Monday, October 31, 2005

Talking the Walk

Marva Dawn

John records the title [Son of God] most extensively. Only once is the title thrown out in accusation by the crowds, but John the Baptizer, Nathaniel, and Martha all use it with praise. Only in writings associated with John does Jesus use the title for Himself.

Why does all this matter? Why is the title important?

Two contemporary corruptions plague this phrase. Some (besides Jehovah witnesses) suggest that the use of the title does not equate in meaning with the word God, but corresponds instead with the way that all of us are children of God (as Luke uses the title in his genealogy). The other problem arises from those who separate the title from the historical person Jesus of Nazareth as a much later usage by the Church.

In responses to the first, I point to the diversity of voices that utter the title in the entire New Testament. The devil is recorded as using the designation in his attempts to dissuade Jesus from God’s way of working in the world. Unclean spirits and demoniacs shriek it in alarm, one would think, because they recognize that they are up against the power of God Himself. If Luke actually interviewed Mary as some scholars suggest, then she heard the title from an angel of heaven (and that angel didn’t address her in the same way!) Most important, the ones who use the title in praise are responding to acts of God in miracles, at conversion, or in fulfilment of inspiration.

The opinion that the title was a much later addition to the Christian faith is made suspect by the fact that the title appears in books from the entire period of the New Testament writing, and because the accusation that Jesus named Himself God’s Son is hurled at Him at His crucifixion. These Gospels and letters were not written to prove or even develop the idea that Jesus was God; rather, Jesus’ followers already believed Him to be God, and that is the reason that these texts were written and preserved in the first place.

A high percentage of theologians these days approach biblical texts with what is called a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion,’ suggesting that interpretation should be characterised more by scepticism than by easy acceptance. Who do we think God is? Is it not possible that God would want us to have truthful testimony to triune involvement with our world and would watch over the process of its recording?

From Part 2 of Talking the Walk, letting Christian language live again, published by Brazos Press 2005

Friday, October 28, 2005

In the Heart of the Temple

Joan Chittister

Sexism, therefore, is heresy, is pathological pride, is hubris raised to high art. The truth is that science has rediscovered theology for us – and calls it ecology. Science knows now that everything is interrelated; that humanity is only one aspect of the fabric of life; that our connectedness is infinitely complex , and that, having poisoned the earth and polluted the air, we are now on the verge of extreme natural degradation and irreversible natural changes. If we do not see our sin and call it that, the anthropocentric – human-centred – worldview has failed us, has left us spiritual orphans. The androcentric – male-centred – worldview has destroyed us, has left us spiritual amnesiacs, has put us in contention with ourselves, with the universe, and with God the creator.

The world does not exist for us alone. On the contrary. Diversity is necessary. It is diversity we degrade and it is diversity we destroy. But it is specialization that is entropic. It is specialization that kills. If we farm only one product, the land dies; if we insist on only one social system, creativity dies; if we honour only one culture, peoples die; if we elevate only one sex, the fullness of humanity dies.

That is why feminism confronts androcentrism, this simplification of life to a one-gendered viewpoint only. Because simplification isn’t good for anyone. It’s not good for women. It’s not good for the planet. It’s not even good for men – it isolates them emotionally, it distorts them socially, it overdrives them physically and makes impossible demands on them psychologically.

Androcentrism is unspiritual because it ignores the spiritual value of the other half of the human race; it is immoral because it exploits the rest of creation. And it is un-Christian because it fails to find God incarnate in everything. That is why feminism denies the universalization of the experience of male experience. Women know that they see differently too, and they want that vision honoured for the sake of the human race. Women know that they think and feel differently about many things, and they want those thoughts and feelings factored into decisions – for the sake of the human race. Women know that they are different physically and they want their bodies valued, honoured, and listened to in all the questions that affect life (not simply the biological ones) for the sake of the human race.

Feminism rejects hierarchy and domination, not for itself alone, but for the sake of the rest of the human race. In fact, ecofeminism – a feminism that integrates Genesis 2, science and ecology and the fullness of humanity – reconceives feminism itself. An equal rights feminism that simply wants what men have already is not enough. A radical feminism that seeks separatism and divides the human race on the pretext of bettering it is not enough. A socialist feminism that concentrates on what is good for humans but takes no account of nature is not enough.

