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Posts by Anthony
10 Sep 2012
What are you? James K.A. Smith gives two possible answers (my summary):
- I am a thinker. Information enters my mind, I think about it. I believe things about it. What drives me is my rational thoughts. I do things because I believe they are the best things to do.
- I am a lover. I am grasped by a vision. I want it. I desire it. I love it. What drives me is my insatiable appetite for the realisation of that vision.
If the second view is closer to reality (and I think it is), then what needs to happen in order for me to flourish?
In order to flourish, I need to be captivated by the right vision. Information isn't enough. Just knowing some facts won't make me love the right thing. That love needs to be formed in me. I need formation, not just information.
But how does that process of formation happen?
When we engage in our daily routines and practices (or rituals, or liturgies), that process of formation takes place. What we do in a bodily way from day to day sets the orientation of our hearts. The way to my heart is through my body.
The shopping centre (or mall) is one place where these formative practices take place. It is no use asking what the shopping centre believes: its purpose is not to make us (as thinkers) think certain things. Its purpose is rather to make us (as lovers) love certain things. As we stroll through the aisles looking at the images and seeing what is on offer, we are formed, and we are grasped by a vision of the good life—a vision of the "kingdom", as Smith puts it.
As churches gather to worship, that should also be a place where formative practices take place. We gather together to learn to love a vision of the kingdom—one which is antithetical to the vision of the kingdom enshrined in the cathedrals of consumerism. Worship should be formative, not just informative. It is in this kind of formative worship "that we are formed to be precisely those agents of cultural renewal who come as ambassadors of a coming kingdom".
So how can we become better lovers? We need to recognise those "cultural liturgies" that are shaping what we love, and we need actively to pursue those practices that will help us to love the right vision of the kingdom.
6 Sep 2012
Planning rules are to be relaxed, so that people can vandalise their neighbourhoods by building ugly extensions, in order "to boost the economy".
But I've got a better idea.
How about vandalism of a more reckless kind? Council planning officers could be sent out, armed with bricks and crowbars, to vandalise the properties of people who have some spare cash that could be injected into the economy.
If the goal is to increase the flow of money ("to boost the economy"), then what greater incentive could there be for people to open their wallets than having a brick thrown through their window? Compared with relaxing planning rules, this would have the same positive effects in the short term (more business for the construction industry), but without the long-term negative effects of ugly buildings that would have otherwise been denied planning permission.
How about it, Mr Cameron?
(Before you both point out my error, I'm well aware of the broken window fallacy, but it seems to me that the man with the unbroken window would probably not have spent his six francs today, had his window not been broken, and that the likelihood of his six francs being put to use tomorrow is not significantly affected by the six francs moving from his wallet to the glazier's wallet today. In other words, with an unbroken window, it is only the shoe industry that benefits from his six francs, but with a broken window, it is both the glazing industry and the shoe industry that benefits from his six francs. Money doesn't get used up, it just gets moved around, and—in the short term—reckless vandalism makes money move around more quickly. In the long term, of course, it's a different story. But who cares about the long term?)
27 Aug 2012
Baptism is the sign of someone being a Christian. It represents the washing away of a person's sins by the Spirit and the beginning of a new life in Jesus Christ.
There are lots of differences of understanding regarding baptism within the Christian church. Those in the Protestant Reformed tradition (and others) do not see the water of baptism as having any power in and of itself. Rather, it functions as a sign and seal of rebirth only when it accompanies the reality which it signifies. That is, baptism is a sign and seal of regeneration only when accompanied by faith on the part of the one being baptised, since faith in Christ is evidence of regeneration.
So far, it might seem to make most sense if Christians in the Reformed tradition would baptise only professing believers. But probably most Christians in the Reformed tradition have also baptised the infants of believers. Why is that?
Having listened to a few talks recently on the subject, the argument seems to be based on the continuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, the (male) children of Abraham are given the sign of circumcision, which is the sign of admission into the Old Covenant community. In the New Covenant, since God hasn't become less merciful, the children of believers are similarly to be included in the New Covenant community. So it is appropriate for the (male and female) children of believers to receive the sign of admission into the New Covenant community.
The problem I have with this is that it doesn't seem to take into account the different ways in which the Abrahamic covenant is present in the Old Covenant and New Covenant eras.
