Why Give the Bible a Chance? Reading ‘The Good Book” in Late Modernity

Richard Deeble explores the tension between our modern sense of universalism and the historicity of the Bible.

This article was first published in the second edition of CRUX, our Church-published zine for the Universities of Wellington.

“…there is a deeper reason for the modern aversion to the Bible. This is the scandal of the Bible’s particularity.”

When one mentions “the Bible” in public discussion it rarely inspires interest or excitement. This is true even among those, like me, who threaten to entertain such a strange and dangerous hobby variously described as religion or more precisely, “Christianity”. Most New Zealanders would probably conclude that the bible has had its day and is at best a book containing a few universal truisms of wheat situated within the chaff of the obscure, the incredible and the plain offensive.  Those with more extreme opinions might rather characterise it as a form of hate speech. Even among many Christians it would appear that “the good book” remains something of an awkward disappointment, with the result that its pages largely go unread other than a few highlights or quotes which might look good in a Hallmark Card or fridge magnet.

What is it that makes the bible so squeamish or even offensive for modern readers? On a surface level one might point to aspects of the world view or teaching of the bible which appear to stand at odds with modern thought, whether in it’s apparently “anti-scientific” supernaturalism in which miraculous events which defy the laws of nature occur, or its apparent promotion of moral norms such as slavery and subjugation of women. The degree to which the authors of various biblical books might appear to promote a view of the world fundamentally at odds with what educated westerners regard as true is certainly a factor in such squeamishness. Yet I would argue there is a deeper reason for the modern aversion to the bible. This is the scandal of the bible’s particularity.

Much of the material we find difficult about the bible, yet are largely unfamiliar with, is troublesome because it appears to contradict notions of justice or goodness we regard as universal. If God exists at all, we would far rather that such a being revealed himself in the kind of language one finds in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights or the language of John Stuart Mill’s harm principle so important to modern ethics – “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”.

In comparison, the God one finds throughout the bible seems to be rather messy in communicating when compared to the tight logic of Mill or the definite and indeed important statements of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. God reveals God’s self not through universal principles or divine commands but through the particular history of a small and insignificant and frequently badly behaved nation. The solution to our universal problem – a world which doesn’t work the way it should, dominated as it is by human violence and selfishness – is not by some sort of abstract, universalised divine command or act of judgement, but through God’s choosing a particular people to deal with the problem. By being revealed through a particular people and their history, God inevitably commits to the messiness of human life. Thus much of what we read throughout the Old Testament story of Israel is not simply abstract commands or laws but God communicating with human beings within their particular life and world and the real moral and cultural quandaries they struggled with. The point is not for God to reveal some sort of absolute list of divine commands as it is for God to work within the confines of human history in order to deal with what is wrong in the world. As the field of Anthropology has frequently told us, much of what we consider normative seems utterly contingent or bizarre within different cultural contexts.  Thus, even God’s commands are subordinate to God’s ultimate intention to be revealed through the particular historical narrative of the people he chooses.

This culminates itself in what Christians have historically regarded as the heart and climax of the entire narrative of the bible: the story of Jesus. God’s decision to be revealed through the particularity of history rather than abstract universal commands or slogans culminates in the thoroughly bizarre notion of what Christians refer to as the incarnation: that God becomes a human being in the historical person Jesus Christ. In reading the story of Jesus, and in the regular act of remembering his life, death and bodily resurrection, Christians have trusted that they are encountering what God is really like in the life of who was like us in every way but resisted every real urge to be selfish or evil. Yet this man was no ‘everyman’ or archetype of human perfection, but a 1st century Jewish figure one can learn about not just by reading the words of the Bible but by studying history itself.

“God reveals God’s self not through universal principles… but through the particular history of a small and insignificant and frequently badly behaved nation.”

This is the heart of both the story of the bible and Christianity. Yet much more could be said about the actual content and detail of the bible. It is filled with a wide variety of literature, from ancient stories of Israel, to books of ancient near eastern legislation, to books of poetic wisdom and proverbs. The world of the New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus we call “gospels”, historical letters written by leaders to various groups of Christians, and the strange, scary, yet hopeful promises of God’s future judgement and redemption of the world.  Contrary to what many well meaning fundamentalists might try to make out, it is not without its tensions, paradoxes and ambiguities. Yet what ties it all together is the big story that culminates in Jesus.