Feminism – real feminism – is a new worldview that transcends male chauvinism, rejects female chauvinism, is not just anthropocentric, but embraces creation and rejoices in nature and sees the ‘image of God’ in equal grandeur in both female and male, in the cosmos and the totality of creation.

From Chapter 9 of In the Heart of the Temple – my spiritual vision for today’s world, published by Bluebridge/Benetvision 2004

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Stem Cell Research and Cloning

Elizabeth Hepburn

The questions of the status of the embryo were raised very eloquently in a cartoon published in the Melbourne Age newspaper in 1984 when the issue of what should be done with the Rios twins was before the court. In this cartoon [Peter] Nicholson depicted a group of men-medicos, legal eagles, clergymen, academics standing around a test tube which bears a tag saying ‘orphan embryos’ and one of the men is saying, ‘We must find a solution to this problem.’ Not a single person depicted is capable of being a mother. It reminds one of Solomon’s decision about the baby brought before him; he thought that the person who would decide in the best interests of the infant was the mother.

The ‘problem’ was what should be done with the embryos of an Argentinean couple called Rios, and left behind in a freezer in Melbourne. Mrs Rios had become pregnant through IVF conducted in a Melbourne clinic and returned to Argentina to await the birth of her babe. Tragically, the couple were killed in a plane crash. The issue before the court was how the very considerable Rios estate should be divided.

If it could be established that the embryos were the children of the Rios couple they may be the rightful inheritors of a fortune; if that were not the case, then the embryos would constitute part of the estate to be divided. The outcome depended on whether the embryos are regarded as persons and subjects, or seen as mere cells and property or objects.

Nicholson, though, saw more problems than the dilemma over the status of the embryos. In the other half of his cartoon he drew a number of vaguely Asiatic figures, poorly clad and standing beneath a sign which said ‘Third World.’ He posed the question, do we have the right to invest in technology to reproduce ourselves while there are so many members of the human community condemned to starvation?

It seems to me that while the Rios predicament raised countless questions these two are really central to the way in which we think about technology and ourselves as human beings.

From section 2 of Stem Cell Research and Cloning: contemporary challenges to our humanity, published as volume 7 number 2 of the Interface series by the Australian Theological Foundation, 2004

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

City Changing Prayer

Debra and Frank Green

Praying for those in authority is one of the church’s responsibilities, so it wasn’t difficult for us to agree on this as a theme for one of our evenings. We invited local councillors and MPs, and surprised them as they took to the stage by thanking them publicly for serving with diligence and enthusiasm. We told them that their hard work was appreciated not only by us and others in their constituencies but also by the Lord himself.

Aside from our personal views or persuasions, we all recognised that each of our guests that evening deserved the loud and sustained round of applause that happened spontaneously as Debra finished her introductions and opening comments. One by one, they recounted similar tales of long hours and demanding workloads. A common thread was the lack of appreciation each person felt, although none was complaining, simply accepting that this was par for the course.

There were tears in the eyes of most of them as they received our words of gratitude and praise. One former MP told us later that this was the first time in his long history of public service that he’d attended a meeting where nobody wanted something from him! He was certain that the same applied to our other guests as well.

Despite the fact that few, if any, of those who’d accepted our invitation were Christians, they were all happy to be prayed for publicly. We prayed for their families and personal lives and were surprised at how open some were. The human side of their public persona consistently showed as they opened up about challenges and pressures they were experiencing.

The most remarkable aspect of these [sorts of] gatherings is the atmosphere of openness and honesty that permeates them. You get the impression that the MP feels really safe, and even that this may be the only time they ever get the chance to share such personal and sensitive details about their lives.

From chapter 4 of City Changing Prayer – insights from Manchester’s impacting city-wide prayer movement, published by Kingsway/Survivor 2005

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Persistent Voice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Edwin Robertson

In prison] there are his writings too. It is not only Ethics which he is still working on, but that unwritten book on the future of the Church and its relation to people of the present day. He tries out ideas in these letters, but not casually. Much thinking and prayer and study of the Bible has preceded the remarks apparently thrown off in a personal letter. [Eberhard] Bethge is the only one to whom he can write about these things, because for ten years they have shared the changing theology of a Christian in Nazi Germany, and they have discussed matters endlessly. Bonhoeffer is aware that he is going beyond Bethge, and expects him to be surprised, even worried. Yet, he must go on, because he knows that the time is past when people can be told everything in theological or pious words. The monstrous evil that had beset his country and the poison which it had injected into the Church had made ‘inwardness and conscience’ obsolete. These are the ‘rusty swords’ of which he writes eloquently in Ethics, and with appreciation for the role they have played in the past.