In the Old Covenant era, the Abrahamic covenant is present in promise and anticipation. The male descendants of Abraham are circumcised as a sign and seal of the promise made to Abraham based on Abraham's faith (Romans 4:11), that God will bless him with many descendants, and that God will establish his covenant between himself and Abraham and Abraham's offspring (Genesis 17:1-14). Circumcision looks ahead to the fulfilment of the promise. It is a sign of something that is not yet a reality.
In the New Covenant era, the Abrahamic covenant is present in fulfilment and reality. God has established his covenant with Abraham's offspring, Jesus the Christ. Those who share in the faith of their spiritual father Abraham (Romans 4:12) receive through Christ the promised inheritance as they are washed by the renewal of the Spirit (Galatians 3:14; Titus 3:5), and as they receive the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:28-29; Colossians 2:11-12). Baptism is therefore the sign that the promise sealed and anticipated in the sign of circumcision has now been fulfilled in the gift of the Spirit to a believer. It is the sign of something that is a present reality.
Those who baptise unregenerated infants make baptism into a sign of promise and anticipation, rather than a sign of a present reality. In contrast, the New Testament always speaks of baptism as a sign of a present reality. For example, Paul writes, "In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:11-12, ESV, emphasis added). I can't imagine Paul writing that to a church where a sizeable number of those present had been baptised but hadn't put their faith in Christ.
The best illustration I can think of is the difference between an engagement ring and a wedding ring. The engagement ring is the sign of a promise made and is an anticipation of a future reality. The wedding ring is a sign of a present reality, as it is given as the sign and seal of the vows that have already been made. It is appropriate for (some) unmarried people to wear an engagement ring, but it is not appropriate for any unmarried people to wear a wedding ring. Similarly, it is appropriate for (some) unregenerated people to receive the sign of circumcision, but it is not appropriate for any unregenerated people to receive the sign of baptism.
Having said all that, what if the profession of faith is made after the sign of baptism is received? For example, what if someone is baptised as a baby, and many years later professes faith? Should the sign of baptism be readministered? Baptists have traditionally said that it should be, and not only on the basis of the mode of baptism (immersion versus sprinkling or pouring). But maybe there's room for some greater flexibility on the question of re-baptism?
20 Aug 2012
It's not hard to find hymns that express the Christian hope for the future (wrongly) as a hope to escape this world and spend eternity far away in heaven. A prime example of this is James M Black's 1893 hymn When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there. I've taken the liberty of making a few changes (in bold). I'm not too keen on "in glory" in place of "up yonder", but it was the best I could do. Let me know what you think...
When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and death shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
When the saved of earth shall gather here and all shall be restored,
And the roll is called in glory, I’ll be there.
When the roll is called in glory,
When the roll is called in glory,
When the roll is called in glory,
When the roll is called in glory, I’ll be there.
On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share;
When His chosen ones shall gather from their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called in glory, I’ll be there.
When the roll...
Let us labour for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all our toil is over, and our suffering is done,
And the roll is called in glory, I’ll be there.
When the roll...
2 Aug 2012
The Green Party—of which I am a member—has a clear commitment to equality. It's a commitment that resonates with me as a Christian. But what does "equality" mean in practice?
The "hot potato" of the year is the issue of same-sex marriage: whether, in the interests of equality, the definition of the word "marriage" in law should be changed so that it can include couples of the same sex. Does the Green Party's commitment to equality entail a commitment to same-sex marriage?
This question is being put to the test at the moment in Brighton and Hove. My good friend Christina Summers is a Green Party councillor there. Now, city councillors usually concern themselves with the administration of the city council. But sometimes, apparently, they decide to vote on things that are completely unrelated to this. So it was on 19 July that the councillors voted on whether they supported the Government's proposals on same-sex marriage. To be honest, I can only think that the councillors decided to vote on this issue in order to make themselves look good (but do correct me in the comments if there was a real reason). But it seems to have backfired for the Green Party, as Cllr Summers voted against the motion as a matter of conscience, much to the disappointment of many within the party. Has she shown that she is opposed to a core principle of the Green Party? Should she be expelled from the Party? In fact, is traditional Christian belief fundamentally at odds with the philosophy of the Green Party?
I think not.
As I've just commented elsewhere, I think we need to distinguish between sameness and equality.
