Monday, November 26, 2007

Another False Prophet

Well, Danny Nallia's prophecy did not come to pass. Not only has John Howard not been re-elected but Peter Costello has declined the leadership challenge (didn't see that one coming). I went to the Catch the Fire blog to see Pastor Danny's response to all this but so far nothing has been posted. It was interesting, however, to find the following "prophecy" from Kenneth Copeland (pictured left) given on 26th October 2007 which Catch the Fire described as "further confirmation of Ps. Danny’s prophetic word given on 11th August 2007 regarding the Federal Election on the 24th November 2007."

“God’s man in Australia [John Howard] stood up and publicly declared Australia a Christian nation! ‘If you want to come here and join us in our Christian faith you are welcome here but don’t think you can come in here and try and force some other religion here on us and don’t think you are going to tell us how to believe God and who we are going to worship.’ He publicly did that, now this is no time for that man to be defeated. Well he’s not going to be. Amen. He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. He is Lord to the glory of God the Father. He is Lord over Australia! It has been announced! Amen.”

So should we now apply the following scripture (Deuteronomy 18:20-22)?

20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death. 21 You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. No one should be alarmed.

The problem with these guys is that they want to act like Old Testament prophets, anointing "kings" and king's successors and presuming to bring God's word to the whole nation, but they don't want to play by the rules that applied to those same Old Testament prophets.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Liturgy and Ethics

"One reason why we Christians argue so much about which hymn to sing, which liturgy to follow, which way to worship is that the commandments teach us to believe that bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend."
— Stanley Hauerwas, The Truth About God: The Ten Commandments in Christian Life, p.89

"We don't take the issue of liturgy anywhere near as seriously as we ought to do. I believe that the bad taste in liturgy and hymnody demonstrated by so many modern congregations should be every bit as troubling to us as their weak ethical and doctrinal standards... Beauty, goodness and truth stand or fall together. The aesthetical crimes that one witnesses in the evangelical subculture — look in the trinket or art areas of your local Christian store to get a sense of what I am referring to — are indicative of a rottenness in heart of the movement itself. The narcissistic aesthetic of much of the subculture of evangelicalism, seen in the appeal of kitsch and of art that involves little more than its own self-projections, is evidence enough of a serious departure from Christian orthodoxy."
- Alastair from

Monday, October 08, 2007

Is This Man God's Preferred PM?

Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries has recently released a "prophecy" claiming that God told him to go and anoint Peter Costello as Australia's future prime Minister. I kid thee not. Read the "prophecy" at Last time I looked we went to Holy Scripture for guidance and not to extra-biblical revelation. Danny Nalliah likens himself to the biblical Samuel anointing the next king of Israel. Give me a break! He claims, "I will boldly declare that Prime Minister John Howard will be re-elected in the November election (if the Body of Christ unites in prayer and action) and pass the leadership onto Peter Costello sometime after." Notice the way he worms out of the implications of his prophecy NOT coming to pass (which by Old Testament standards would be his being stoned to death). It is only "if the Body of Christ unites in prayer and action" that the prophecy will come to pass! So in the end it is all about Pelagian self effort. Apparently we must "be willing to pay the price to see Australia come back to Jesus." Come on folks, we can do it if we just get together, pray hard enough and vote Liberal!

Is it the supposedly "Judeo-Christian values" of the Liberal Party that are behind our involvement in the war in Iraq which has seen conservatively 70-80,000 innocent civilians killed? We certainly should support the right to life of unborn children but what about the right to life of living children in Iraq and Afghanistan? Are they of less value? More die every day and the coalition government refuses to withdraw the involvement of our troops. Why do we persist in thinking that "Judeo-Christian values" only relate to matters of personal morality? To state that 60-70% of Labor Party members hold to "totally anti-Christian, extreme left wing ideologies" is outrageous. What planet does this guy live on? Is he saying they're all Communists? The Labor Party is about as centre-right as any party can be without being the Liberal Party!