Perhaps religion too is obsolete. He detects that they are moving towards a ‘completely religionless time’ and that people as they now are, ‘cannot be religious any more.’ This he deduces from observation of those who call themselves ‘religious’ – the German Christians, the Confessing Church, the monks at Ettal, for all their differences, come under this heading of ‘calling themselves religious.’ But they do not act up to what they call religious, they live by other means. He can only conclude that they must mean something quite different from what an earlier generation meant by ‘religious.’ There are echoes of the boldness of his very first sermon in this letter.

He observes that the war is not calling forth any ‘religious’ reaction, as other wars have done. He questions whether Christianity is right to assume that humanity is basically religious. For nearly two thousand years, we have made the claim that Christianity represents the highest form of religion and Bonhoeffer does not doubt that. He question whether religion itself is essential to modern man. In sweeping terms that have more than a ring of truth in our day, he outlines the way people have left the Church:

‘The foundation has been taken away from all that has up to now been our ‘Christianity,’ and there remain only a few ‘last survivors of the age of chivalry,’ or a few intellectually dishonest people, on whom we can descend as religious. Are they to be the chosen few? Is it to be on this dubious group of people that we are to pounce in fervour, pique or indignation, in order to sell them our goods? Are we to fall upon a few unfortunate people in their hour of need and exercise a sort of religious compulsion on them?’
These are rhetorical questions. He is really trying to find what is left, ‘now that the preliminary stage of Christian civilisation is over and we are entering a new era with a complete absence of religion – as we have known it.’

From chapter 14 of The Persistent Voice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – the shame and the sacrifice and after, published by Eagle 2005

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Crucified in the Media

Marvin Pate and Sheryl Pate

In the early twentieth century, Nicholas Notovich published his work, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ: From Buddhistic Records. In that book, the author claims that on his trip to Tibet he found numerous sermons by Jesus. Supposedly, Jesus had delivered these sermons in India while a teenager. News of Notovich’s claim attracted much attention in the 1920s.

Notovich’s work is but one of a number of twentieth-century books that want to demonstrate that Jesus’ teaching ultimately is not Judeo-Christian in orientation but rather is permeated by Asian thinking, even New Age-like teaching. As such, the movement’s motive is polemical in nature: that the orthodox, established church has until recently managed to suppress the ‘authentic’ sources of the life and work of Jesus. For Notovich, the authentic source is clear: Jesus was Buddhist.

[Elaine] Pagels, in The Gnostic Gospels, accepts the supposed connection between Jesus and Buddha, basing it in the Gospel of Thomas. Pagels writes, ‘One need only listen to the words of the Gospel of Thomas to hear how it resonates with the Buddhist tradition…these ancient gospels tend to point beyond faith toward a path of solitary searching to find understanding, or gnosis.’ She asks, ‘Does not such teaching – the identity of the divine and human, the concern with illusion and enlightenment, the founder who is presented not as Lord but as spiritual guide – sound more Eastern than Western?’ She suggests that we might see an explicitly Indian influence in Thomas, perhaps via the Christian communities in southern India, the so-called Thomas Christians.

Never mind that Notovich’s work was exposed as a forgery; the seed had been planted and the twenty-first century is experiencing its harvest of ideas.

From Chapter 3 of Crucified in the Media – finding the real Jesus amidst today’s headlines, published by BakerBooks 2005

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Windows to Heaven

Elizabeth Zelensky and Lela Gilbert

The Vladimir Theotokos, which represents the Hodigitria type of icon, was painted in Byzantium – probably in Constantinople- at the end of the eleventh century. It has spent, however, most of its thousand years of existence in Russia. It is currently housed in the Tretiakov National Art Gallery in Moscow. A few words about images of the Theotokos in Byzantium and medieval Russia will help place this particular icon in its historical context.

