Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lindbeck's Typology

I am currently reading George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine, in its 2009 25th anniversary edition.  It is a very important book and is one of the seminal works of the "Yale School" of theology.  I intend to review it properly after I have read it, but long before reading it I have encoutered and used Lindbeck's typology of theories of religion.  Like all typologies its usefulness comes from the ease with which you can use it to categorise the things you come across, but also, again like all typologies, you have to be careful to realise that it is not in itself neutral but comes with its own implicit assumptions and agenda.  For Lindbeck you can approach religion (or doctrine) in one of three ways (although you can also combine two or more of these ways to different extents):

1  The congnitive-propositional

This first approach assumes that religious language is concerned primarily with propositions of "fact". This tends to treat religion much like a philosophy or a science.  This is the default setting, i think, for most evangelical theology if not for practice.

2 The experiential-expressivist

This approach is (a part of) the legacy of Schleiermacher who understood the essence of religion to be "religious experience."  As such religion and doctrine are purely symbols which we use to make sense of and organise inner feelings.  If a Buddhist and a Christian have exactly the same experience they will describe it very differently, using the symbols of their respective religions but they will still be actually having the same experience.  Thus under this model you can argue (but you don't have to) that all religions are essentially differing attempts to give expression to the same reality.  This is of course the default setting for much liberal theology (e.g. Tillich).

3 The cultural-linguistic

This approach (and this is the one that Lindbeck will champion in the book) instead aims to treat religions as a culture or a language.  In this model doctrines are neither propositional truth claims (model 1) or arbitrary symbols (model 2) but instead rules or regulative principles for the discourse, attitudes and actions of the religious community.  This approach to religion is both an attack on liberalism (this model does not allow for all religions to be essentailly the same) but at the same time those used to more conservative patterns of thinking can'y help but feel that their presious doctrines are being shortchanged and relativised.  Probably the best know exponent of a cultural-linguistic approach to Christianity is NT Wright with his "Five act play" concept of biblical authority. 

As you can hopefully see, regardless of how you might feel about the validity of each model per se this is an extremely useful way of analysing what is going on behind different people's discussion of religion.  You may, for example, save yourself a lot of time and effort by realising that the person you are trying to engage on a cognitive-propositional level only considers it possible to talk about religion in  experiential-expressivist terms.  Most of us, i believe actually use a mixture of all three in our actual religious life, even if intellectually we tend to only allow one model primacy.

let me know what you think :-)

Presecution: the full story!

One consistent statistic in my blog stats is the arrival of people wanting to know about PRESECUTION.  I am amazed that what started off as a typo has become such a popular search subject. ;-)  Presecution is a misspelling of persecution which is defined by wikipedia as "the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group."  The main concern of this blog, in regard to persecution, is the persecution of Christians in countries where they are minorities.  But just for the record, I believe persecution of anyone or any group of people is morally unacceptable.  The charity I support in relation to this is the Barnabas fund, but there are also some other great charities whose websites are full of infomation about the persecution that goes on around the world, and how you can help to alleviate it. for example:, .com,, and .net all take you to different sites and there is also Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

So welcome to the blog and please do take the opportunity to find out more about the persecution that takes place around the world.  If you have any other links to related charities please feel free to add them in the comments.

PS. I guess the word could also be misspelt as persecutoin, persecusion, persicution, persacution, persicutoin, persection, or persectuion.   Either way the above still applies.  :-)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Foul mouthed Jesus?

interesting video and book link on Loren's blog, worth checking out.  Suffice to say those following the debate between Charles and Mick at Carey about "swearing" might take special interest. ;-)

Lists of objectionable beliefs

Yet another post inspired by Glenn Peoples blog after he has a little rant about being judged a liberal by other evangelicals because some of his views might be considered outside the "conservative" box.  In the post he presents a list of beliefs/claims.