As for Labor "supporting homosexuals" what are we supposed to do? Hate them? Marginalise them? Why shouldn't gay people have the same civil rights as other people? Perhaps we should put them all in special enclosures or make them wear a little symbol so we can identify them and single them out for special treatment. Rudd has made it clear that under a Labor government there will be no change to the Marriage Act that defines legal marriage as a union between one man and one woman for life. The Christian community does not believe that homosexual practice is in keeping with Christian moral and ethical teaching. That is our affair, and we have our own house to keep in order, but we can't enforce that teaching on the general population, any more than we can make it a law that all Australian citizens must attend church! Let's face it friends, we live in a liberal democracy, not a theocracy or a Puritan commonwealth!

I'm prepared to go on record to say that, in spite of Pastor Nalliah's "prophetic word," I for one will not be voting Liberal in the federal election and I certainly will not be spiritually blackmailed into doing so by a self appointed prophet. I cannot vote for a government that supports an unjust war, that refuses to engage in a genuine act of reconciliation with indigenous Australians, that places economic prosperity ahead of justice, and imprisons refugees in contravention of international law, all of which are contrary to "Judeo-Christian values."

For those who think I am slandering Pastor Danny with this post, you need to know that I have already made all of these comments on his website.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Iron Man

Forget the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, the one to watch for is Marvel's next release - Iron Man. The use of Black Sabbath's classic "Iron Man" metal riff in the trailer, when the prototype grey suit makes its first appearance, is just perfect but hang in there for the final version of the suit. All my misgiving about the casting of Robert Downy Jr. as Tony Stark are laid to rest - he's perfect in the role. The relocation from Vietnam to Afghanistan is clever and gives the project a contemporary resonance where it would otherwise be a period piece. This movie will make you hate yourself for throwing away all of those old Iron Man comics. Check out the trailer here

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Jammed

Last Wednesday night I attended a charity screening for Project Respect of The Jammed, an Australian film, written, produced and directed by Dee McLachlan, about the trafficking of girls for use in illegal prostitution. It's a confronting film that reveals the ugly side of Melbourne and is a reminder that it is often upper middle class people who benefit from this evil trade. It makes you wonder how many more boutiques and galleries run by chardonay sipping socialites are built on the back of such exploitation and cruelty. It is certainly a film that makes you feel ashamed to be a part of that 49% of the human population that exploits members of the other 51% with such heartlessness. You can visit the film's website here. I heard about this screening through the Stop the Traffic campaign, a movement to put an end to the buying and selling of people for profit. Project Respect is an advocay group that work to protect women in the sex industry from violence and exploitation. You can read The Age review of the film here. Unfortunately, due to a technicality the film is not eligible for an AFI award which is a real tragedy because it is certainly deserving. If you've seen the film, and you think it has value, I encourage you to vote for it in the IF awards instead.

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Loose Lips Sink Ships

There is a lot of loose speaking in our worship that doesn't help maintain a proper Trintarian emphasis. For example, there is a lot of what the old theologians used to call "confounding of the Persons." "Dear Father, we thank you Lord, that you died on the cross for us..." Now, of course, the Father did not die on the cross, but the Son. Sometimes you will hear a prayer like the following: "We thank you Father Lord that Lord Jesus you came Father God and helped us Lord to see, Jesus, that we are never alone Father..." and so on. As well as confounding the persons, this prayer borders on blasphemy because in using words like "Father" and "Lord" as a substitute for "um or "ah," as the person collects his or her thoughts, the speaker uses the Lord's name "in vain" (i.e. in an "empty" or mindless way). My advice here would be to slow down, speak more slowly, engage one's brain before one's mouth, and think about what is being said instead of prattling on a like a nervous nanny.