The Vladimir Theotokos is an excellent example of painting from the golden age of Byzantium, whose art is characterised by ‘dignity and graciousness, restraint and balance, an undisturbed refinement and harmony with religious emotion,’ according to Byzantologist A A Vasiliev. This particular icon is the product of the last full-fledged flowering of a civilisation that was precariously balanced on its pinnacle of artistic and political power. By the end of the eleventh century, the fortunes of the Byzantines were on the wane. The devastating defeat of the Byzantine army by the Seljuk Turks in 1076 at Manzikert, compounded by the rape of Constantinople in 1204 by Western crusaders, fatally weakened the empire. Its final fall in 1453 to the forces of the Ottoman Sultan Muhammed II was something of an anticlimax, long expected by all.

The particular compositional type upon which the Vladimir Theotokos icon is based is known as the icon of Lovingkindness (in Russian Umileniie), a translation of the Greek Eleousa, which carries connotations of mercy, compassion, pity and tenderness. In the words of St Isaac of Syria, these emotions flow ‘when a man’s heart burns for all creation - men, birds, demons and all creatures. At their memory and sight his eyes shed tears. This is why he prays hourly, for dumb creation, for the enemies of truth, for those who harm him, [that] they should be preserved and shown mercy; he prays also for the reptiles with a great compassion which wells up in his heart without measure until he becomes likened in this to God.’

The Vladimir Theotokos is the physical image of motherhood transformed into compassion for all creation. In her we see a woman transfigured and magnified into her full spiritual potential. And this, of course, is the task of all true icons: to reveal human beings in their full eschatological meaning through contact with divine grace.

From Chapter 3 of Windows to Heaven – introducing icons to Protestants and Catholics, published by SaltRiver (Tyndale House) 2005

Monday, October 17, 2005

Finding God in the Land of Narnia

Kurt Bruner & Jim Ware

We become disappointed with God when His behaviour doesn’t fit the paradigms and patterns we’ve established for Him in our own minds, just as Caspian and Cornelius became disheartened when Queen Susan’s horn failed to produce the kind of assistance they were expecting to receive. Not that the horn didn’t work; in actuality, it couldn’t have been more effective. But the help it brought was strange – almost too strange to be recognised.

This strangeness surfaces again and again in the story of Prince Caspian. The children run up against it the moment they arrive in Narnia. Who would have guessed that the dilapidated ruin in the midst of the overgrown island would turn out to be Cair Paravel, the grand castle where once they had ruled as kings and queens? Who would have surmised that the Lion would send a group of English schoolchildren to rescue the Old Narnians from King Miraz and his powerful army? Who, indeed, would have supposed that Aslan himself could behave in such an odd, unpredictable manner? ‘Why should Aslan be invisible to us?’ complained Peter at a crucial point in the story. ‘He never used to be. It’s not like him.’

The blackest moment, of course, came during Caspian’s eleventh-hour council meeting at Aslan’s How. The horn had been blown, apparently without effect. Time appeared to be running out. Under the circumstances, one could hardly blame Nikabrik for proposing an alternate plan, however dark and sinister. But it was precisely at this juncture that the long-awaited help – strange, unexpected help – stepped out of the otherworld and into the darkened chamber in the form of Peter and Edmund Pevensie. As Trufflehunter had so rightly predicted, it was waiting at the door all the time.

It’s not like Him. The turnaround always comes when the prospects look bleakest. In the words of novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

‘But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it – at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.’

From Chapter 11 of Finding God in the Land of Narnia, published by SaltRiver (Tyndale House) 2005

Friday, October 14, 2005

No More Christian Nice Guy

Paul Coughlin

When we reach those sticky parts of the New Testament where Jesus lost his cool and called people names, we still portray him as having a gleam in his eye or as suppressing a kind smile, because Jesus would never be that rude. He wasn’t really mad, says the underlying message. He just raised his voice a little to get everyone’s attention, like a tour guide on a busy street.

I once treated exclamation points that followed expressions such as ‘hypocrites!’ and ‘brood of vipers fit for hell!’ as if they were merely biblical italics. Jesus was emphasising a point – he didn’t actually yell at anyone….Talk about spin. I did a lot of damage for my Saviour.

