Monthly Archives: April 2006

Words Of Hope

George Eliot once said, “It is never too late to become what you might have been.”

From Maggi Dawn.

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Words Of Hope

George Eliot once said, “It is never too late to become what you might have been.”

From Maggi Dawn.

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Reaching A New Generation

A parable for the Church here?

MediaGuardian.co.uk | Media | BBC reaches out to new generation

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Conversion and Science

Interesting article about young people converting to Christianity and Islam:

Religion Trends :: God is the new drug of choice for today’s young rebels

The disturbing part comes at the end. A Muslim convert says this:

“I think that they had a real belief in conventional politics and
government: whether it was the socialism of the 1970s, or the
conservative liberalism that came along later. There was a real sense
back then that those movements would solve all the world’s ills, but
they didn’t. I think it’s maybe as a result of that that young people
are now more open to religion, and particularly Islam, which allows for
science and logic”.

Christianity, implicitly, is not seen as allowing for science and logic. How different from centuries ago – it wasn’t all the Vatican versus Galileo. Theology was the queen of sciences and scientific research was lauded as thinking God’s thoughts after him. Has a mess of half-baked creationism reduced us to this?

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The ‘Gospel’ Of Judas?

The highly publicised airing by National Geographic Channel about the so-called Gospel of Judas is the usual stuff Christians have come to expect around Easter. There’s always easy publicity for someone claiming scholarly debunking of traditional beliefs.

We don’t have digital or cable TV, so I cannot see the programme. But there is at least a partial translation of the document here. Reading it makes it equally easy to see why the document would have been rejected by early church leaders. It is contradictory not simply to basic Christian claims, but to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Like any Gnostic text it assumes that matter is evil – far from the Jewish belief in a good creation, so robustly celebrated in the festivals. Where it is at odds with conventional Christianity is in another classic Gnostic trait – that salvation is by secret knowledge revealed to an elite.  In contrast the Christian faith is that God has made salvation what Lesslie Newbigin called ‘the open secret’ – it is available to all and sundry, the poor as much (if not more than) the rich. Elitism feeds the ego and is in direct opposition to a message based on undeserved grace.

So far, so easy to debunk. But we must look deeper. I have two observations in particular. The first is that while as Christians we are right to take apart a Gnostic document like this we should also confess just how Gnostic our behaviour has been in practice. We have elevated the soul and denigrated the body – just listen to the way people at the time of a death say that the body was just a shell for the true person. Yet it is not only the doctrine of creation that reminds us of God’s positive interest in the material world, it is also the doctrine of the bodily resurrection. At Easter many of us make a cogent apologetic case for the resurrection being bodily – that there is strong historical evidence for it and that when Paul speaks of the ‘spiritual body’ he means a body animated by the Spirit.

We are also probably guilty of something akin to the Gnostic elitism of secret knowledge. We keep the Gospel to ourselves (for various reasons). We come across with a terrible smug, superior tone, forgetting the words of Daniel T Niles that ‘evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread’. To listen to many of us is to think that we have forgotten our utter dependence upon grace.

My second concern is this: debunking this pseudo-scholarly nonsense is important but insufficient on its own. Somehow it doesn’t seem to achieve the apologetic goal of convincing people about the truth of Christ, as we believe him to be. Take current Christian responses to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code: we have publications such as The Books The Church Suppressed by Michael Green, Cracking The Da Vinci Code by Mark Stibbe (complete with scratchcard) and Exploring The Da Vinci Code by Lee Strobel and Gary Poole. All are no doubt cogent arguments, given the undoubted pedigree of the authors. But we are used to opposing parties in arguments issuing rebuttals: look at the way political parties having instant rebuttal units operating during General Election campaigns. Worthy historical arguments run the risk of just getting the ‘Whatever’ response.

I was more encouraged to read about Steve Hollinghurst’s recent Grove book Coded Messages: Evangelism and the Da Vinci Code. The following quote from the publicity blurb makes a lot of sense:

Why another book on the Da Vinci Code? Other books analyse the
historical or geographical inaccuracies and theological errors, but
these are not arguments which will sway most of those influenced by the
book.

This study looks instead at how the book taps into a conspiracy culture
which distrusts authority and organised religion. It explores how
discussion about the book can best be used to build bridges, and how to
set up an effective event to which to invite people.

And there’s the task, and it’s a much bigger one than the conventional apologetic: it’s one that requires our apologetic to be flesh and blood. In their book The Responsive Church Nick Spencer and Graham Tomlin provide some analysis and proposals for Christian responses to non-Christian thoughts and perceptions about Christians and Christianity. They note there is a widespread hostility to an abstract picture of what Christians are: ‘patronizing, desperate for support, colourless, begging for money, misfits, goody two-shoes, [and] holier than thou’ (p 89). But to their surprise it all changes when they meet real-life Christians. One says:

We’ve got neighbours like that. I don’t know what religion they follow, but they live for it, and the children, literally … they are really, really nice people and, actually, thinking back when she had a baby recently, the gifts and the food, you know, visitors they had, unbelievable. Unbelievable, they were queueing at the door. (ibid.)

Another speaks of receiving unconditional love and support from a local Baptist church when his wife was ill (p 90).

Our apologetic still requires our brains. But our brains must be in partnership with our hands and our feet.

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The ‘Gospel’ Of Judas?

The highly publicised airing by National Geographic Channel about the so-called Gospel of Judas is the usual stuff Christians have come to expect around Easter. There’s always easy publicity for someone claiming scholarly debunking of traditional beliefs.