  1. The Bible is the word of God.
  2. We do not have immortal souls.
  3. Abortion is immoral.
  4. God raised Jesus from the dead.
  5. The liberal claims made about early Christianity by the likes of the Jesus seminar and Bart Ehrman are ridiculous.
  6. All people have a duty to obey God’s law.
  7. Inerrancy is a false view of Scripture.
  8. If God does not exist, then there are no moral facts.
  9. The state should not sanction same-sex marriage.
  10. There is no such thing as eternal torment in hell.
  11. The four Gospels are a reliable history of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
2, 7, and 10 are presumably the ones which alienate him from the mainstream of conservative evangelicalism, while the rest alienate him from mainstream liberal secularism.  It is an interesting list, I am sure it is meant to be representative rather than definitive and I certainly wouldn't cover the same list of issues if I was to write my list of reasons why I don't fit in well with the standard Christian fundamentalist/liberal secularist divide.  I am not going to make my own list but i will do my own version of his, just so Glenn doesn't feel too alone. :-)

  1. The Bible is the word of God. Amen
  2. We do not have immortal souls.  Of course not, i'm made of mud and God's breath!
  3. Abortion is immoral always tragic, usually unecessary and its frequency is evidence of our morally bankrupt society.
  4. God raised Jesus from the dead. Amen
  5. The liberal claims made about early Christianity by the likes of the Jesus seminar and Bart Ehrman are ridiculous. Huzzah!
  6. All people have a duty to obey God’s law. and all people fail to do so (except one)
  7. Inerrancy is a false meaningless view of Scripture.
  8. If God does not exist, then there are no moral facts morality is merely a social construction
  9. The secular state should not sanction same-sex marriage if the state believes homosexual relationships to be valid building blocks of society that it wants to encourage
  10. There is no such thing as eternal torment in hell.  of course not, what do you think "destruction" means! ;-)
  11. The four Gospels are a reliable history of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Amen
Now, I quite like the fact that in almost any group of people i can come up with some surprises and I hate being fitted into boxes so I celebrate the fact that even with such a short list I have probably given everyone reading that list pause for thought if not a little offence?

Let me know what you think :-)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No, you don't just pick and choose

As I stated before this inerrancy discussion has plenty of legs left. Glenn responds to some criticism from Jeremy by asking why is a non-inerrantist more likley to allow personal preference to interfere in interpretation that someone who holds to inerrancy?  Glenn is quite right in pointing out that we all have to do the hard work of interpretation regardless of what our particular position is.  In fact I would go as far as to say that inerrantists have a harder time of it because of the need they feel to reconcile passages which (appear to) disagree in minor details.  For the non-inerrantist this is normally going to be a waste of time. 

But Jeremy seems to think that it is just a matter of opinion which "parts" of the of Bible are intended to teach truth and which parts are a result of the texts time and culture bound character.  Jeremy paints in his post a misleading charicature of those who do not hold to inerrancy.  No serious exegete that I know thinks you can just put a red biro around various parts of the Bible that you think might contain mistakes or errors or even just irrelevances.  Rather the whole text is inspired, and the whole text has a message.  The important thing is not to confuse the medium with the message.  The mistakes are not in the Bible (hence why I would never say the Bible is "errant" or contains errors - pace Glenn) but in the interpreters who think that the medium is part of the message. 

The clearest and most obvious example of this is Genesis chapter 1.  This passage clearly is teaching about God and the relationship of creation and humanity to God.  There is huge theological weight to every verse in Gen 1 and it is (in my belief) totally and utterly true in all that it teaches.  But there is no indication in the text that it intends to teach us about evoution (or lack of it) or the age of the planet (or lack of it).  Yes that is a hermeneutical decision you have to make, but you do not make those decisions based on preference, you make it based on the way the text demands to be read in its literary and historical context.  The poetic form, and seven days structure are the medium within which the message of God's creativity, sovereignty and grace are taught to us, not the message itself.