It is possible to believe that men can be distinguished from women, but that they should be treated equally, except in those few cases where the difference between a man and a woman is a relevant difference. It is not a denial of equality to use the word “man” to refer only to half of the human race.
It is possible to believe that heterosexual attraction is distinguishable from homosexual attraction, but still to believe that those who have the former should be treated the same as those who have the latter (or both), except in those few cases where the distinction is relevant. It is not a denial of equality to use the word “gay” to refer only to those who experience homosexual attraction.
It is possible to believe that an opposite-sex, enduring, exclusive, sexual partnership is distinguishable from a same-sex, enduring, exclusive, sexual partnership, and to use words to make that distinction. It is not a denial of equality to say that the word used historically for one of those kinds of partnership (“marriage”) should continue to be used in the way it has commonly been used.
What may be a denial of equality is if the law treats people differently in a way that is not justified by the difference in reality. It is contrary to equality if a man is denied an office job simply because he is a man. Or if a life-partner is denied access to her partner’s hospital bed simply because her life-partner happens to be a woman. Or the argument could be made (and I would tentatively make it myself) that whether an enduring (etc.) partnership is between people of the same sex or between people of opposite sex is not a relevant distinction for anything that the state needs to concern itself about, and therefore that the word “marriage” could safely be removed from law altogether. (I commend this proposal for the consideration of a party that isn’t afraid to be radical!)
But simply using a word like “man”, “gay” or “marriage” to refer to something and not to something else is not a contradiction of equality. It’s just using words in the way words are used—to make distinctions between things.
According to its Philosophical Basis, "The Green Party values the diversity of ways in which people relate to each other and the natural environment." But does it really value this diversity if it insists that two different things should not only be treated equally, but also demands that they should be declared to be the same?
We need to understand that it is possible to stand for equality without denying the existence of real diversity.
31 Jul 2012
I've been watching some, erm, stuff from The Story of Stuff Project. It's about our patterns of production and consumption, and how they are all messed up. Here's the original movie from 2007, The Story of Stuff, which claims to be "one of the most watched environmental-themed online movies of all time". You can help that to remain the case by watching it now...
31 Jul 2012
According to a new Berkeley Earth study released today, the average temperature of the Earth’s land has risen by 1.5 °C over the past 250 years. The good match between the new temperature record and historical carbon dioxide records suggests that the most straightforward explanation for this warming is human greenhouse gas emissions.
Not too surprising, except that the study was launched because of a genuine scepticism about previous findings. "I was not expecting this," says project founder Richard Muller, "but as a scientist, I feel it is my duty to let the evidence change my mind." He now describes himself as a "converted sceptic".
What of the remaining "climate change sceptics"? Leo Hickman in the Guardian:
The key question for me is whether climate sceptics actually want to tackle that all-important question. What evidence will it take to convince them? Are they forever destined to keep saying "it's not enough for us"? When does the balance of risk tip over in favour of them accepting that pumping ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is not a wise thing to keep on doing?
Here's one of the Berkeley Earth videos, showing the rise in global land temperatures.
30 Jul 2012
"Consumerism was a way of giving people the illusion of control, while allowing a responsible elite to continue managing society."
Part 4 of Adam Curtis's documentary, The Century of The Self (part 1), chronicles how this consumerist mentality moved beyond the world of consumer goods to engulf democracy itself, first through the free-market politics of Reagan and Thatcher, and then through the focus-group politics of Clinton and Blair.
It makes a disturbing amount of sense. Voters now are individuals who simply follow their instinctive desires, and the role of politicians is to give us policies that enable those desires to be satisfied.
The documentary dates from 2002. I wonder what Curtis would make of the last ten years?
25 Jul 2012
Some of our social customs are so familiar that we don't realise how weird they are.
Sponsorship is one of them.
Here are two things a person might say, one of which is "normal", while the other is bordering on the offensive:
- Hi, I'm raising money for my favourite charity by ascending Mount Everest blindfolded on a space hopper. Would you like to contribute?
- Hi, I'm raising money for my favourite charity. Would you like to contribute?
What goes through our minds when we gladly give money in the first case, but feel very awkward in the second?
Generally, we would think that it is pretty rude to interfere with someone else's charitable giving. By all means tell me about your favourite charity, but leave it up to me to decide how much money I give (if I give anything at all).