With only two exceptions, prayer in the New Testament is always offered TO the Father, IN THE NAME of Jesus, and THROUGH the Holy Spirit. (The exceptions are when Stephen is being stoned to death and he looks up to heaven, sees Jesus and prays, "Lord Jesus receive my spirit" and the prayer at the end of Revelation, "Even so, come Lord Jesus.") I am not aware of any prayer in the New Testament made directly to the Holy Spirit. This does NOT mean that prayer directly to Jesus or the Spirit is wrong, but that the general biblical pattern seems to be a Trinitarian one in which the Father is addressed on the basis of what Christ has done and with the
authority that lies behind his name, and (since we don't know how to pray as we ought) the Spirit helps us in our weakness by interceding within us, empowering and enabling our speech.

Of course God looks at the heart and I don't mean to say here that when Christians pray in a theologically loose way or in a way not quite "proper" or not fully Trinitarian that those prayers go unheeded or that God says, "Go directly to hell; do not pass Go; do not collect $200." (Monopoly players know what I'm talking about.) God is patient with us, of course, but congregational leaders have the responsibility of modelling best practice.

Sadly, many Christians are functional unitarians (there is one God and his name is "Jesus") or "binitarians" ("God and Jesus" with no Holy Spirit to be seen). Some people say Pentecostals focus too much on the Spirit in their worship but the way I see it the tendency among both Pentecostals and Evangelicals is the same, and that is, to be one of the two options I've just given.

The Gloria Patri doesn't get used among us much anymore and in a way that's a pity because it enshrined a Trinitarian doxology in every service. "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and shall be forever. Amen." Even without the use of the Gloria Patri we can still ensure a Trinitarian shape to our prayers - don't confound the Persons, never use "Father," "Jesus" or any other of God's names as a "filler," and frequently close with "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Trinitarian blessings (benedictions) also help as do Trintarian hymns and songs. However, Reginald Heber's "Holy,Holy, Holy" (as great as it is) is not the only Trinitarian hymn out there! I love the final verse of "Now thank We All Our God" - "All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given; The Son and Holy Ghost, supreme in highest Heaven; The one eternal God,whom earth and Heaven adore; For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore." This can be separated from the rest of the hymn as a stand alone Trinitarian doxology that could be sung, for example, as a response to the Psalm or other Bible reading. Don't be fooled into thinking that just because a song has "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" in the lyrics that it is Trinitarian because it ain't necessarily so. Some songs are quite theologically incoherent (that is, they don't "co-here"). For example, consider the chorus "How Great is Our God" which says "Father, Spirit, Son / the Godhead Three in One / the Lion and the Lamb." This seems all wrong to me. Firstly, the only reason to change the order of "Father, Son, and Spirit" is to make the rhyme work - "Son" has to rhyme with "One." The placement of these words is not just traditional but deeply theological in its ordering. The Father begets the Son, the Spirit proceeds from the Father (or from the Father and the Son if you accept the Nicene formula). Also the address to the Triune God (Father, Spirit, Son / the Godhead Three in One) suddenly shifts without warning and without reason to an address to the Son (the Lion and the Lamb) as if the same persons were still being addressed, which they are not because only the Son is "the Lion and the Lamb." Call me a liturgial fundamentalist if you like but I think the way we address God in worship is an important matter that deserves serious reflection.

By the way, you may wonder why I have chosen the images I have used here. I believe they reflect one of the most disturbing things about contemporary worship trends. Though two of the images here show very large groups of worshippers, each person seems wrapped in his or her own personal bubble of worship intimacy. The three young women in the third photo each have their eyes closed, communing with Jesus, their "personal" Saviour, each with her own microphone. In none of these photos is any one person present to any other person. They do not face each other, they do not engage. They are transcended beyond others to a private space shared only between God and themselves. If God is a Being whose very existence is a reciprocal, relational one, you would think our worship would reflect that reciprocity by being more communal than personal and ecstatic. You would think.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Siege of Krishnapur