Jeremy also argues that because inerrancy now means almost anything given how widely it is qualified by different people that if you feel unable to affirm it then there must be something wrong with you.  My only answer to such a startling suggestion is that I don't believe we should just redefine words to suit us for the express purpose of fitting in with a certain group of people (in this case those who affirm inerrancy - regardless of what they actually mean by it!).  If anything he proves my earlier point that talk about inerrancy is just plain meaningless.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Some more of other people's blogs

Marriage is under attack in the UK by those promoting adultery as entertainment, am I really a reactinoary old prude for thinking that should be stopped quickly?  Loren argues that Paul was converted rather than called which is interesting and I thiknk depends largely on how you understand conversion and religion.  Meanwhile the decade of the Atheists is over, but what will come next?  i would like a decade of really really good pie shops opening in my local neighbourhood.  Steve asks how true do we need the Bible to be?  But I wonder how much we can rely on history to make some of those decisions given how much of the data is still underground and how little survives in any form.  But in case it never occured to you, it didn't me, Goliath's helmet was an important historical clue.  And it should be noted that even the most happening lively active church can be lonely and we need to make the effort to spend time in each other's homes, but that would be hard if you go to "commuter" church.  Bon appetit!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Countryman - Dirt, Greed, and Sex: A Book Review

William Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex, Fortress 2007.

This book is a brilliant and challenging survey of New Testament sexual ethics.  What is unique about it (at least in my experience) is that it approaches these issues, not through the grid of our own modern approach to such matters but seeks to reconstruct the grid which those in the world of the NT would have used.  This book is frequently cited in other literature and usually accompanied by the word "provocative."  I took this to mean that not everyone liked the conclusions but they weren't interested in arguing the point right now.  How ever I think it is a fair word to use of the book.  It has two levels to it.  On one level it is an excellent attempt at bring the reader into a different way of looking at sex and, as far as I can tell, from the point of view of 1st century Christians.  On the other hand this book is not written into a vacuum and while the book is hardly dedicated to the gay debate it is nonetheless intended as a contribution to it and it is where things come closest to this topic that I think the book is at it weakest. 

The first major section is dedicated to the concept of purity, drawing heavily on the work of Mary Douglas Countryman first shows how purity considerations operated in the OT and 1st century Judaism.  He argues that while we moderns hapily differentiate between say food hygene and sexual purity, the ancient world had no concept of germs, genetics or STDs and treated all purity considerations as of one set.  Countryman then goes on to show how the NT reframes purity considerations from external matters (food, dead people, sex, etc) to that of the heart (motive, intention, love, hate, etc).  Countryman concludes that for the NT purity considerations are no longer binding on the conduct of Christians for any area of life, including the sexual.

The second section moves onto what for Countryman is the other major ancient concept for sexual ethics, property.  Countryman persuasively demonstartes how sexual transgressions were primarily conceived of as transgressinos against the property of another.  he demonstrates the OT and second temple judaism backgrounds for this and then shows how the NT both retains this understanding but also radically modifies it.  This section of the book is the most exciting as Countryman skillfully explicates how Jesus' prohibition against divorce served to deconstruct the system of patriarchy.  Countryman then traces this impetus through Paul but concludes that the later NT writings show evidence of a reversion to patriarchy and that even Paul was never consistent in applying this new radical approach to the equality of the sexes.

The final (and shortest) section contains a summary and then Countryman's suggestions for how his exegesis of NT sexual ethics might be aplied today.  This is by far the weakest section.  Countryman's arguments here lack the thoroughness and consistency he (generally) applied to the earlier sections.  While many of his conclusions are hard to disagree with his ethical method is rather slipshod and he spends too little time working on how to move from the NT to today but merely seems to muse on how his findings affect his selection of topics.

With regard to the gay debate, Countryman's own agenda appears to affect the exegesis negatively at a couple of points, not least his discussion of malkoi and arsenokoitai  in 1 Cor 6:9-11 (pp195-6) and of Luke 7:1-17 (pp75-6, 246, 327).  1 Cor 6:9-11 especially is a big issue and I hope to blog specifically on it later as it bears on my own thesis.   What he succeeds in doing, very well, is showing the ambiguity of those NT texts which are often used to forbid homosexuality.  This is a point that needs to be made, however to the educated it should hardly be surprising as "homosexuality" per se was not a concept for either Jew or Gentile in the first century, it is a modern idea.