But it's okay to do impolite things under certain circumstances. For example, it's generally considered to be a palpable solecism to knock on someone's door at 3am. But if your house is on fire and you need to use that person's phone, normal conventions are set aside.
But what is it about me performing some impressive feat that makes it acceptable for me to interfere with your charitable giving? On the surface, me hopping up Everest would appear to have no connection with you giving money to charity. But somehow my use of a space hopper could lead you to donate to a charity of my choice. Why?
Maybe part of the answer is that it bestows a certain amount of honour on the person being asked. Please sir, you know that if I had £10,000 to give to my favourite charity, I would give it myself. But I don't have that sort of money—and to prove that to you, I will do something that a normal person would never do for less that £10,000. I only ask that worthy benefactors such as your fine self take note of my sincerity, and out of pity supply me with just a small amount of what I lack in terms of money, so that my efforts can be translated into financial benefit for my favourite charity.
Is that the answer? Do we really have such elaborate social conventions in our enlightened age?
18 Jul 2012
The final chapter of Al Wolters' Creation Regained (1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5-6) is a postscript that was added for the second edition of the book in 2005, 20 years after the first edition was published. It is authored jointly by Mike Goheen and Al Wolters, with the title Worldview between Story and Mission. The reason it was added was to set the worldview themes of the book in the context of the broader biblical narrative, and to spell out some of the implications for the mission of the church.
Throughout the main body of the book, I had been understanding the themes of creation, fall and redemption primarily as elements of the biblical narrative, rather than as abstract worldview categories. So I couldn't quite understand why the idea of the biblical narrative was being introduced almost as though it was something the book hadn't mentioned so far. But, regardless of that, the postscript provides an excellent articulation of the big story of the Bible, through creation, rebellion, Israel, Jesus and the church to the final judgment and renewal of the entire creation.
As well as unpacking the biblical narrative, the postscript provides lots of helpful material on the mission of the church, linking it with themes from earlier in the book. Here are a couple of quotes picking up on the book's major themes of structure and direction:
The life of the church is to be a billboard broadcasting the good news that the kingdom is coming. This announcement comes in the extraordinary ordinariness of our daily lives—extraordinary because of the renewing power of the Spirit, ordinary because of the common creational stuff of our daily existence. Or to put it another way: directionally extraordinary, but structurally ordinary (p.132).
In every cultural product, institution, and custom is something of the good of God's creational structure. At the same time all of it, to some degree, is misdirected by a shared cultural idolatry. The mission of God's people is to discern and embrace the good creational insights and structure, and at the same time to reject and subvert the idolatrous distortion (p.137).
The final few sentences provide a good summary:
For followers of Jesus Christ, their place in the [biblical] story is to make known the good news that God is healing the creation from the brokenness of sin. This will mean conflict and suffering. This will demand a deepening spirituality and dependence on the Spirit. This is the context in which we must understand what it means to elaborate the most basic categories of the biblical story. Worldview articulation can play a mediating role between the gospel and the missionary calling of God's people. To that end "Creation Regained" is offered to the church to equip her in a world that desperately needs to see and hear the good news that God's kingdom has come: God is renewing the creation and the whole of human life in the work of Jesus Christ by the Spirit (p.143).
17 Jul 2012
[Jesus' parable of the talents] means that ... Christians must now employ all their God-given means in opposing the sickness and demonization of creation—and thus in restoring creation—in anticipation of its final "regeneration" at the second coming (Matt. 19:28) (p.76).
Chapter 5 of Creation Regained by Al Wolters (1, 2, 2, 3, 4) works through some of the practical implications of a "reformational" worldview. How do the themes of creation, fall and redemption help us to see the ways in which particular areas of life can be regained?
The first step is a matter of understanding. We need to discern structure and direction. All of the created order has a God-given structure, but all of the created order can be directed either towards God in his service, or away from God in rebellion against him.
The next step is a matter of strategy. The approach needs to be "reformational": seeking "reformation" in the sense of "inner revitalization" (p.89), and seeking "reformation" rather than revolution, "progressive renewal rather than violent overthrow" (p.91).
Wolters gives some specific examples. In the realm of societal renewal,
Perversion of God's creational design for society can occur in two ways: either through perversion of the norms within a given sphere (as in cases of injustice in the state, child abuse in the family, exploitative wages in the business enterprise) or through the extension of the authority of one sphere over another. In both cases Christians must oppose these distortions of God's handiwork. But that opposition should always affirm the proper and right exercise of responsibility (p.100).