My appeal then, both to those who identity as believers in Jesus and those who don’t, is to at the very least, give the bible a chance and at least read it. Despite the oddness of some of its material, its ambiguities, tensions and texts which clash with own modern sense of what is just, it remains a fascinating story which has and continues to shape the minds of many. We can at least try to be somewhat informed about what is there, even if it clashes with our modern sensibilities. And perhaps, just perhaps, there could be more to this story and the one at heart of it all than we first imagined.

Oil and water? A constructive approach to the question of Christianity and evolution

Christopher McDowall offers an explanation of how evolution can complement creationism

Chris is a postgraduate student at VUW, studying marine biology. This article first appeared on his blog, amicablediscourse.wordpress.com. It also featured in the October 2015 edition of CRUX, our church zine.

people-world-universe

the great improbability of Homo sapiens turning up the way we have done is a humbling reminder – that we have been given a special appointment to the role of being God’s image bearers in the world, a job that packs some serious levels of authority and responsibility.

Science is an academic discipline which amasses empirical knowledge about the natural world, and Christianity is a religion which has had massive historical influence. Since the Enlightenment at least, Christianity and Science have been expected to politely keep out of each other’s way. But the theory of evolution – brilliant and revolutionary by any scientific standard – has incited a more mixed reception amongst Christians. Like many other Christians and scientists out there, I find this a shame. Here I will offer a more constructive approach to the question of Christianity and evolution.

In order to understand the discordant Christian response to evolution, the doctrine of Creation must first be explained, as it is the orthodox Christian account of the nature of the relationship between humanity, God, and Creation (i.e. the world or the universe). The doctrine of Creation claims that God created (and is creating) the universe, that He created (and is creating) humanity in His image, and that this gives us a unique position of authority, dignity and responsibility.

For some Christians, these core features of the doctrine of Creation rely on a literal interpretation of the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. This ‘7-day’ creationism stringently insists on the details – for example the universe and everything in it were created in seven 24 hour days, and birds appeared before terrestrial animals. But scientific discoveries about the age of the Earth and about the evolutionary origin of Earth’s species clearly show that this part of the Bible is of a literary genre that is not to be read as literal.

7-day creationism was not always an unreasonable scientific worldview, but it is has now been intellectually untenable for over one hundred years, and its presence in mainstream Christianity is a problem. It is asking people to choose either science, or Christianity. Reinforcing this dichotomy from the other end are Richard Dawkins and company (the ‘new atheists‘), who also insist that people must choose between their religious and scientific beliefs. But no such choice need be made by anyone. I will now sketch a tentative outline of how evolution can actually complement the doctrine of Creation.

Evolution is often portrayed as being random and unpredictable – ‘indeterminate’ in more scientific terms. Stephen J. Gould – a famous biologist – once quipped that if the tape of evolutionary history were to be replayed, events would unfold differently every time. This comment was made in reference to the Cambrian Explosion, a period during which nearly all of the animal phyla appeared (each with a unique ‘body plan’). A good deal of these phyla have since become extinct, and Gould claimed that instead of being poorly adapted or not diverse enough, these extinct phyla were just unlucky. The merit of this view is debated back and forth a bit amongst scientists, but let us suppose it to be true, and that evolution is indeed indeterminate in this way. Does the indeterminacy of evolution undermine the doctrine of Creation? If things could just as easily have turned out differently, then how can humanity claim to be special?

Does the indeterminacy of evolution undermine the doctrine of Creation? If things could just as easily have turned out differently, then how can humanity claim to be special?