My friend Paddy tells me that if a book doesn't get him interested within the first 50 pages or so he lays it aside and moves on to something else. Now Paddy is the most voracious reader I know so he has to do something to limit his intake. But if I had applied his recommended practice to a book he actually loaned me recently, namely J. G. Farrell's Booker Prize-winning The Siege of Krishnapur (1973), I would have missed out on something very special. Frankly the first part of the book just didn't capture me - the courting intrigues of a bunch of British gentlemen and prissy English ladies prancing around courting in British India in the 1840s wasn't exactly my cup of tea. The tension builds however as the inevitable uprising of the Sepoys and the consequent siege approaches and you begin to see that Farrell has gone into painstaking detail developing these self assured characters because he plans to pull the rug out from underneath them as their civilization comes crashing down around them and they are reduced to the most primitive of survival instincts. The humour in the midst of the horror serves to unmask the pretensions of the British class system and all its racist assumptions as they are played out in the colonial setting.

The novel has been meticulously researched to gain historical detail and accuracy, including consulting the diaries of the actual participants. Depending on Owen Chadwick's magisterial two volume work The Victorian Church cannot be faulted. Yet for all this Farrell's "padre" does seem to be a mere caricature. I'm sure there were such pathologically obsessed clergymen in the Victorian era but I doubt if they could be said to be typical. Since he serves as a metaphor for a bankrupt Christianity in the novel I assume he embodies everything about the faith that the author dismisses as puerile and ridiculous.

There is also a deep sadness and cynicism at the heart of the book, given shape and form in the person of The Collector. He begins the novel as a man with an overwhelming sense of the fitness of all things, and an (admittedly displaced) confidence in the rightness of the "civilising" project in India. He serves as the moral centre of the book as, after surviving an attack of cholera, throughout the darkest days of the siege he is a pillar of strength to the survivors and the only person whose head remains well and truly screwed on. Yet the horrors of the siege leave him something of a nihilist. Neither science nor technology nor religion nor British culture nor anything else could overcome the invincible stupidity of humanity. In the situation of violent death, desperate privation, and gradual starvation all that seemed previously to give the world meaning is stripped back to the most base of survival instincts. Human beings prove after all to be no more than a fortuitous course of atoms thrown out on a dung heap of rotting corpses for pariah dogs to scavenge. Since the Collector's portrait is the most sympathetic given in the book, one wonders whether the character doesn't embody the author's own viewpoint.

In some ways the book is typical of novels of the 1970s with its post-colonial empire bashing. It is hilariously funny and horrifically ghastly at one and the same time. Thanks Paddy for a great recommendation. The obsessive compulsive behaviour that drives me to finish every book I start even if it seems a chore stood me in good stead on this occasion.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dylan in Melbourne

I enjoyed my seventh Dylan concert on Sunday night. Tragic, I know. Dylan is known to play the occasional bad show but I can honestly say I've never been disappointed and Sunday was no exception. The Frames were a good support act, and obviously chuffed to be invited to tour with his Bobness. I can only describe them as a kind of Irish Wilco (who by the way I saw with the Boy Wonder at the Palais earlier this year but never got around to reviewing. Suffice to say it was a brilliant show). I thought it was very cool they way the Frames wove a Van Morrison lyric into one of their original songs. They played only four or five songs. We were here, after all, to hear Bob and no support act is ever asked to give an encore.

Bob took the stage in his usual black with a broad brimmed cowboy hat which he never took off looking for all the world like a gunfighter from a B grade western totin' a guitar instead of a gun. The band kicked into a ragged version of "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat," a little out of tune and pretty loosey goosey. They seemed to take a few numbers to really tighten up, and were at their best on the new songs from Modern Times. When they were good they were very, very good, with moments of real rock 'n roll brilliance. Dylan played three numbers on guitar and then stood at the keyboard / Hammond organ thingy for "Just Like A Woman" and stayed there for the duration. This annoyed me at the Melbourne International Music Festival a few years back but this time it seemed right. After all, Bob started on piano in his high school band playing Bobby Vee and Buddy Holly covers, and plays piano on piano based songs sprinkled here and there over the whole body of his work. Anyway, even behind the keyboard he still has the rock 'n roll gunslinger moves.