Overall I am grateful for a very well written book that has given me a lucid and extremely helpful introduction to NT sexual ethics.  By comparison the other books I've read have tended to both treat NT ethics as if they were written about our (modern) problems and be as dull as ditch water.  In particular the insight that NT sexual ethics revolve around concepts of property (why has no one else pointed this out to me!!!???) is a vital insight for my work on 1 Cor 6:12-20 and will be an important shaping factor for my final conclusions.  Already it is an insight that has made sense of a lot of loose ends for me and I'll be keeping the book close for the next few months.

[I have also quoted from the book here and here.]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jesus is not a duck but an elephant!

This is old but I only just found it, brilliant!  [HT to GP]

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What's the drama and who's the snake?

Thanks to James McGrath for lovely quote which inspires me to make two observations about Gen 2-3.

1. The suspense of Gen 2:18-20 relies on the reader not having read Gen 1:26-28.  The way the story is being told the audience are expected not to know what partner might be found for the man.  But Gen 1:26-28 has already given it away, man goes with woman and the two of them are supposed to "go forth and multiply."  Thus the suspense and resolution of Gen 2:18-25, which arrives at essentially the same answers by a different route makes no sense if treated as part of a continuous narrative with Gen 1.  The two creation accounts should not be harmonized but read as alternative accounts.  This is not because I feel the need to do this to satisfy some modernist need to justify my enjoyment of and adherence to these ancient myths, but because the text (which I believe is God's word) actually demands it. 

2. The serpent is introduced in 3:1 as being "more crafty than any other wild animal that God had made."  Because of this, and the resultant loss of limb for said serpent in 2:14, I have never understood the ease with which this chatty little reptile is conflated with Satan and the Devil.  To do so takes the story out of the category of myth and into allegory.  If it is allegorical then why do we need to get so excited about whether or not it is historical?  This also makes it hard for me to accept that in Gen 3:15 we find the proto-euangelion.  To me 3:15 is simply a folksy explanation of why snakes are nasty.  The true proto-euangelion is, IMHO at least, Gen 12:1-3 and it would seem that here the Apostle Paul agrees with me (cf. Gal 3:8, which might count for something with some people).

Let me know what you think :-)

Fiji, DVDs, and complicity

Reading this reminded me recently of how appalled I was when some members of my family went on holiday to Fiji.  It wasn't so much that I thought they shouldn't under any circumstances go but more that it didn't even occur to them that by going they might be helping to support a military dictatorship.  I try to imagine if New Zealand, another great tourist destination, suffered an armed coup and consequently the inhabitants lost their democratic rights, free press, civil freedoms, and were pushed into poverty, how I would feel if people from democratic countries carried on coming here (and paying their entry taxes) as if nothing had happened?  But really those members of my family were no different from all the other western tourists who only care about getting a cheap holiday: they just couldn't give a tinker's fart about the people in Fiji.

That said, I didn't say anything to them about it.  Just like I said nothing when other members of the family came back from a different holiday proudly carrying a haul of pirated DVDs.  Now these are educated people.  They know full well that money from pirate DVDs goes to fund terrorism (especially in that country).   But why let that get in the way of a cheap movie?

Does my silence make me complicit too?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Trade with Heaven in Ivanhoe