In other words, the the bad direction should be opposed, precisely in order that the good creational structure can be affirmed.
Meanwhile, in the realm of personal renewal, a careful distinction between structure and direction can help to break through false dilemmas, where Christians may find themselves torn between a totally positive view and a totally negative view of something. Examples given are:
- Agression: in terms of structure, this is a good part of creation, but it is often directed in a harmful way.
- Spiritual gifts: "As creational possibilities, the charismata manifest structural traits; as serving either the kingdom of God or the world, they manifest directional traits" (p.105).
- Sexuality: "Human sexuality, a part of God's good creation, ought to be affirmed and accepted with thanksgiving. ... Sexual immorality should be opposed not to repress sex but to show forth its true glory" (p.111).
- Dance: "Many Christian traditions have developed a negative attitude towards social dancing" (p.111), but distinguishing between the good creational structure of dance and the ways in which this structure has been used and abused (its direction) can lead to a more helpful approach to the issue.
Quoting from the book's Conclusion:
To approach the phenomena of the world in terms of structure and direction is to look at reality through the corrective lens of Scripture, which everywhere speaks of a good creation and the drama of its reclamation by the Creator in Jesus Christ (p.115).
All that remains now is the substantial postscript, which provides a broader biblical context for the material in the main part of the book.
16 Jul 2012
So far, in exploring an all-encompassing Christian worldview using Al Wolters' book, Creation Regained, we've seen how all areas of reality, including all areas of human social reality, derive their existence from God, how God intended his creation to be developed, and how the whole created order has been distorted as a result of the fall.
Chapter 4 brings us onto the third major theme of this worldview, after Creation and Fall, namely, Redemption.
The words used in the Scriptures to describe Christ's work speak tellingly of restoration, not of rejection or replacement. We read of redemption, renewal, salvation (the Greek word is linked to health) and regeneration. And this restorative work is cosmic in scope: "If the whole creation is affected by the fall, then the whole creation is also reclaimed in Christ" (p.72).
What are the implications of this?
The recurrent temptation is to look for Christ's redemptive work within only a part of creation. Many people would think of spiritual renewal as taking place only within "the sphere of personal piety, the inner life of the soul" (p.78). Or the work of the kingdom of God might be seen only in the life of the institutional church. But "The Scriptures present matters in a much different light. Both God and Satan lay claim to the whole of creation, leaving nothing neutral or undisputed" (p.81). This means that when we are working through the implications of Christ's redemptive work, all areas of life will be affected—church, family, politics, business, art, education, journalism, thought, emotion—because "there is need of liberation from sin everywhere" (p.83).
Helpfully, Wolters distinguishes between restoration and repristination.
Repristination would entail the cultural return to the garden of Eden, a return that would turn back the historical clock. Such a move would be historically reactionary or regressive.
That is not the meaning of restoration in Jesus Christ. In the terms of the analogy of the teenager who had been sick since babyhood, a return to health at a later stage of development would not entail a return to the stage of physical development that characterized the youth's earlier period of good health. Genuine healing for the youth would be a matter of healthy progression through adolescence to adulthood. By analogy, salvation in Jesus Christ, conceived in the broad creational sense, means a restoration of culture and society in their present stage of development (p.77).
When Christ returns to the earth to accomplish the complete victory, we should not expect him to destroy all of civilisation, and to discard all the healthy growth that he has brought about by his Spirit.
Before looking at the implications of this worldview in the next chapter, a summary:
The sum of our discussion of a reformational worldview is simply this: (1) creation is much broader and more comprehensive than we tend to think, (2) the fall affects that creation in its full extent, and (3) redemption in Jesus Christ reaches just as far as the fall. The horizon of creation is at the same time the horizon of sin and of salvation. To conceive of either the fall or Christ's deliverance as encompassing less than the whole of creation is to compromise the biblical teaching of the radical nature of the fall and the cosmic scope of redemption (p.86).
6 Jul 2012
Why did women start to smoke? Why did people start buying lots of stuff they didn't actually need? What led to the Wall Street Crash? What led to Hitler's anti-democratic ideas? Where did the idea come from that capitalism and democracy cannot be separated?