This question can be answered with some perspective. Consider for a moment the absurdly improbable odds of you coming into existence. Your parents had to survive to adulthood and meet each other. For each of them, the right sperm had to find the right egg… and so on, all the way back to your first sexually reproducing ancestors, hundreds of millions of years ago. But while this vanishingly small probability inspires the occasional piece of science-y clickbait, it does not tend to keep people awake at night – and it is all thanks to the anthropic principle. This is a philosophical reminder that since we exist, we can retrospectively take it for granted that the universe allows for us to exist. So even though it is incredibly improbable that your parents gave birth to you and not to some hypothetical sibling, the fact that you do exist makes this unlikeliness feel trivial.

To some, this interpretation of the anthropic principle – that our extreme unlikeliness is trivial – will ring hollow. However, Christians can argue under the doctrine of Creation that the great improbability of every individual is not trivial at all, rather it is part of what it means to have been specially made by God. In the same way, the great improbability of Homo sapiens turning up the way we have done is a humbling reminder – that we have been given a special appointment to the role of being God’s image bearers in the world, a job that packs some serious levels of authority and responsibility.

Now let us go back a step and return to the question of whether or not evolution is determinate – if we replayed evolutionary history, what would happen? History can only happen once, but one can still make predictions about the future, especially if there are multiple case studies to draw on. In evolutionary biology, the many cases of ‘convergent evolution’ serve to fill this role. Convergent evolution is where species from entirely unrelated lineages wind up doing things the same way. For example, although sharks and dolphins are separated by about 400 million years of evolutionary history, most people would struggle to distinguish between them at the beach. And the complex eyes found in both vertebrates and cephalopods (i.e. octopuses and squid) function in almost exactly the same way, even though these lineages separated about 540 million years ago.

Predation, flight, plant-fungi symbioses, hearing, smell, sex, multicellularity, and many other behaviours, organs, physiological abilities and ways of reproducing have all been ‘invented’ independently by all sorts of different lineages. In light of these manifold examples of convergent evolution, it seems likely that even if the tape of evolutionary history were replayed, one could still expect to end up with a highly familiar-looking set of species. Even intelligence has appeared in multiple lineages – not just in humans (although we lead by a strong margin) – but in other mammals, in birds, in fish, and in octopuses as well.

So with evolution we are in a situation where highly indeterminate processes decide whether or not a particular individual or species comes into existence, but highly determinate and predictable processes decide that there will be predators, and there will be eyes, there will be multicellular life, and there will be intelligence. Christians can therefore rejoice in the knowledge that all of us unlikely individuals and species are fearfully and wonderfully made, but also appreciate the comprehensible unfolding of Creation’s tapestry.

In Genesis, God first made the universe, the Earth, the plants and the animals. He looked at everything and said “it was good”. Then He made humans in His image, took a second look at everything, and said “it was very good”. Christians should be proud that God chose us, both as individuals and as a species, to be his image bearers on Earth. Now bearing the image of God is not about being the most powerful and intelligent species on Earth, it is about learning from Jesus Christ what it means to love God and to love our neighbour. It is also about respecting the other good things that God has made and how they are all essential components of the amazing world He has given to live in. If we abuse Creation, we spurn God’s loving gift to us and we destroy the home of our neighbour.

original artwork by Greta Menzies.

Warhol: Immortal

Hayley Heyes wonders at the neon pink Christ of Warhol’s darkened room.

This post first appeared in CRUX (Te Kupenga’s zine), August 2015.

Becoming a Christian for me was something completely unforeseen, something that sort of jumped out at me from within one of the most secular of spaces. The works of Andy Warhol, famous for their embodiment of our epoch’s embrace of immanence, were on show in Te Papa’s exhibition Warhol: Immortal. The exhibit featured works on many of Warhol’s most well-known themes; mass production, pop culture, repetition unto death, celebrity. The fun or terror (depending on one’s own relationship with transcendence) of Warhol: Immortal is that its celebration of these themes appears total. Brimming with bright pinks, yellows and the optimistic buoyancy of inflatable silver clouds, one is enjoined to run, skip, and jump into late-capitalist materialism with utter gaiety for its meaninglessness.

one could walk around this life, enjoy the material colours, pleasures, and so on, and simply exit through the gift shop, so to speak. Yet such a life would be a distracted life…