One strong theme running through the narrative of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe is that all the bad guys are shown to be constantly justifying their bad behaviour because of good works they had previously done.  On the other hand the two heroes, Ivanhoe and Rebecca, do good deeds without any thought for recompense and yet every good work leads to a favour being returned which serves to advance the story and ultimately results in Rebecca's salvation and vindication at the end of the story.  Towards the end of the story Wamba, the saxon jester, exposes the rationale and modus operandi of those who justify themselves in conversation with the black knight: 
They make up a balanced account with Heaven, as our old cellarer used to call his ciphering, as fair Isaac the Jew keeps with his debtors, and like him, give out very little, and take very large credit for doing so; reckoning, doubtless, on their own behalf the sevenfold usary which the blessed text hath promised to charitable loans . . . these honest fellows balance a good deed with one not quite so laudable; as a crown given to a begging friar with a hundred byzants taken from a fat abbot, or a wench kissed in the greenwood with the relief of a poor widow . . . The merry men of the forest set off the building of a cottage with the burning of a castle - the thatching of a choir against the robbing of a church - the setting free of a poor prisoner against the murder of a proud sheriff . . . Gentle theives they are, in short, and courteous robbers; but it is ever the luckiest to meet with them when they are at the worst . . . then they have some compunction, and are for making up matters with Heaven.  But when they have struck an even balance, Heaven help them with whom they next open the account!
[pp343-4 of the 1995 Wordsworth edition]

The interesting thing is that up to this point the outlaws of the forest have been the good guys and yet Wamba's insight shows that really they just happen to be on the side of "good" when we meet them in the narrative.  In reality they are operating on the same principles that the bad guys are.  This passage and the way the black knight, revealed later to be Richard the Lion Heart, is portrayed leave the observant reader unsettled.  Ivanhoe is not the simple swashbuckling tale of good versus evil, it is more the story of two virtuous people navigating a treacherous world where one side is little better than another.  If anything there is something karmic rather than Christian about the way one good deed done selflessly leads inexorably to another.  But in the way Scott exposes the human tendency to "trade with Heaven" he is spot on. 

In the finale when Ivanhoe takes the part of Rebecca's champion in trial by combat he is wounded and exhausted, barely able to stand, and totally outmatched by his opponent.  Yet ultimately the vindication that Rebecca needs does come, and not from Ivanhoe's strength, which is already spent.  I think it fair to say that for Scott, those who justify themselves are ultimately found wanting, some coming to very sticky ends, and it is only those who give no thought to such accounts but do the right thing anyway who experience Heaven's reward.

Grasshopper Theology: A Prelude

As a prelude to a series I am planning on Grasshopper Theology I wanted to share with you a definition from BDAG for the word πραύτης, which is translated "meekness" in Colossians 3:12 (NRSV):
the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance
There, isn't that beautiful?  If only all dictionary entries could send a shudder through your soul.  :-)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Habets, The Anointed Son: Book Review Part 1

Part 1 of the book review covers the first three chapters of Habets' The Anointed Son.

The first thing that needs to be said is that at the beggining of each chapter Habet's has provided a mouth-watering selection of quotes.  The book is probably worth buying just for those selections alone, although maybe they would need to be set over some soft focus photos of inspiring scenery or babies or something (;-)!!). 

The second thing that needs to be said is that Habets probably wouldn't divide his book this way.  The first 4 chapters constitute the prolegomena and chapters 5-8 are the constructive stuff.  But I have only read the first three chapters and I will treat the survey of NT scholarship alongside Habets' own exegesis of the NT in the next part of the review.  Which makes sense to me if only because it is my own area of specialization.  The third part of the review will cover chapters 6-8 which is where all the fun constructive theology will take place.

1 Spirit Christology: Awaiting the Promise

The first chapter sets about phrasing the question.  Habets states that this work will "introduce the doctrine, examine the various mutually exclusive proposals, and offer a constructive Trinitarian proposal." (p7)  He signals that he wants to avoid the traditional polarity between Logos and Spirit Christologies and present a Spirit Christology whitch is interwoven with, rather than seperated from, the traditional Logos Christology encapsulated in the creeds (p9).

2 Understanding Jesus: Approaches to Christology

In the second chapter Habets embarks on an extensive discussion of how function (what Christ does) and ontology (who Christ is) relate within Christology.   The discussion then moves into a defining of Christologies  from "above" and "below."  Habets is especially insistent that not all Christologies from "below" are equal.  Habets wishes to follow Gunton in asserting that while Christology may begin on the ground, it may not remain there and must move upwards (p42).  Habets suggests Kaseman and Pannenberg have helped pave the way in their own treatement of Christology.  He shares their refusal to presupose a "pre-formed Trinity" at the beggining of Christological enquiry and argues that instead the confession of Jesus' divinty (and hence the Trinity) should arise out of Christology (p43). This chapter asserts a methodology "that seeks to bridge the gulf between Jesus' humanity and divinity (the two nature Achilles heel of classical Christology) by means of the Holy Spirit." 