I can undertand why some people, just don't "get" Dylan and leave one of his concerts scratching their heads or even feeling ripped off. If they don't know his body of work well, they are certainly not going to understand the words he growls, spits out, grunts, and distorts with his strange vocal gymnastics, even when his voice is WAY up at the top of the sound mix as it was last night. And then he has that strange way of leaving it to the very last part of the measure before throwing in all the lyrics all at once without a moment to spare. A teenager behind me during the demand for an encore called, out "Play a Bob Dylan song!" Apparently he hadn't recognised any of the songs in the set, even though it contained such Dylan standards as "Just Like a Woman," "Don't Think Twice It's Alright," and "Highway 61 Revisited." (For those who want the complete set list click here.) In a way this is a real tragedy because it means that people miss out on moments of genuine lyrical brilliance. In "Spirit on the Water," the frailty and elusiveness of love is expressed so well in the lines, "I'm pale as a ghost holding a blossom on a stem. You ever seen a ghost? No. But you have heard of them." Whether he's frowning on those who are "sucking the blood out of the genius of generosity" or bragging about himself having "sucked the milk out of a thousand cows," this is poetry not be missed.

I guess it is this familiarity with Dylan's work that gives fans at his concerts (no doubt the vast majority in attendance alongside of those in the minority who may simply be there to "check out the legend") a certain satisfaction in their esoteric knowledge. In "Spirit on the Water" when Bob sang, "Ya think I'm over the hill," the crowd yelled back, "Nooooo!". Then, "think I'm past my prime," and again, "Nooooo!" Finally, "Let me see what you got / we can have a whoppin' good time." Crowd: "Yeeaaahhh!!" Priceless. They knew those words were coming and they were ready for them.

The highlight for me was "I Believe in You" from his Gospel album Slow Train Coming, the last song at the end of the set before the encore, and sung with so much passion. It's the song of a loner who stands apart, or is ejected, from the crowd because of his personal faith in Jesus. He ended the song in an interesting way, repeating the opening lines of the verse, "they ask me how I feel and if my love is real"...and then it just ended abruptly, the final word being spat out with what sounded like venom and disgust. "How dare they ask if my love for God is 'real'!" I'm probably reading too much into it but I couldn't help but think of the Christians who need Dylan's faith to fit into a conventional mould they can approve.

Then there was a long, long wait before the two-song encore. At the end, a touching moment when the lights came back up and the band were all huddled in the centre free of their instruments, Bob at the front, as they received a standing ovation from the capacity crowd. Bob reciprocated with a single hand uprised in salute, then both arms upraised as he basked in the glow of adoration for a second or two then they turned and walked off, Bob 66 yrs. old, frail, skinny, and somehow vulnerable but a giant and a legend still.

Dylan fashion watch: Bob wore this hat at the Melbourne concert but with a black coat.

Here's a live TV performance of "Cry Awhile" from about 5 years back. This song wasn't performed at the concert but it still gives a bit of a taste of what Bob is like live.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Teenage Affluenza

Ellen and Jasmine will be doing the 40 Hour Famine in a couple of weeks. Please watch this video and consider sponsoring them or another person you know who is participating, or even doing it yourself.

Monday, August 06, 2007

And The Winner Is...

Well, the results are in and the winner of The Great Batman Cover Artist Competition and worthy reciepent of Action Comics Annual #10 is...
anniemareerose with the following scintillating entry that hovers on the brink of decision several times and then finally arrives at Detective Comics #355 (Sept 1966) by Carmine Infantino and Mike Giella. Those stingy tightwads at Marvel send out No Prizes but we send the real thing and it's winging it's way to our winner as I speak. Here is Annie's winning entry. To see the cover images she discusses click here.

"I must agree with Ross, both the Wagner covers do great representations of batman, the monster men (06) cover, batman atop the building/roof etc, wing like cape cropped so the ends are just cut out, perfect, particularly the way it folds over...