Initially, walking through Warhol: Immortal I was not particularly stirred by its rendering of a delightful nihilism. Until, that is, an alternative vision called to me from the back of the exhibition. As I went to exit this bright playhouse of the immanent (fittingly, through the gift shop) I turned back to see a small, and easily missed room within the larger exhibit, blackened. And from this blackness shone the outline of Jesus in neon pink. I was undone by the simple truth presented by the placement of this neon Jesus: one could walk around this life, enjoy the material colours, pleasures, and so on, and simply exit through the gift shop, so to speak. Yet such a life would be a distracted life, distracted from Jesus who holds the truth of our existence, patiently, quietly, waiting for us to take it up.

And therein lies the terror of Warhol: Immortal’s total celebration of the immanent; the thought that one might be wrong about its totality, that one might indeed be missing out. The task then, we as Christians take up, upon deciding for the darkened room and against the bright playhouse, is that of discerning truth from distraction. And there are many distractions, not just the obvious material obsessions of our time: sex, celebrity, entertainment and so on. Rather, the pull of immanence is also lurking in our mindless chatter, our faithfulness to clock time and the cult of work.

One may argue mine is a misreading of Warhol: Immortal, that Jesus was presented not as an alternative to materialism but merely as yet another one of its commodities. In answer to this I would note that the life of Warhol himself complicates such a position. In a sense
Warhol: Immortal
is the story of Warhol the man; Warhol was openly homosexual, yet a closet Catholic. Warhol and his work may appear caught in the colour of material life, yet, look again, and perhaps you’ll find his history of sneaking into the back of darkened cathedrals for evening mass.

 

Why we can’t agree to disagree

Richard Deeble explores not so much why we talk past each other when it comes to issues of the day but why we don’t seem to talk much at all. Surprisingly, he looks to the Kurdish Regional Authority in Iraq for a solution.

This post first appeared in CRUX (Te Kupenga’s random zine), August 2015.

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When Alisdair MacIntyre’s  After Virtue was published in 1981 it appeared not so much in the form of a reasoned critique of contemporary ethical theory than as a philosophical hand grenade aimed at an array of ethical frameworks that had emerged in liberal capitalist societies since the Enlightenment. More than trying to advance a new ethical framework, MacIntyre attempted to argue that the entire discipline of ethics, defined as the attempt to develop a rational moral framework independent of a tradition or communal identity, was a failure.

To put it bluntly, emotivism argues that ethical judgements express what we feel is right, rather what is right in reality… The problem here is obvious: no one can readily agree across cultures and traditions what these terms actually mean.

Far from establishing some sort of universal basis for morality let alone human rights, MacIntyre argued that post-enlightenment approaches to ethics had failed to achieve what they ultimately claimed to do: to independently ground ethical decision making in reason rather than tradition or metaphysics. This was illustrated most obviously in the rise of emotivism; an approach to ethics that regards ethical judgements as statements reflecting matters incapable of being verified. To put it bluntly, emotivism argues that ethical judgements express what we feel is right, rather what is right in reality.

It has been over twenty years since MacIntyre wrote After Virtue and yet his conclusion about the state of ethics appears even more relevant to public discussion. While some, like neuroscientist Sam Harris, have attempted to appeal to science as an ultimate arbiter of moral truth, discussions of ethical importance largely tend towards an emotivist bent. The paradox of this, however, is the manner in which these ethical value judgements are reified into universal absolutes. Yet this absolutism quite flies in the face of the way ethical debate actually occurs within our society. Debates over contested issues such as human rights ultimately hinge on language such as ‘dignity’, ‘compassion’ and ‘justice’. The problem here is obvious: no one can readily agree across cultures and traditions what these terms actually mean.

For example, in the discussion around assisted suicide the word ‘dignity’ signifies entirely different things to different parties. Those supporting the right to assisted suicide use the word to refer to one’s self perception in relation to being able to physically and mentally appear and behave in a ‘dignified manner’. Yet opponents of assisted suicide may understand dignity as a human quality independent of one’s self perception or mental or physical ability. Dignity here is understood as referring to one’s inherent worth that exists regardless of one’s mental or physical  state. Appeals to ‘dignity’ without any supporting tradition to provide context to its meaning will ultimately result in a stalemate.