3 Logos and Spirit

The third chapter surveys the Christology of many of the important theologians from the Apolostolic Fathers through to Chalcedon.  Habets observes that in the early church "Spirit Christology was eclipsed by Logos Christology due to the fear of patripassianism [that God the Father suffered in Christ] . . . it enabled Christian faith to be harmonized with the fundamental principles of Greek philosophy." (p63)  This tendency is then tracked through to Chalcedon where Habets concludes, "perhaps the most serious problem with Chalcedonian Christology is that it has encouraged the wrong kind of Christology, exclusively from above.  It has encouraged the church to start with the deity of the Son of God and then to fit (the problem of his) humanity into the divinity.  At all costs the divinity must remain inviolate, while the humanity may be short changed." (pp87-88)  Thus the next task is to return to the biblical witness to uncover the Spirit Christology which has lain hidden by such historical tendencies.

I think Spirit Christology is a fascinating and important area of theological development and I am finding myself, thus far at least, in complete agreement with Habets' conclusions and approach, and, more to the point, excited for what will come next.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Is Church a Net or an Ark?

I remember being involved with a university mission week once, it was a pretty massive effort with rather minimal results.  Lots of big events and speakers and stunts to get people's attention.  One memory from that week is how a girl from my circle of friends was accidentally invited to a prayer meeting (for Christians only ;-)) by one of the guest evangelists who presumably mistook her for a Christian.  What a disater!  How are the Christians supposed to pray with an unbeliever in their midst?  But, surprise-surprise, she was so impacted by seeing Christians praying passionately to their God that faith found her there and then.

Often when we are exhorting Christians to be more missional and to think more about people outside of church we are reacting against an experience of church that has been insular, selfish and out of touch with the world around it.  However this can become a reflex that has its own tendency to a different extreme that is so focused on reaching the world it forgets to edify (build up) the saints.  It is not that I think Christians should go to church to "get something" for themselves but at the same time they perhaps should not be expected to turn up week after week purely on the off chance that a stranger walks in from the street and therefore gets to see a room full of "happy" people.

The thing is, maintaining one's faith is really hard work.  We are surrounded by forces that wear down our resolve and passion.  Church mission is so often lackluster and passionless because church people are so often underfed and barely keeping their heads above water themselves.  We don't feel like sharing the gospel because we are not so sure we still want it ourselves. Worship should not be primarily about evangelism or being seeker friendly.  It should first be about seeking God and second about reafirming and strengthening the congregation in their diaspora identity as the people of God.  If God's people are meeting with God in spirit and in truth that should be a more powerful way to introduce and strangers to Christ than creating some kind of inoffensive tepid bath of a church experience in the hope of enticing them back again. 

I've got to be honest, I go into 2010 kind of jaded about church wondering if I will ever find it the source of life, joy, and inspiriation that I used to.  Still, I am a great believer in trying to be part of the solution (cos let's face it, I do my share of whinging about the problems).  For the first half of this year, at least, I am withdrawing from preaching duties.  This was initially for the purpose of making time for finishing my thesis and for the family issues that we will be facing this year.  But I will be leading worship about once a month, and I am looking forward to having a bit of headspace and really working to create worship services that connect people to God and build them up in their faith.

I'll let you know how it goes.  Pax

Around the blogosphere

after the Christmas and New Year lull the blogosphere is heating up like crazy.