The 2nd wagner in the post, the colors are brilliant, they meld perfectly, the gold in the buildings and the belt, just a few colors, but striking nonetheless, excellent use of color. its tough to choose between this and the other standout red and black cover done by Kubert, however his portrayal is too sinister for my liking, I prefer him composed, with the air of being able to snap into those 'sinister' moments but this wagner has him staunch, so stoic - great, great framing...

however, a strange one, initially dismissed, however, over the last few days, it has lingered in my mind, this time i differ with ross, lets look at the 1966 cover (#355 [pictured left] Now the graphics aren't particularly detailed, as in, demanding attention, they are a bit 'thin' even, yet, theres something special about the manner in which batman dangles there, hes almost 'faking', as if at the crucial moment he will surprise us all and give the hooded hangman all his worth, there's life in his eyes, i like it. I think thats my no.1 tough with the wagner 2 and the 07 cover, but something, just wins me over.

annie's top 4.

#1 (355)
#2 (627)
#3 (665)
#4 (825)"

So there it is , the much maligned (by the readers of this blog anyway) Silver Age work of Infantino and Giella is deemed the best depiction of the Caped Crusader on display here. Old school wins the day.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Difference Between Melbourne and Sydney

For those people who read my last post and wondered if there really were that many differences between Melbourne and Sydney you need to look at the "most viewed articles" comparison between the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald (with thanks to James Garth from whose blog I stole the image):

By the way I'm a Sydney person born and bred myself, but happy to be a Melbourne person by dint of my vocation.

A Swearing Apostle and a Swearing Priest

In Mark 14:66-72 a precocious servant girl gives an apostle some lip and he doesn’t respond very well at all. In fact, Peter denies any association at all with Jesus. Poor old Peter is standing by the fire trying to warm himself and all of a sudden he’s being attacked on all sides by complete strangers, the whole thing being egged on by a snotty little servant girl who should have known and kept her place. Didn’t she know that children were to be seen and not heard? She’s a slave for goodness sake, and a girl as well! Who does she think she is anyway? She calls him, “one of them,” and says he was “with the Nazarene.” People standing around picked up the idea and joined in the fun, throwing a kind of racial slur in as well. “You are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”

Ever been called “one of them”? Galileans were considered hicks, out of town yokels. Over in the U.S., if you live in the state of Virginia the people in West Virginia are hillbillies, but if you live in West Virginia it’s the other way around. We tend to think of Tasmanians as a bit backward but since I went there last week I’ve had to change my estimate of them. They’re really quit nice. In fact an antique dealer asked me if I was from the “north island” meaning the mainland. Perhaps in his mind it was we mainlanders who were a little backward. Don’t get me started on the differences between Queenslanders and Victorians or Sydney people and Melbourne people. Dame Edna recounts how when as a child she sucked the milk shake through the bottom of the straw it made a gurgling sound and her mother said, “Don’t do that dear. Sydney people do that.”

Here Peter has his association with Jesus thrown in his face and three times he denies the connection. First he says, “I don't know or understand what you're talking about.” The second time we don’t know his exact words only that when the girl said, “this fellow is one of them” he denied it. His third denial was very explicit, “I don't know this man you're talking about.”

And then comes verse 72, which must be one of the most dramatic moments in all of biblical history, perhaps in all history. When the rooster crowed the words of Jesus suddenly came back to Peter. “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Peter began to "call down curses” and “swore to them” that he didn’t know Jesus. I couldn’t help thinking of Father Geoff Baron, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral who was stood down from his position this week after swearing at skateboarders and issuing racial slurs at them as they were hoolaginising around the cathedral precincts.