The result is a form of engagement in which whoever shouts the loudest and manages to sell one’s vision ultimately wins. Peculiarly, the result of such politics is not intense and vitriolic debate, but an absence of any debate… The general trend by major players has been to avoid debate or discussion completely

The result of such a stalemate is exactly the kind of Nietzchean approach to politics which MacIntyre argued was typical of modernity. Political and ethical decision making becomes rooted in the desire of one group’s will to power over another rather than in a negotiated but lively discussion around the goods a community holds in common. The result is a form of engagement in which whoever shouts the loudest and manages to sell one’s vision ultimately wins.

Peculiarly, the result of such politics is not intense and vitriolic debate, but an absence of any debate, As J. D. Hunter has observed in relation to the so called ‘culture wars’ of American politics, the recent strategy of groups on either side has been to avoid lengthy discussions of their positions and to instead focus on their appearance;
attempting to  appear ‘normal’, while painting the opposition as extreme. 

It is true that the same type of ‘culture war’ surrounding issues like sex and gender has been far less prominent in New Zealand, largely because of the fairly marginal status of the Christian Right in New Zealand society. At the same time, when issues such as abortion have briefly featured in New Zealand political life, with the exception of political parties like Greens and Conservatives, and lobby groups like Family First, the general trend by major players has been to avoid debate or discussion completely.

This trend of either avoiding or disguising ideological posturing with pragmatism while assuming a universality of shared values continues into other more commonly mentioned ethical issues within New Zealand society. It has been a notable feature of discussions concerning moral challenges such as child poverty, inequality, elder care, and criminal justice. Politicians on all sides seek to avoid any hint of appearing to have an ideological bent while seeking to speak for the subjective but seemingly universal feeling of ‘what all New Zealanders really think’. As in the United States, the common denominator is absence of civil discussion and disagreement over matters of ethical importance.

If MacIntyre is correct about the current state of ethical and political discussion within liberal-capitalist societies, what might be the solution? MacIntyre’s own argument for a revival of Thomas Aquinas’ interpretation of Aristotelian virtue is unlikely to appear attractive or convincing today within New Zealand society. However, one key aspect of his analysis which remains particularly helpful is his analysis of ethical traditions.

All ethical frameworks, even those assumed by liberal political philosophers, are ultimately situated within a tradition which sets out principles and assumptions by which one makes ethical decisions. A tradition does not specify every single rule or ethical judgement, but rather functions as an historical and theoretical context within which ethical language is understood. If we think about ethics as akin to a particular dialect or language, tradition assumes the function of grammar in making our ethical sentences make proper sense. If our ethical statements exist beyond the organising command of our tradition’s grammar, it follows that they will fail to make sense.

Yet this approach should not be seen as an attempt to justify a kind of moral relativism in which all ethical traditions are considered equally valid. All successful ethical traditions must attempt to justify their view of life externally in a rational fashion, while also attempting to be internally consistent as a tradition. It is on this basis that we may choose to abandon, modify, or take on a new ethical tradition. The problem with most liberal approaches to ethics is not that they attempt to be reasonable but that they assume such appeals to reason can operate independently of tradition in timeless, universal fashion. According to MacIntyre, there is no form of rationality that exists independently of a wider tradition.

The advantage of a tradition-mediated view of ethics is that it allows a richer and more honest discussion when we have profound ethical disagreements.

In abandoning the pretension of ethical universality it allows us to engage and understand alternative ethical traditions on their own terms. In a word, it can help engender humility and consideration of rival views.

This does not prevent us from disagreeing or raising objections to rival traditions; on the contrary, such an understanding will likely result in more disagreement. Secondly, such an understanding allows for us to build a politics on the basis of a common good — a community shared across traditions.