We don’t have digital or cable TV, so I cannot see the programme. But there is at least a partial translation of the document here. Reading it makes it equally easy to see why the document would have been rejected by early church leaders. It is contradictory not simply to basic Christian claims, but to the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. Like any Gnostic text it assumes that matter is evil – far from the Jewish belief in a good creation, so robustly celebrated in the festivals. Where it is at odds with conventional Christianity is in another classic Gnostic trait – that salvation is by secret knowledge revealed to an elite.  In contrast the Christian faith is that God has made salvation what Lesslie Newbigin called ‘the open secret’ – it is available to all and sundry, the poor as much (if not more than) the rich. Elitism feeds the ego and is in direct opposition to a message based on undeserved grace.

So far, so easy to debunk. But we must look deeper. I have two observations in particular. The first is that while as Christians we are right to take apart a Gnostic document like this we should also confess just how Gnostic our behaviour has been in practice. We have elevated the soul and denigrated the body – just listen to the way people at the time of a death say that the body was just a shell for the true person. Yet it is not only the doctrine of creation that reminds us of God’s positive interest in the material world, it is also the doctrine of the bodily resurrection. At Easter many of us make a cogent apologetic case for the resurrection being bodily – that there is strong historical evidence for it and that when Paul speaks of the ‘spiritual body’ he means a body animated by the Spirit.

We are also probably guilty of something akin to the Gnostic elitism of secret knowledge. We keep the Gospel to ourselves (for various reasons). We come across with a terrible smug, superior tone, forgetting the words of Daniel T Niles that ‘evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread’. To listen to many of us is to think that we have forgotten our utter dependence upon grace.

My second concern is this: debunking this pseudo-scholarly nonsense is important but insufficient on its own. Somehow it doesn’t seem to achieve the apologetic goal of convincing people about the truth of Christ, as we believe him to be. Take current Christian responses to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code: we have publications such as The Books The Church Suppressed by Michael Green, Cracking The Da Vinci Code by Mark Stibbe (complete with scratchcard) and Exploring The Da Vinci Code by Lee Strobel and Gary Poole. All are no doubt cogent arguments, given the undoubted pedigree of the authors. But we are used to opposing parties in arguments issuing rebuttals: look at the way political parties having instant rebuttal units operating during General Election campaigns. Worthy historical arguments run the risk of just getting the ‘Whatever’ response.

I was more encouraged to read about Steve Hollinghurst’s recent Grove book Coded Messages: Evangelism and the Da Vinci Code. The following quote from the publicity blurb makes a lot of sense:

Why another book on the Da Vinci Code? Other books analyse the
historical or geographical inaccuracies and theological errors, but
these are not arguments which will sway most of those influenced by the
book.

This study looks instead at how the book taps into a conspiracy culture
which distrusts authority and organised religion. It explores how
discussion about the book can best be used to build bridges, and how to
set up an effective event to which to invite people.

And there’s the task, and it’s a much bigger one than the conventional apologetic: it’s one that requires our apologetic to be flesh and blood. In their book The Responsive Church Nick Spencer and Graham Tomlin provide some analysis and proposals for Christian responses to non-Christian thoughts and perceptions about Christians and Christianity. They note there is a widespread hostility to an abstract picture of what Christians are: ‘patronizing, desperate for support, colourless, begging for money, misfits, goody two-shoes, [and] holier than thou’ (p 89). But to their surprise it all changes when they meet real-life Christians. One says:

We’ve got neighbours like that. I don’t know what religion they follow, but they live for it, and the children, literally … they are really, really nice people and, actually, thinking back when she had a baby recently, the gifts and the food, you know, visitors they had, unbelievable. Unbelievable, they were queueing at the door. (ibid.)

Another speaks of receiving unconditional love and support from a local Baptist church when his wife was ill (p 90).

Our apologetic still requires our brains. But our brains must be in partnership with our hands and our feet.

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More Absurdity From The Judiciary

This is crackers: a High Court judge has rejected the religious dimension of Freemasonry:

Freemasonry :: Judge backs Freemasons’ role

The judge said that “Freemasonry is not a religion” and that although
members of the order agreed to give “succour” to “brother Masons”, they
were subject to the “uncompromising and clear” principle that they must
pay “due obedience” to the laws of the land.

This is bonkers when Masonry believes God the Architect. Whatever its diversity it has clear religious aspects (which happen to be inimical to the Christian faith). How could Mr Justice Newman miss this?

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Hymn For Good Friday

This is beautiful and stunning:

connexions » Blog Archive » A Hymn for Good Friday (based on the Seven Words from the Cross)

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U2 at Holy Communion

Here’s a service I’d like to attend:

‘U2 Eucharists’ radicalising the faithful in US

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Miroslav Volf, Free Of Charge, chapter 5

I can’t report from tonight’s Lent group, because it was cancelled due to a shortage of available group members. But chapter 5 is probably my personal highlight from the book so far, so instead of reporting some group reflections, here below are my notes from my favourite part of the chapter. (And it was hard just to select one part.)

The Place of Repentance (pp 181-186)

If forgiveness is unconditional, does that dispense
with repentance? No: forgiveness is social; it isn’t simply about making the offended
party feel better. The offended party forgives, but the gift of forgiveness is
only truly received by repentance. Otherwise it gets stuck in the middle.
Repentance is not a condition but a consequence of forgiveness. When we have
done wrong we find it hard to admit our fault, but the fact of unconditional
forgiveness makes repentance possible.

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