't) who have taken the title Reverend, and I know more than a few.  And this is not an issue that I would burn at the stake for. But that said I think the arguments are pretty compelling and I can't understand why everyone else doesn't think the same as me! ;-)

Jesus' teaching in Matt 23:1-12 is quite clear that those who teach others about God shouldn't be in the business of self agrandisment and the taking (or accepting) of titles for themselves.   Despite the protests and straw men of the Roman Catholic apologists this is not about the exact words, "call no man FATHER," but about the way we choose (or choose not) to be addressed as a mark of honour in our communities.One friend of mine was told at his ordination, "you are now ontologically different,"  what nonsense.  The Spirit of God is what transforms us not the rites of …

A Great Start to a Sermon

This is now old, but I have just come across it and wanted to share how John Piper started his first sermon after the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001.
So how shall I strengthen your hope this morning?
· Shall I try to strengthen your hope politically, and comfort you that America is durable and will come together in great bipartisan unity and prove that the democratic system is strong and unshakable?
· Shall I try to strengthen your hope militarily, and comfort you that American military might is unsurpassed and can turn back any destructive force against the nation?
· Shall I try to strengthen your hope financially, and comfort you that when the market opens on Monday there will be stability and long-term growth to preserve the value of all your investments?
· Shall I try to strengthen your hope geographically, and comfort you that you live in the Upper-Midwest, far from the major political and military and financial targets that enemies might choose?
· S…

Grasshopper Theology 1

It seems to me, and maybe I am just talking about myself, but I think this afflicts many others as well, that so much anxiety and stress comes from thinking rather too much of yourself, of seeing yourslef as the centre of your universe.  So much modern day rhetoric, both inside and outside the church, focusses on how special you are, on how important it is your needs are met, and how the goal of your existence is to acheive fulfilment and experience all you possibly can and accomplish some great destiny.  Otherwise, frankly, you didn't do it right, your life is wasted.

God has a wonderful plan for your life, so if your life doesn't turn out to be wonderful, that is if no one would want to write a book about your life, then you must have done something wrong with it.  I'll be honest, I often feel burdened that I am supposed to do something great, achieve something mighty, make a difference to the world, leave my mark, live a life worthy of one of those really inspiring Chri…

The Beauty of Systematic Theology: Anti-Quote of the Day

Gordon Clark takes issue with Peter Macky's treatment of his work in this article and concludes with,
Mathematics is not my forte either, but it is far more beautiful than poetry.  It is surpassed only by systematic theology.Which is funny, because I always thought that Systematic Theology is at its best when it was most poetic.  But here we have in Clark a classic cognitive-propositionalist according to Lindbeck's typology (see I told you it would come in handy!) and I haven't yet read enough of Macky to pidgeon-hole him but I suspect he leans towards the experiential-expressivist mode.

The word of God: Quote of the day

I am slowly getting into Darrell Johnson's The Glory of Preachingwhich received rave reviews from Paul.  I am still not sure about it but I liked this,
The word of God not only informs, it performs, it transforms.  The word of God makes things happen. (p25)He probably didn't intend it this way but I think that nicely covers all three types of religious discourse suggested by Linbeck's typology, in pretty much the same order.  So preaching is able to work on the levels of cognitive proposition, the affective experiential, and shape culturally the listening community.  The interesting question is which of these do you think gets priority in your own, or your own church's, practice of preaching?  Should we aim for a balance, or is one to be priviledged over the others?

How do they do it?

The title of this post is referring to those academic bloggers who seemingly manage to hold down a fulltime job, blog incessantly, AND read about 300 books a year!  Some of them seem to be able to do all this whilst also watching incredible amounts of TV and/or raising a family.  Do these people have more hours in the day than the rest of us or are their brains just super processors? (I wont link to any of these guys, because if you don't know who they are they would just make you sick, and if you do know who they are, then you know, don't you!?)

Personally, I could read a couple of books a week, if i had nothing else to do, but with work and family and church commitments i struggle to get through even short books in a month.  Obviously I have to read a lot of books for my research, but that tends to take the form of "mining" whereby i judge use the contents or index to find the relevant stuff.  I find it very frustrating but there simply isn't time to read books…

Sex isn't icky for Paul

One of the fascinating results of my thesis research (IMHO) has been to realise how much we tend to impose modern evangelical conceptions of sexual purity onto the NT texts (even if we don't hold to them ourselves).  In the Torah sex has a defiling potential so, to use Lev 15:16-18 for example, an emmission of semen requires a ritual bath (for the man and for the woman if she is involved) and a wait until evening before they can be cosidered clean again.  Sex is apparently dirty and needs to be dealt with to avoid contaminating other things and rendering them dirty too.

But in NT Christianity purity ceases to revolve around that which is dirty and becomes an issue of the heart's intentions.  The classic text where this revolution takes place is Mark 7:17-23.  In this text Jesus denies the ability of any external physical thing to make someone "unclean."  As witnessed to by Jesus' ministry this included corpses, lepers, and women with bleeding, all of whom should …

σκεῦος = penis

Most of your Bible translations have two possible rendering of 1 Thes 4:4, something along the lines of either
that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honour (NRSV)or
that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honour (NRSV, note)But the word translated variously "wife" or "body" is σκεῦος, which is a very strange word to use for either.  Of course the "wife" translation is especially wierd, as "knowing how" to take a wife presumably has little effect on your behaviour unless you actually do so!  And they are both wierd because if σκεῦος is a metaphor for either, what does the use of that metaphor add to the discussion?  σκεῦος is essentially a word for a useful object and has a semantic range broad enough to cover ship's rigging, kitchen pots, and human functionaries!  Instead, as both FF Bruce and Gordon Fee argue in their respective commentaries on 1&2 Thessalonians, σκεῦος is …

The Decade of Eagleton

As noted earlier, some have suggested that the 00s were the decade of the Atheists.  I predict that the next decade will be the decade of Terry Eagleton.  He is perfectly placed to ride the wave of the new-atheism as a swashbuckling rhetoritician surfer of outrageous derring-doo.  That he is the man for this moment is witnessed to by the sudden surge of interest in his writings by the blogging community. That this is a good thing is that writing at a popular level he may be the one who can rescue North American and Australasian Christianity from its captivity to the political right:

Yes, I quote my father who insisted that Jesus Christ was a socialist and that any Christianity that is not on the side of the dispossessed against the arrogance of the powerful and rich is utterly untraditional. Dawkins and Hitchens write about Christianity and never link the words God, justice and love. That is either a sign of their obtuseness or a sign of the massive self-betrayal of the Christian move…

"Strange gods": Quote of the day

On the subject of the Uniting Church in Australia, Scott Stephens writes,
It is now a shell of its former self, like so much Liberal Protestantism throughout the West, having gone whoring after the strange gods of impotent theology, liturgical gimmickry, inert bureaucracy and social respectability.Which is quoted in dedication to the Rev Phil Baiden, who I know will find such a fine and lyrical indictment of Liberal Protestantism useful in his own ecclesial context! :-)  (The rest of the article is also worth a read.)