I created my own sanitised, unauthorised translation, The Nice Guy Bible (NGB), which I continue to see a lot of other guys carrying around. I rewrote some parts and took others out of context to hide from God and from what he really wanted of me. I kept this distortion of Jesus neatly in my mind, the way a Nice Guy feels he should, until it was destroyed by an unusual and unexpected epiphany: Christ’s humour. His blessed sarcasm helped me begin to see how he actually lived and talked, as opposed to how I’d thought. A mental fog lifted. At last my life received a long-needed clarity. I neared the red-hot bonfire of truth, which warmed and saved me. A greater taste for life awakened.

I began to ask questions like: How come when we ask, WWJD?, we almost always assume some form of quiet, mellow response, when he often spoke and behaved in undeniably rugged ways? If Jesus said we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, why have I heard countless sermons admonishing me to live in innocence – a more gentle virtue – but precious few on how to apply wisdom, a more rough-and-tumble virtue that sometimes requires conflict?

Looking back, I once believed this caricature of ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ because it was what I internalised during well-orchestrated church services designed to make God palatable to contemporary taste buds. I was told, though not in so many words, that the safe and pleasant route is really the best.
The popular fiction that Jesus is the Supreme Nice Guy no longer holds any water for me. Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads ‘Jesus Is My Best Friend?’ Puh-leese. I don’t ask my best friends to forgive me for my sins. I don’t pray to my best friends. I don’t worship my best friends. The Lamb of God is also the Lion of Judah. He is good, but I can’t say he is nice.

From Chapter 1 of No More Christian Nice Guy – when being nice – instead of good – hurts men, women and children, published by Bethany House 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Scott Wilkins

In 1996, while serving as pastor of a church in Montgomery, Alabama, I became acquainted with a dynamic pastor named John Ed Mathison, who serves as senior minister of the Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church. While Frazer memorial started from humble beginnings, under Mathison’s leadership it quickly grew to the largest average worship attendance of any congregation in the United Methodist Church.

I had the opportunity one day to sit in John Ed’s office and talk to him about Frazer Memorial. I asked him, ‘What do you think is the most significant reason for the growth here at your church?’ John Ed replied, ‘Scott, I get asked that question several times a month. The answer is simple: it is the overwhelming involvement of our laity in every area of our church.’ He went on to say, ‘Our church continues to grow because people invite people to visit and become a part of our church. The bottom line for church growth is that God uses people to reach people. In our case, church members who find deep satisfaction in their ministry experience here at Frazer Memorial are excited and invite their friends and loved ones to worship here. As a result, people are experiencing the joy of seeing God work through them to meet the needs of others around them. It’s contagious!’

I have found this to be true throughout my entire ministry. The secret of growth is the personal involvement of the church membership in meaningful ministry. Church members actively involved in a worthwhile ministry in the church are more interested in sharing what God is doing through them than finding fault and criticising others. I’ve discovered that people who are busy rowing don’t have the time or energy to rock the boat! People who are absorbed in serving and witnessing create a contagious atmosphere for inviting people and encouraging others to serve.

A major problem in many churches today is that many members have the mind-set that ministry is to be done by the professional clergy or ministerial staff of the church, and that laypersons are the recipients of that ministry. This attitude is killing the effectiveness of the church. In fact, I fear that if this misconception is not corrected in our churches, the results will be devastating. Even now we are dangerously close to echoing the words from the book of Judges where it declares, ‘After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.’

From Chapter 9 of Reach – a team approach to evangelism and assimilation, published by BakerBooks 2005

Monday, October 10, 2005

Did God Have a Wife

William G Dever

The perspective of all the biblical writers is a factor that limits their usefulness in another regard. It is no exaggeration to say that all the biblical literature – especially the historical and prophetic works – constitutes what is essentially ‘propaganda.’ The writers make no pretence to objectivity. They are openly partisan, championing the cause of extreme nationalism and orthodox Yahwism, that is, the Truth as they see it. They have no tolerance for divergent views, not even when they are held by kings, all of whom they despise except for the ‘good’ reformist kings Hezekiah and Josiah. These extremists were, of course, minority parties given the historical reality in 8th-7th century Israel. But it is they who wrote the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible, as one of my theological friends (I have a few) likes to say, is a ‘minority report.’ As we would put it today, the writers were ‘spin doctors.’ Thus the Bible is ancient ‘revisionist history,’ on a grand scale.