Where might we find examples of such discussion going on? One surprising example is the emerging civil society within the territory controlled by the Kurdish Regional Authority in Iraq. Despite being besieged and located within the reach of some of the most illiberal and violent regimes in the world, including the now notorious Islamic State,  the form of civil society emerging there is one which is uniquely tolerant. Despite the population being 94% Muslim, the KRG is pioneering a uniquely tolerant approach to both ethical and religious disagreements in the region. Despite the variety of incommensurate attitudes Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis may hold, the approach of the state towards minorities has been to defend their own right to practice and speak publically within general society and even within public education.

It is important to note that this is not the brand of ‘tolerance’ commonly spoken of in the West, in which dissent or strong disagreement is effectively discouraged. Rather, it is a far messier, contested and yet increasingly respectful climate of discussion in which multiple traditions exist. Thus exists a great irony: that the West might potentially learn more about toleration and hospitality towards the other from a predominantly Muslim region which was itself invaded only fifteen years earlier in the name of neo-liberal freedom and democracy.

 

 

Jesus Has Always Been Our Boyfriend – really?

The biggest difference between old and new hymns isn’t trinitarian theology“, argues Kevin Emmert, writer for the Christianity Today (July 2015). 

Clearly Mr Emmert hasn’t struggled his way through Common Praise  or Hymns Ancient and Modern. Neither, I presume, has he sung worship songs like that alerted to me by a friend a while back…

We are His portion and He is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes
If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking (ha ha)
So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
when I think about the way

And oh, how He loves us oh
Oh how He loves yeah yeah
hey yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

“Violently ill” indeed… Whatever, have a read of Emmert’s post below. He makes some interesting observations though I wonder if he weren’t writing from an American context or, at least, if he understood what it was like to worship “in exile” (e.g. Post Christian New Zealand), if he would come to the same “nothing has really changed except our eschatology” conclusion?

Food for thought that impacts our practice in any case. Have a read…

worship hands

If you think contemporary praise music lacks robust theology, you’re not alone. Modern worship is widely criticized for not being Trinitarian enough, and its lyrics are often perceived to be more romantic than reverent—as if Jesus were a significant other, not the God of the universe.

A new study, however, finds that Jesus has always been the primary focus of evangelical songs. Further, traditional hymns and contemporary worship are more similar in describing the Trinity than is widely believed.

So says Lester Ruth, research professor of Christian worship at Duke Divinity School. He compared the 110 worship songs that topped the Christian Copyright License International lists between 1989 and 2015 with the 70 most-printed US evangelical hymns from 1737 to 1860. He found that both traditional hymns and praise songs are equally weak in referencing the Trinity—and equally strong in addressing Jesus.

Ruth also found today’s praise songs never use sin as a verb per se, only as a noun; hymns predominantly use sin as a noun (including sinner) and occasionally as a verb (including sinning). No single theory of the Atonement predominates in either era. And whereas hymns tend to exhort people to worship, praise songs are more likely to worship God directly.

The striking difference worship songs graphicbetween the two groups is eschatology. Ruth argues that in hymns, heaven hasn’t yet reached earth. In praise songs, heaven is already here.

Hymns emphasize patience and perseverance, portraying the Christian life “as a journey of harrowing dangers and temptations that, if one stays true and faithful, will safely bring the Christian, by the grace of Christ, to a destiny of unspeakable bliss,” said Ruth.

By comparison, the fulfillment of heaven’s blessings is immediate in praise songs. “As the angels and the heavenly host constantly sing ‘holy, holy, holy’ … so by our music we immediately access heaven and participate in our destiny to worship God,” he said.

So….

Do our worship songs promise too much “heaven on earth”? CT asked experts to weigh in. (Answers are arranged on a spectrum from “yes” at the top to “no” at the bottom.)