Here is an excerpt from the coverage in The Age yesterday:

Dean Baron said he had “snapped” and regretted it. “The shame that I feel and the embarrassment, I can't really describe,” he told Southern Cross Broadcasting. “It was outrageous behaviour, I let myself down terribly badly, that's quite clear and I've also brought scandal and shock to other people.” He said he had been provoked when the teenagers, who were skating on the cathedral steps, called him a paedophile. “I can't excuse it, I wouldn't even try to; I don't know why I said those things. “It might be linked up in some way that so many priests are considered to be paedophiles and here I was being called one.” However, Dean Baron said he would not apologise to the teenagers he abused. “I have the impression that that particular gang of skateboarders, they take a particular delight and joy in reducing people to grovelling measures as I was, that's their goal, that's their aim. “So I don't think I owe them an apology as such, I apologise to all who were scandalised by my behaviour.”
[Reko Rennie, “Swearing Priest Suspended,” The Age (July 31st 2007), 3.14pm.]

There is more than a little of Peter’s betrayal in the Dean’s actions, but also more than a little of Peter’s sorrow and repentance. If this were the end of the story it would truly be tragedy on the level of Judas’ betrayal. Who knows what pits of despair Peter would have spiralled into? But, as we know, this wasn’t the end of the story. After he rose from the dead, Jesus met Peter on the beach for breakfast and gave him three opportunities to affirm his love for him. “Peter do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Three times this exchange took place and in this trinity of absolutions the whole sorry mess was washed away.

This is how it is. The tragedy of our denial of God through our sin is met by the generosity of God’s affirmation of us, through the generosity of God’s forgiveness. That is true for Peter, for Father Baron, for the skateboarders who mocked him and called him a paedophile, for those who laughed at the “silly old priest” on You Tube, and for you, and for me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

Baby Got Book

Protestant Icon 2

Here is my second Protestant icon - this one a kind of ascension portrait -"The Apotheosis of John Wesley " from the Methodist collection of the John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester. "Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

Protestant Icon 1

Orthodox and Catholic Christians have plenty of icons both metaphorical and actual. We Protestants tend to settle on metaphoric icons only. If we were to write icons who might we include? This is "Martin Luther King of Georgia" by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM, ©1984. The text reads "How long shall justice be crucified and truth buried?" Tell me who you think deserves to be an icon.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Great Batman Cover Artist Competition

A lot of talented and some not-so-talented artists have taken it upon themselves to draw my Bat-visage. For your chance to win a great prize from the Batcave's comics vault (Action Comics Annual #10 in NM condition see image at the end of this post) have your say on what you think is the best of the following eight covers. I'm not going to just give the prize away however. I will award the prize to the person whose comment shows the most highly refined art appreciation (Ross will love that part) and knowledge of my personal history as the Caped Crusader.

Batman #226 (Nov 1970) by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

Batman #665 (July 2006) by Andy Kubert

Batman and the Monster Men # 1 (August 2006) by Matt Wagner

Batman #627 (July 2004) by Matt Wagner

Detective Comics #355 (Sept 1966) by Carmine Infantino and Mike Giella

Detective Comics (Oct 1967) by Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson

Detective Comics #625 (Jan 1991) by Jim Aparo and Mike DeCarlo

Detective Comics #825 (Jan 2007) by Simone Bianchi

And to motivate you here is the cover of your great prize which I will post to the winner bagged and boarded and postage free- Action Comics Annual #10 (March 2007) a 48 page Giant!featuring a whole bunch of stories about that other guy over in Metropolis - you know the one with the blue suit. The stories are: The Many Deaths of Superman; Who is Clark Kent's Big Brother?; Mystery Under the Blue Sun; The Criminals of Krypton; The Deadliest Forms of Kryptonite; Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude; Superman's Top 10 Most Wanted and the writers and artists include Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Art Adams, Eric Wright, Joe Kubert, Rags Morales, Mark Farmer, Gary Frank, Jonathan Sibel, Phil Jimenez, Andy Lanning, and Tony Daniel. Get commenting folks - this is the big one!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Earn, Save, and Give

The following e-advertisement received from my denominational headquarters is a bit rich (pardon the pun)!