That observation leads me to the point, of critical importance in looking to the Hebrew Bible for a picture of Israelite religions. The Bible’s portrait throughout is an ‘idealistic’ one – not a picture of Israelite religion as it was at all, but a picture of what it should have been, and would have been if these zealots had actually been in charge. Ironically, the very condemnation of ‘folk religion’ by the editors is what reveals many of the very characteristics that I shall document here. In trying to suppress popular cults, they inadvertently confirm their existence.

In sum, the degree to which the biblical texts can be taken as reliable historical evidence is crucial to our inquiry. The ‘historicity’ of the Bible is perhaps the most hotly debated topic in biblical studies today, with ‘minimalists’ and ‘maximalists’ battling it out in the literature.

I reject absolutely the assertion of some ‘revisionists’ that the Bible is not about history at all, and only recently has anyone ever wanted it to be. The first statement is mindless: it all depends upon what one means by ‘history.’ And the second is simply not true. Until the recent fad of creeping scepticism, most people, even more liberal biblical scholars, assumed that the Bible was history in some sense. On the other hand, the Hebrew Bible is obviously not history in the modern sense, that is, ‘disinterested,’ objective, balanced, academic history. In keeping with most mainstream biblical scholarship today, I shall often (though not always) regard the Hebrew Bible as ‘historicized fiction’- stories that are based on some genuine historical events, but always told in such a way as to advance the ideological agenda of the writers and editors.

In the end, this is not ‘history,’ but ‘his story.’ The story is all about God – about religion in that sense – but embodying the writers’ idiosyncratic version of Israelite religion. We have already seen, and will see again, why nearly all ancient and even modern commentators have bought into the Bible’s propaganda. But, of course, we must remember that ‘propaganda’ has its positive uses, too, and the best of it is based at least on some facts.

From Chapter 3 of Did God Have a Wife – archaeology and folk religion in ancient Israel, published by Eerdmans 2005

Friday, October 07, 2005

Subversive Orthodoxy

Robert Inchausti

Pasternak wrote only one novel in his life, but he considered it his masterpiece and the summation of his life’s work. Doctor Zhivago is an ‘inner history’ of twentieth-century Russia that contrasts the private experiences of its finest citizens against the tumultuous changes in world history. The critic Nicola Chiaromonte describes the work as a ‘mediation on the infinite distance which separates the human conscience from the violence of history and permits a man to remain a man, to rediscover the track of truth that the whole whirlwind of events continually cancels and confuses.’ The key to rediscovering the track of truth lies in the capacity of love to seek that which exists beyond itself and in the process transform all things into signs and symbols of the transcendent.

The work is often misread, because it is a poet’s novel, a symbolic work, not a realist fiction in the tradition of Turgenev or Tolstoy, and because it was published in the West during the Cold War after it had already been rejected by Soviet publishers. When Pasternak won the Nobel Prize in 1958, the Soviets saw the award as a propaganda attempt by the west to elevate a second-rate anti-Soviet novelist to the front ranks of world literature, and so forbade him from accepting the prize. Soviet critics blasted Zhivago as a species of failed socialist realism, misreading its form, undervaluing its lyricism, and totally ignoring its symbolic character; while many Western readers misappropriated the work as an anti-communist tract, oversimplifying its complex message, undervaluing its artistic integrity, and missing its ascetic spirituality. ‘What Pasternak opposes to Communism,’ the Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton wrote, ‘is not a defence of Western Democracy, not an alternative political platform, not a formal religion, but life itself, and leaves us to ponder the consequences.’

The novel (also terribly misrepresented by David Lean’s movie, which captures all its images and none of its ideas) illustrates how easy it is to succumb to amorality in the name of historical necessity, and how easy it is for people to fall into playing parts in a social drama they misconceive, abandoning their integrity for the greater drama of an artificial existence. Yuri and Lara, like many other educated men and women of their generation, welcomed the Revolution and yet, despite its betrayal, continued to make sacrifices for Russia. They understood their place in history much differently than those who ruled them, and so their lives witnessed to a deeper, spiritual vision still living in internal exile within the Soviet system.

Dr Zhivago is a great mandala of psychological and philosophical responses to the Russian Revolution and its aftermath – with Yuri and Lara at its moral/intellectual centre – unconvinced by Soviet ideology – remaining true to the lost promise of Russian high modernist culture.