There's much more on innerrancy even Enns joins in!
NT Wright in this video has annoyed John Hobbins.
Big-Ears makes an appearance without Noddy
Glenn Peoples wants to change the world (in NZ at least)
Alan Knox warns about glossing.
James McGrath rebutts the slippery slope and dances on a volcano instead.
Tim Bulkely preaches against certainty.
I get a guest slot to talk about preaching here.
And Antony Billington reflects on how theology of scripture affects interpretation of scripture.

Enjoy!   :-)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bribery is OK by Me!

An intrepid OT teacher ponders the ethics of bribery here

I would tentatively suggest that the situation is less complicated.  By bribing a border guard you can claim no complicity in the corrupt system.  If you tried to bribe a immigration officer in Heathrow or Auckland Airport you would find that the system is not influenced at all by your bribe.  Equally your refusal to bribe a corrupt guard would do little to change the corrupt guard or system.  Rather than a consequence based ethic how about a virtue (character based) ethic.

What sort of person bribes a border guard?  If you are bribing him to allow you to smuggle narcotics or children for prostitution then your bribery is motivated by avarice and lack of concern for others.  Your bribery is bad because you are bad in motive. If you are bribing him because of your compassion for a refugee from a corrupt and despotic regime your bribery is good, because it is motivated by your compassion.  Bribe for the glory of God!  (Of course accepting bribes is a different matter altogether.)

Then there is alaways Proverbs 17:8, :-)

Now thinking about the ethical problems in marginal situations has made me think a of a trickier example.   Anti-slavery groups often debate whether or not it is ethical to buy slaves their freedom.  On the one hand you are showing compassion to the individual (virtue) but on the other hand you are fueling the slave trade by becoming a buyer (consequence). 

Let me know what you think :-)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

If that's what you mean then ok!

A statement of innerrancy I could live with?
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. It reveals the principles by which God judges us; and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.

The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message on the Scriptures cited by Ranger in the comments of yet another brilliant post on inerrancy by John Hobbins

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Theological Education and Government Money

Interesting article here on the extreme changes the theological education sector is going through in Oz. I would observe that many of the issues we face in NZ in theological education stem from needing to meet the requirements of secular education boards. Don't get me wrong, I am all for standards, and I think that offering it's own NZQA degree is the best thing possible for Carey to be doing right now for all sorts of reasons, but the dependence on government money does come at a price. That price needs to be reevaluated from time to time. The interesting thing is that the church seems to expect the bulk of the cost of training its leaders to be met by the government. In an increasingly secular world this seems decreasingly likely to be a sustainable option. I'm not so sure that it was ever a good idea.

Let me know what you think, :-)

Countryman on Adultery

Among us, sexual activity outside the marriage on the part of either partner is understood as adultery; in antiquity, only such activity on the part of the wife (or the betrothed woman) qualified. The husband could commit adultery only by having intercourse with the wife (or betrothed) of another man; if he had sexual relations with a slave, a prostitute, a concubine, or a divorced or widowed woman, this did not constitute adultery against his own marriage. Again our own explanations of what is wrong in adultery usually focuses on the betrayal of trust and of formal commitments between spouses, whereas the ancient understanding of adultery assumes rather that it is a violation of another man's property. What for us is a kind of betrayal was for them a species of theft.
Countryman, Dirt Greed and Sex, 2007, 154-5

This well written book continues to be quite uncomfortable reading, although I imagine it would be more so for members of Family First et al. This is the conclusion of a very well argued section on the understanding of adultery in the Torah. Once again this highlights the danger of reading our modern conceptions back into the Bible. Is this really the "biblical family values" we want a return to?