A major part of the answer to those questions is: Edward Bernays (1891-1995).
He realised that people's inner desires could be used to make them do pretty much anything, if they were led to believe that performing that action might satisfy those longings. So, by a powerful PR stunt, smoking became seen as a "torch of freedom" for women, for example. These ideas about people's inner longings came from his uncle, Sigmund Freud (whom Bernays made famous).
29 Jun 2012
I'm always delighted when I hear people speaking about the true Christian hope for the future: not that we will escape this earth and go to heaven for eternity, but that Jesus will return to this earth, and that we will live here for ever.
But sometimes the language we use doesn't convey that clearly. Here are some words and phrases I often encounter.
- Heaven. Sometimes we use the word "heaven" as a convenient shorthand for the Christian hope. I suppose the justification would be that it's familiar language, and it conveys the idea of being with God for ever. But it really makes me uncomfortable. It's wrong: we're not going to heaven for ever. And being with God for ever isn't the only thing it's important to believe about our eternal hope. Alternatives: earth, eternity, etc.
- The new creation, the new heaven(s) and the new earth. This comes from Revelation 21:1. But, very literally, that verse says, "And I saw heaven new and earth new". I suspect that "a new heaven and a new earth" is grammatically fine as a translation (but what do I know? I still try to multiply the letters together when I try to read Greek!), but a few verses later, we read of the one on the throne saying, "Behold, I am making all things new". Note: making "all things new", not "all new things". The problem with saying "new X" in English is that it sounds like "replacement X" (e.g., "new car", "new shoes"). But we're not looking forward to a "new creation" in the sense of a "replacement creation". The creation itself is looking forward to being set free, not to being replaced. We're looking forward to the present old-and-worn-out creation being turned into the dazzling-and-made-new creation. I don't think that "the new creation" conveys that idea adequately in English. Alternatives: the renewed creation, the heaven(s) and the earth when God makes them new.
- We will ... in the new heaven(s) and the new earth. So where are we now? "In the heaven(s) and the earth"? That just sounds weird. Alternative: we will ... on the renewed earth.
- There. "When we've been there ten thousand years". When we've been where? Where's "there"? Alternative: here. Or instead of being all Platonic and contrasting life "here" with life "there", talk about life "now, in this present age" and contrast that with life "then, in the age to come".
- At the end of time. When Jesus returns, will all clocks stop? Alternatives: in the age to come, when Christ returns.
28 Jun 2012
A hymn, not so much sung by us, but sung by the whole creation. We know what we think about God's redemptive work, but if the whole creation could sing, what would its song be? What is the whole creation's hymn of hope? What does the whole creation think about the prospect of Christ's return?
You could be forgiven for thinking that the whole creation might be somewhat ambivalent about the future. True, at the present time the creation is groaning in pain, but on the Day of the Lord won't the whole creation be disposed of completely, as the Lord takes his people "home" and consigns his creation to the flames of destruction? If that is the picture, what would creation sing? "Creation longs for his return, when Christ shall 'put it out of its misery' and annihilate it"?
Not at all. Creation longs for Christ's return, because God's plan is not to destroy his creation, but to remove the dross from it, to purify it by fire, and to set it free. No wonder the rivers and hills rejoice at the thought of God coming to put everything right!
Here's the final verse of Creation sings the Father's song, by Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend:
Creation longs for His return,
When Christ shall reign upon the earth;
The bitter wars that rage
Are birth pains of a coming age.
When He renews the land and sky,
All heav'n will sing and earth reply
With one resplendent theme: The glories of our God and King!
And here's the whole thing:
26 Jun 2012
The basic message: globalisation bad, localisation good.
The first part of that was powerful and convincing: global consumerism—in which the global corporations are king, and in which endless growth in GDP is the goal—is really messing everything up.
The second part of the message was equally explicit but much less convincing: that if we embrace localisation, we will enter a state of perpetual bliss. That's just madness. Now, I'm definitely very much in favour of localisation, but the problem with the human condition is much, much deeper, and changing our patterns of production and consumption won't resolve it. So let's pursue localisation, and embrace it for the good thing it is, but let's not make an idol of it.
Anyway, here's the trailer:
19 Jun 2012
"But we had hoped," said the downcast travellers, "that he would pay off our debts, get us out of this crisis, and set us free."