It was left to Solzhenitsyn to turn this inner resolve into outward rebellion, and by so doing expose the limitations of Pasternak’s literary ‘no’ to power by adding his own brave ‘yes’ to active noncooperation with evil. Pasternak’s contribution to Russian history was to excise Russian Orthodoxy’s unconscious collaboration with Marx, and though he may have gone too far in his advocacy of a necessary, almost monastic, isolation form the powers that be, his tragic Christian vision helped pave the way for Solzhenitsyn’s dissident faith.

From Chapter 2 of Subversive Orthodoxy – outlaws, revolutionaries, and other Christians in disguise, published by Brazos Press 2005

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A New Perspective on Jesus

James D G Dunn

The [theories] of ‘social memory’ and ‘cultural memory’ indicate here memory as seen to be conditioned or shaped by social or cultural factors. The main thrust of the theory is that memory selects and modifies the subject matter from the past in order to make it serviceable to the image that the community wishes to promote of itself. It is the creative rather than the retentive character of memory that social memory theory has brought to the fore. In this case my misgiving is at the failure to appreciate sufficiently the degree to which tradition can be both foundational and formative of group identity. And if, as I have argued, it was the impact of what Jesus said and did that first brought the disciple group together as disciples, it would follow that the tradition that gave them their identity as a group of disciples would be treasured by them, particularly during the period of Jesus’ continuing mission, during which much of the tradition began to take its enduring shape.

In both cases, however, my main criticism is that these theories of memory have been framed, once again, in a literary culture. They do not take sufficient account of the differences that might have been and almost certainly were involved in an oral culture. In a culture that could not rely on widespread literacy to disseminate wisdom or to propagate particular ideas, where memory was much more trained to the retention of important information, where skills had been developed in society and among groups to ensure the preservation of memories important to these groups, the dynamic of memory was bound to be different. That is why I did not attempt to develop such a theory of memory in my "Jesus Remembered," though I confess that the title I chose has left me vulnerable to criticism on that score. The more relevant line of inquiry, it seemed to me, was to explore how oral traditions have been passed down in oral societies that we can still access. In other words, the research into oral societies and patterns of folklore appeared to be more relevant for our understanding of the way the Jesus tradition was transmitted in the oral period than present-day theories of memory.

In this enterprise I was much heartened by the little-known work of Kenneth Bailey, who draws on some thirty years of experience in Middle Eastern villages. These villages had retained their identity over many generations, so that, arguably, their oral culture is as close as we will ever be able to get to the village culture of first-century Galilee. Characteristic of such a culture, Bailey points out, has been the gathering of the community at the end of the day, when the sun has set and there are no other distractions, to share the news of the day, to tell stories, to recall matters of importance for the community. This gathering for what is called ‘haflat samar’ (social gathering for samar, which is cognate with the Hebrew samar, ‘to preserve’) was how the community maintained its intellectual life and preserved its valued traditions. The peasants did this particularly by the rehearsal of traditional wisdom, the recitation of poems, and the retelling of stories, including not least stories from the village’s own history.

From Chapter 2 of A New Perspective on Jesus – what the quest for the historical Jesus missed, published by Baker Academic 2005

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would

Chad Thompson

Dr Vernon Grounds, president emeritus of Denver Seminary, once said, ‘It seems to me [that showing love] means some concrete caring. For example, in the parable of the good Samaritan, it would have been nice to stop and pray for that poor victim who had been beaten up by the robbers. But what about administering whatever first aid you could and alleviating his pain and taking him to a place of safety?’ Dr Grounds then suggested the organisation of more police protection for the road, the installation of better lights, and the application of pressure on Jericho’s city hall if something was not done to alleviate the traveller’s suffering.

For Christians to apply Dr Ground’s suggestion requires that we acknowledge the social and personal struggles face by LGBT [lesbian, guy, bisexual and transgendered] people and that we wage a determined efforts to eliminate those struggles, whether or not they decide to change.

As much as the church loves to trumpet the stories of men and women who have come out of homosexuality, many in the church have turned a cold shoulder to the needs of those who have embraced their homosexuality, implicitly sending them the message that they must change their sexual orientation in order to become eligible for our love.