“While we can celebrate how songs highlight our access to God’s presence in Christ—a truth from Hebrews—something significant is lost if we forget another truth from Hebrews: We, like Israel of old, have a ‘race set before us.’ Our songs need to set realistic expectations for what we already possess in heaven, and for what is not yet ours while we sojourn here and now.”
~Michael Allen, associate professor, Reformed Theological Seminary

“Christians have always struggled to maintain the tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’ of our faith. To imply in our singing that there is no future expectation or present deficiency is to turn worship into escapism, smugness, and a dangerous denial of present sin and evil. That modern songs seem to deny the ‘not yet’ may imply the church has limited its reach to the affluent and content.”
~Will Willimon, professor, Duke Divinity School

“Charismatic piety since the Jesus People has led to the overrealized eschatology of modern songs. However, we should applaud songwriters trying to return Christian singing not back to the Wesley/Watts era, but to Scripture itself. For example, ‘In Christ Alone’ doesn’t perfectly reflect the journey motif in hymns. But it certainly focuses on the mighty acts of God in history.”
~Douglas O’Donnell, senior lecturer, Queensland Theological College

“It’s crucial to recognize the cultural factors at work in both groups. Life for Christians centuries ago was difficult. They were more inclined to celebrate the future kingdom that God promised. Believers today expect life to be good, and appreciate their present experiences in Christ. Neither is bad in itself. But if believers focus too much on one, they can be distracted from serious discipleship.”
~William Dyrness, dean emeritus, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Both groups of songs reflect biblical themes. Modern songs reflect a distinct biblical emphasis that we currently have access to God’s presence. This access is not merely deferred. In Christ, we have everything we need to draw upon God’s enablement (Eph. 1:3). Assured that our future is secure, we can be less anxious about the present and patiently endure difficulties.”
~Darrell Bock, professor, Dallas Theological Seminary

Hmmmm….

 

How We Forget the Holiness of God

God may not be cruel and capricious. But don’t pretend God isn’t dangerous.

The following article by Drew Dyck first appeared in Christianity Today, May 20 2014.

BEWARE!

A couple years ago, I visited Israel with a group of Christian journalists. We bobbed in the Dead Sea, ate “Peter fish” in Galilee, and ascended the desert fortress of Masada. We toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, prayed at the Western Wall, and sat amid Gethsemane’s twisted olive trees. But for me the highlight of the trip wasn’t a place. It was a person—our guide, Amir.

Amir was in his late 50s, stocky, with skin that looked like leather from leading trips through the Holy Land for three decades. At each site, Amir would seek out an isolated spot, gather us in a semicircle, and expound upon the historical and theological significance of the site. Sometimes he seemed more like a preacher than a tour guide.

I remember one talk in particular. With the Mount of Olives shimmering in the background, Amir described what he saw as the basic problem of the universe. “God longs to come down to earth to redeem the righteous and judge the wicked,” he said. “But there’s a problem.”

He leaned toward us and stretched out his arms like a scarecrow.

“God’s presence is like plutonium. Nothing can live
when God comes near. If God came to earth, both
the righteous and unrighteous would perish.
We would all die!”

Initially Amir’s metaphor struck me as strange. I’d heard God described as father, master, king, warrior, judge . . . but plutonium? Yet as I recounted God’s interactions with the ancient Israelites, I wondered if Amir was onto something…   Continue reading How We Forget the Holiness of God

Knowledge and discipleship

Kia-ora tatou… Great to see a couple of you at graduation yesterday – no doubt the rest of you were hard at it back at the factory.

Graduation 13-05-14

As VUW Chaplain I went to heaps of these events over the years and always found them moving – in a strange, tortured kind of way (a bit like church in that respect). Of course I was there as a proud dad this time. Just the same, I was struck again at the incredible effort that those few hundred gradaunds, whether under-grad or doctoral candidate, have put in over the years in such a committed and sustained way. Nek minit they’re graduating, not just with heads bursting with knowledge but skilled up on how to discover more, fit to launch themselves into the world. It seems to have taken forever and yet no time at all.

Continue reading Knowledge and discipleship

Our story?

The CMS is organising a hikoi to Marsden Cross over labour Weekend (Friday 24th October to Monday 27th). This is a very fitting thing for them to do, given both their direct involvement in bringing the Gospel to Aotearoa and subsequent developments leading up to Waitangi and beyond.

ourStorynzcms

They call it ‘Our Story‘. Wouldn’t it be cool to be part of this and make it part of our story too? Click above to have a read of what they’re planning. Watch this space for more…