The stranger listened patiently. Their disappointment was understandable. A promising young leader, hung up on bankruptcy charges, friendless, penniless, disgraced. But—couldn't they see?
They listened intently. They heard his words, but... It was getting late. They had somewhere to stay, but he did not. "Please, be our guest, no trouble, we insist."
But then—what is this?—their guest, their honoured guest! Should they say something? Did he want them to say something? They could not. Speechless, they looked on as the guest served the bread to them, the hosts.
Into their bewilderment there came a strange sense of familiarity. Almost as if they had seen it before. One who should have expected to be served, serving others. One who should have expected to receive payment from others, instead footing the bill. One who belonged in high society, treating the jobless and disabled as valuable, as equals, as family. One who should have demanded oaths from others, instead making binding commitments to them, to stick with them, whatever the cost.
But what a cost! Had their situation really been so bad, that it took this much to deal with it? Had it really been necessary, for him to give them not just bread—but to die?
But here he was. The stranger. The guest. Finally, they saw. It was as they had hoped—and more. Their real debts had been paid. The greater crisis was already over. They were free.
18 Jun 2012
Great stuff in Margaret Killingray's Word for the Week at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC):
The Christian church has, over the centuries, been tempted by several contrasting ways of living in this world. Some have simply prayed for Christ's return at the end of time, meanwhile enduring this uncomfortable and disaster-ridden world, where the main task is 'winning souls'. Others pray for the kingdom to come now, seeing it as their task to get on with the really important and pressing matters of contemporary social concern and action.
Continue reading here.
13 Jun 2012
Good evening and welcome to my lecture. For those who lack knowledge my name is Professor Singen Smedley and I am a vastly erudite and important scholar.
This evening I will be lecturing you on the topic – how we became enlightened.
8 Jun 2012
I've been pondering the issue of creation and evolution for years, and I thought it was about time to set out my current thinking on the area. This is all provisional and subject to change, but the points below are things that I'm fairly sure about.
If you desperately want to label me with one of the common labels, then "young-earth creationist" or "six-day creationist" would probably be most appropriate. Except that I don't think the earth is young or that God created everything in six days.
- The basic narrative of the Bible is creation–fall–redemption. The "physical" history of life, the universe and everything is inseparably part of that narrative. The creation was good, was corrupted at the fall, and is being restored and renewed following the redemptive work of Christ. (Listen to this talk by Steve Lloyd on Creation and the Story-Line of the Bible.)
- Human death, and other things such as cancer, agony and violent death in humans or animals, are not good, were not present before the fall, and will be abolished when all things are renewed in the resurrection. (See the Steve Lloyd link above, and his points in a debate on creation and evolution.)
- All human beings are descended biologically from Adam and Eve (and only Adam and Eve), who were created thousands (not millions) of years ago. (See this book chapter by Michael Reeves on Adam and Eve. That almost rhymed.)
- It was necessary for Jesus to undergo human physical death in order to deal with the problem of sin, because human physical death is a consequence of sin.
- It follows from points 2 and 3 that all fossil-bearing rocks (or at least the vast majority of them) were laid down after the fall, probably during or soon after the flood, thousands (not millions) of years ago.
- Compared with the above points, the age of the universe and of planet earth are issues of little significance for Christian theology and biblical interpretation. Even if the universe and planet earth are old, that doesn't necessarily mean that the biosphere is old, or that the fossil-bearing rocks are old. My working hypothesis is that God created plants and animals on earth a few thousand years ago, prior to which the earth had existed without life for billions of years.
- "Faith" and "science" cannot be isolated from each other. There is a deep interaction between the two, which is relevant at every level.
- Evolutionary models for biology and geology have significant unresolved issues. This perhaps hints that there are scientific grounds (and not just theological grounds) for exploring alternatives. However, these unresolved issues do not imply that those models are wrong, or that they are bad science. (See my post on Evidence for young-age creationism.)
- Scientific models built on young-age views have major unresolved issues. But they also seem to show some signs of possessing explanatory power in certain areas in which the evolutionary models are weak. This perhaps hints that there are scientific grounds (and not just theological grounds) for continued research into young-age models. But, even if those models have strengths, they are currently far from compelling. (Again, see my post on Evidence for young-age creationism.)
- The truth about the origins of everything cannot be determined simply by looking up the definition of the word "science" in a dictionary.