Thursday, March 29, 2012

You think the reformation is over? It is now . . .

Carl Trueman's excellent article on how the advent of mega churches signals the end of the reformation is well worth a read and has really stuck with me in my own struggles with a church which, while hardly mega, is getting to the point where it is difficult to know everybody, and certainly not possible to really know everybody.  However even in small churches I have noticed a tendency to jetison the insights and advances of the reformation without so much as a thought. 

This particular regression can be blamed on the "creative" outlet provided by digital video projectors whereby communion is now not complete without either a slide showing a blood stained figure on a cross, or a pained face with a crown of thorns, or even better yet a youtube video where some american crooner sings about the cross set to slide show put together by a theologically illiterate teenager in their bedroom complete with every cliched Christ image on google.  Suddenly we are worshipping an image in our allegedly Bible believing churches, using a cheesy digital image to focus our thoughts on the suffering of Jesus. 

Don't get me wrong I have no problem with movies made out of the story of Jesus, although some of them are terrible, or pictures in the children's Bibles.  But by playing such images as part of our worship, especially as part of a communion service we take attention away from the image Jesus actually did leave us, the bread and the wine shared among the people of God - which is clearly not Jesus but points us to his presence within and among us, and focuses us on the sad tragic physical suffering of crucifixion which is really not the focus of the Bible when it comes to the cross at all.  Jesus' death really wasn't that tragic in the vast scale of human suffering, others have died longer more painful and humiliating deaths.  The evangelists do not labour the fact that he was in pain, or that it was really sad that Jesus was being hurt, etc, etc.  The focus of the gospel writers was on the meaning of his death, and that should be our focus too, but it is hard to do that when corny gory images of someones idea of Christ are filling up the front of the church.

And to reward you for reading my rant, here is some unrelated light relief from the Sacred Sandwich,


Let me know what you think, :-)

The Jewish Background to Vulcan Culture

Did you know that the Vulcan hand sign, "Live long and prosper" was based on the Jewish character,

which Leonard Nimoy saw used as a blessing in orthodox synagogues as a boy?  Well you do now!




Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reflections on Pita Sharples


Pita Sharples is one of New Zealand's most respected contemporary politicians, he is one of those people who seems able to embody the word irenic and seems to almost glow with wisdom and tranquility even when reporters are shoving cameras in his face and asking their questions.  I was glad of the opportunity to go to Carey College and hear him speak last week (7pm, 22nd March) and although he is smaller in real life than on TV he remains an incredibly impressive man.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Quote of the Day: Bruce on Biblical Theology and Magical Roundabouts


Our biblical theology must depend on our exegesis, not vice versa. If we allow our exegesis to be controlled by theologoumena, we shall quickly find ourselves involved in circular reasoning. I have friends who say, 'Well, yes; but then all theological reasoning is circular; let us simply make sure that we get into the right circle.' I have no wish to accompany them on this magic roundabout.

F.F. Bruce from The Canon of Scripture, 1988, p333
Pic from Dave Block

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jesus Heals Cancer: A Tale of Media Hype and Church Marketing

A certain church made national headlines last week with a billboard advertising Jesus' medicinal properties.


This has not gone unremarked, e.g. Dr Mark Keown (he of the remarkably poo coloured blog) has pontificated at length.  Now for the record, I do believe that Jesus heals cancer, but it it is also rather evident that he does not always heal cancer, which means those of us who believe he does heal need to be sensitive in how we express that in public settings - this sign manifestly fails to do that. But I am not wanting to blog about that, because, well, it is just a bit obvious.  Instead I want to ask two questions that don't seem to have been asked by anyone but that bug me no end.

1. Why is this a national news story?  This was not a national advertising campaign, but one billboard on one church in one town.  Local community newspapers are actually very good at reporting positive church events, if a church does a working bee or organises help for a local school or runs a special service for asylum seekers or some such the local paper will be happy to say what is going on.  The national media couldn't care less, and why should they?  But when a local church does something questionable, why should it appear on the national TV news and in the national papers?  Am I missing something here?  This is not a story of national importance, it is a local issue and the only reason it has become a national story is because the national news media has hyped it up into one.  Why is that?

2.  The second thing is that for me this billboard not only disrespects those who are suffering from cancer but also implies rather directly that Jesus only heals cancer at this particular church.  Now this suggestion has created some hostile reactions on facebook where I first mooted it, but let me explain:

The billboard proclaims, I quote, "Church, but not as you know it" - claiming other churches are not like this one.
And in what way is this church different from the ones I know (i.e. any other church I may have been to)?
Answer: This church is different because in this church "Jesus heals cancer."

We are so used to churches appropriating inappropriate marketing methods from the commercial world that we don't even notice where such comparative advertising leads us, but it actually leads us to denigrate God's people who sincerely worshipping him in the other churches around the town.  Why is it that this church feels that Jesus healing cancer should be or could be their unique selling point?  Do they think that Jesus isn't at work healing in other churches with different styles and pattern of worship?  Do churches in this country need their own advertising standards to help those churches who struggle not to embrace comparative commercial and insensitive advertising to stick to a standard that doesn't lead them to slander the bride of Christ?

I'm just asking.

Let me know what you think :-)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Brick-a-Brack 100312

Wow, it had been pretty lean picking on the blog reader for a while now but just in the last day lots of juicy morsels have appeared, you, faithful reader, may well enjoy the following,
But all this talk about unicorns is a good excuse for this song, a perennial favourite in my family of about the real unicorns (of the sea).

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Brick-a-Brack 080312: Special Whoop Ass Edition

Ok, all sorts of folk have been putting the internet smack down on some baddies this week,


Real Sex - Lauren Winner: A Book Review



Winner's book came to me highly recommended.  It is a 161 pages and a fairly light read, aimed at the thinking Christian and not requiring any specialist knowledge to engage.  Lauren Winner is probably most famous for her two memoirs, Girl Meets God and Still.  This book has the odd autobiographical moment but on the whole is a practical theological exploration of the topic of chastity.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

OT Background to the Narrow Road

I was preaching on Sunday on the narrow road bit of the sermon on the mount, Matt 7:13-14,
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
There is more here than meets the first glance. Long before Jesus' time choosing the right road/path was a well worn scriptural metaphor, e.g. Psalm 23:3, 86:11, Prov 2:20, to name but a few.   Now I think this whole section of the sermon, 7:13-27 echoes strongly Deuteronomy 30:11-20 where Moses puts "the decision" before Israel, but there are a further two passages from the prophets which I think should be seen a background to Jesus' words and applied when understanding the extent of Jesus' claims about his teaching and himself.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Quote of the Day: Fredriksen on History

If we as historians seek to understand how people in the distant past made sense to each other, then we have to work hard to reconstruct their world, not to project upon them concerns from ours. . . . . The dead are not our contemporaries, and if we think they are, we are not listening to them, but talking to ourselves.
Paula Fredriksen, cited by Larry Hurtado in a post on Paul and the continental philosophers

What a cracker, should probably be on the wall of every historian's study. But of course if we didn't find these dead people's words reflecting or illuminating our own concerns in some way we wouldn't bother with them at all.  The trick is not to let our resonance with their words (or other remains, e.g. art, narrative, etc) obscure the fact that that may well not have been what they meant to say, even if that is what we hear them saying to us.  Even in communicating to our living contemporaries we constantly risk misunderstanding, how much more with those removed from us in time, space, language, and cultural context.