Let me know what you think, :-)

Headlines for a New Decade of Persecution


Courtesy of Barnabas Fund, full stories here. The Swiss minaret ban of late last year seemed to be only a spiteful and meaningless anti-islamic gesture, i'm not surprised to see it beggining to cause problems. I'm not saying we need to accept sharia law in western countries, far from it, but not letting them have their minarets is just petty and unhelpful.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

NT Wright on Reality

Reality as we know it is the result of a creator god bringing into being a world that is other than himself, and yet which is full of his glory. It was always the intention of this god that creation should one day be flooded with his own life, in a way for which it was prepared from the beginning. As part of the means to this end, the creator brought into being a creature which, by bearing the creator's image, would bring his wise and loving care to bring upon the creation. By a tragic irony, the creature in question has rebelled against this intention. But the creator has solved this problem in principle in an entirely appropriate way, and as a result is now moving creation once more towards its originally intended goal. The implementation of this solution now involves the indwelling of this god within his human creatures and ultimately within the whole creation, transforming it into that for which it was made in the beginning.
[NT Wright, NTPG, 97-8]

One thing I like to do with groups who want a Bible overview is to get them to describe what they think the big story (metanarrative) of the Bible is in five or six sentences. It is always really interesting to see what they come out with. (Wright is deliberate here in not mentioning Jesus only because the next two books in the series are on the subject and he didn't want to preempt himself.) It is a good excercise to do. Of course for Wright, as for many Christians, the metanarrative of the Bible describes reality itself and our own personal stories find their true context and meaning only within that. I quite like Wright's summary (apart from the ommission of Jesus and his unqualified use of the male third person pronoun for God), it is concise and simple and effectively highlights three of the most important characters of the biblical story, God, creation, and humanity. What I think is missing from this summary is God's people, but then it is only a summary, you can't include everything. Interesting, too, how in a six sentence summary the first four of those sentences cover Genesis 1-11 while the last two cover Gen 12 -Rev 22!!

Why don't you have a go? Let me know what you think :-)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Turning Points

Well, I do not usually use this blog as a platform for introspection but the ticking over from the "noughties" to the "tennies" or alternatively to the rather hopeful sounding "one-ders" has made me feel like I should at least stop a little while to reflect on what has been and what will come next.

The year 2000 saw me begin my working life as I finished my music degree in Lancaster and took up a trainee pastoral role in a middle sized small town south Devon church. Two years of fulfilling and exciting ministry followed. Those years were, without a doubt, the time I have been most aware of God using me and at work in me. The church congregation were incredibly supportive of this very young and earnest young man and the pastor was especially generous in giving me opportunities and experience. I also got to learn to windsurf and started running long distance along the gorgeous Devon coast. After only two years, though, the call came to serve at a church in London. It was a real struggle to answer it but day after day there seemed to be countless little signs that God was asking me to move on. I began to feel increasingly discontented until I finally made the decision.

The church in London was much smaller and the ministry much less exciting. There was a wonderful community there though and once again I was incredibly blessed by the way the church family made a space for me and accepted me. But I struggled. It seemed so much harder to make a difference in the inner-city context. Windsurfing was out, and before long I gave up running as the concrete was wearing my knees out. I started to ride a motorbike, which was fun, and met a beautiful Kiwi girl who seemed to have a thing for biker pastors, which was nice . . . ;-) So we got married.

About this time two other things were happening. 1, I was beginning to increasingly appreciate the benefits of study for ministry - up to that point I hadn't really seen the need. 2, I was beginning to feel increasingly passionless about what I was doing - I realised I couldn't continue in ministry much longer unless that passion came back. So my new wife and I decided that our next move would be to NZ, so that she could be near her mum when we started our family and I could go to Bible college to study and hopefully rediscover my passion for ministry. So that is what we did.

After a few twists and turns I ended up studying at Carey Baptist College in Auckland where I have been for nearly four years, mixing part time and full time study with work and raising a family. This year, 2010, I will finish my Masters in Theology (I really will, honest guv!) and will need to once more discern to what and to where God is calling me next. Through all the major turning points of the last decade I have been strongly aware of God's guidance and provision for each step of the journey. Looking back I can see his hand even more clearly than I did then. In the times when I doubt and struggle with my faith that experience of guidance and provision is one of the things that inevitably stops me giving up.

It is worth saying that that guidance has never happened in the timing and way that I would have chosen. But it has always happened. 2010 is another major turning point for me and I have no idea where it will lead. But I am looking forward to finding out.
I know not what the future holds, but I know in whose hands it is held.
I'll keep you posted, :-)