The purpose of this book is not to teach Christians how to convince gay people they should change or how to ‘convert’ homosexuals to Christianity. Only God can do these things. The purpose of this book is to teach Christians how to love homosexuals, which is our calling (John 13:34). To do this, we must enter the homosexual’s world. We must learn to show love in such a way that it can be recognised. In other words, we must ‘become flesh,’ just as Christ did for us. Success in doing so requires a humble spirit, a vibrant prayer life, and a thorough understanding of the issues faced by LGBT people.

This book presents a modern-day application of Paul’s example in becoming ‘all things to all people’ and explains why an effective ministry to LGBT people who are outside the church requires that we abandon our stereotypes of them and commit ourselves to loving them right where they are.

From the Introduction to Loving Homosexuals as Jesus Would– a fresh Christian approach, published by 2004

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Imaging Life After Death

Kathleen Fischer

[In] the loss of someone we love, part of us is ripped away. In A Grief Observed, C S Lewis describes the death of his wife, Joy. He compares it to the amputation of a limb:

‘After the operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength, and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has "got over it." But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones, and he will always be a one-legged man.’

When someone we love dies, we are no longer the same person we were before; some essential dimension is gone.

Yet paradoxically the lost person also lives on in us in many ways. One form of this shared life is a physical, genetic legacy. The Native American poet Joy Harjo tells of a friend who finally tracked down the father he never knew as a boy, only to discover that his father had died a few months earlier. She predicts that this friend will keep looking for his lost father even though the father lives even now in his son’s smile, his muscles – and in the search itself. The search is, in fact, a passionate part of the lived relationship, as in our search for God.

The contemporary practice of organ transplants puts this truth in even starker relief. In February of 2001, Seattle’s annual Mardi Gras celebration turned violent and ugly. An out-of-control crowd fatally beat a young man. Later that year, his mother met with five recipients of his organs, warmly declaring that the diverse group kept her son alive and present for her. Though the search for organ transplants has led to exploitation and oppression on the global scene, donating a loved one’s organs often provides consolation for friends and relatives. If the world were composed of isolated entities, it would be hard to imagine how the salvation the young man killed during Mardi Gras gave to others is compatible with the individual life beyond death. But in a universe where we continually give and receive from one another in ways that shape and reshape body, mind and spirit, it is a very concrete expression of the fact that we are somehow both individual selves and members of one body.

From chapter 6 of Imaging Life After Death – love that moves the sun and stars, published by SPCK 2004

Monday, October 03, 2005

God Has a Dream

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Forgiveness gives us the capacity to make a new start. That is the power, the rationale, of confession and forgiveness. It is to say, ‘I have fallen but I am not going to remain there. Please forgive me.’ And forgiveness is the grace by which you enable the other person to get up, and get up with dignity, to begin anew. Not to forgive leads to bitterness and hatred, which, just like self-hatred and self-contempt, gnaw away at the vitals of one’s being. Whether hatred is projected out or projected in, it is always corrosive of the human spirit.

We have all experienced how much better we feel after apologies are made and accepted, but even still it is so hard for us to say that we are sorry. I often find it difficult to say these words to my wife in the intimacy and love of my bedroom. How much more difficult it is to say these words to our friends, our neighbours, and our co-workers. Asking for forgiveness requires that we take responsibility for our part in the rupture that has occurred in the relationship. We can always make excuses for ourselves and find justifications for our actions, however contorted, but we know that these keep us locked in the prison of blame and shame.

We never rush to expose our vulnerability or our sinfulness. But if the process of forgiveness is to succeed, acceptance of responsibility by the culprit is vital. Acknowledgement of the truth and of having wronged someone is important in healing the breach. Is a husband and wife have quarrelled without the wrongdoer acknowledging his or her fault by confessing, so exposing the cause of the rift, then they will be in for a rude shock. Let’s say a husband in this situation comes home with a bunch of flowers and the couple pretends all is in order. It won’t be long – even before the flowers have wilted – that the couple will be at it again. They have not dealt with their pain and bitterness adequately. They have glossed over their differences, for they have failed to stare truth in the face for fear of possible bruising confrontation. But in the end the bruises will be far greater when the fight finally comes.

From chapter 4 of God Has a Dream – a vision of hope for our time, published by Doubleday 2004