Earn, Save, and Give at WIF! If John Wesley were with us today, we imagine he would be an investor at Wesleyan Investment Foundation. His admonishment to "Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can" is about Serving Higher Interests! When you save with WIF, your money earns up to *6.0% *and helps churches. Request an investment packet today by calling WIF at 317.774.7300 or e-mailing us at

Imagine away my freids at WIF. I think I can say with a fair degree of certainty that John Wesley would not invest in the Wesleyan Investment Foundation (WIF) if he were alive today. The idea of investing money at interest was anathema to him. People forget it was the give part of his motto that was its real point. Wesley could have become a wealthy man on the strength of his publishing ventures alone, but he stayed on a very meager income his whole life. Whatever extra he earned he gave to the poor, because he believed it a sin to have any money or goods while others lacked food, clothing and shelter. He never owned a house, but lived in bedsitters attached to chapels in London and Bristol and slept in other people's houses as he travelled. He never accumulated any savings, and when he died he left behind him a saddle and a few books - oh yes, and Methodism. You can read his sermon on The Use of Money here.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you shouldn't invest in WIF. If you're going to invest your money it makes sense to invest it where it might do some good for the church (though I would want first to ensure that WIF is committed only to ethical investments). I'm not speaking here as a moralist or as an ethicist but as an historian. Whatever you or I decide to do with our money it is certain that Wesley would not have invested it in WIF or anywhere else. He had none to invest becasue he felt it was his obligation to give it all away.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Winds of Worship

Hey it's time for the annual Hillsong Conference. In honour of that event I post here one of the magnificant new songs composed by Chris Tilling, a student at Tubingen whose blog Chrisendom is worth checking out for more such spiritual songs. You can go straight to the other songs in the collection here. Thanks to Steve Wright for the heads up on this. Now that he's a pastor he's always looking for more good worship songs.

Hip hip

Hey God,
Hip hip (worship leader)
Hooray (congregation)

Three cheers for God
Three cheers for God

For he’s
a jolly good God indeed
For he’s
a jolly good God indeed
For he’s
a jolly good God indeeeeeeeeed,

Oh yes God really is.

Bridge: Which nobody can deny X2

© Chris Tilling Really Very Holy Ministries (CTRVHM), 2006

Of course if you think this lacks sophistication you could always choose this one instead:

Dance Floor Diva
Unto Thee we declare our High-Calvinist supralapsarianism,
For our anthropopathism is only Moltmannian,
And not an anthropomorphic objectification,
For that would be mere antinomianism,
And not part of our catechism,

I could sing of the Homoousios (not homoiousios) forever
I could sing of the Homoousios (not homoiousios) forever
I could sing of the Homoousios (not homoiousios) forever
I could sing of the Homoousios (not homoiousios) forever X16

Nor do we honour naïve eisegesis, at thine Altar,
Nor a Gnostic hermeneutic that would
deny the Hypostatic union,
And affirm some kind of Sabellian Modalism
We love a critical critical realist epistemological exegesis

Away with Pelagius and in with sola gratia
And sine qua non, the parthenogenesisia
Away with pre-millennial, pre-tribulationism
And anachronistic scholastic individualism
maybe, Lord, in with a redeemed Preterism?

© Chris Tilling Really Very Holy Ministries (CTRVHM), 2006

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ecclesiastical Docetism

I recently heard it reported that a Bible College lecturer had said, "It is more important as a Christian to be a member of a non-Christian organisation than it is to be a member of a church." This has to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard a Bible college lecturer say. Certainly it IS essential to be involved in groups beyond the church. But MORE important than being IN the church? The church is the Bride of Christ, and the Body of Christ. How can people be so theologically cavalier as to suggest that it is an optional extra for Christians to be a part of the church? Being post-church is being post-Christ since the church is his Body. And don't give me any bull about being "in" the church but not "going" to church. The idea that the church can exist out there in in some kind of amorphous way without any concrete, local, and specific gathering around word, sacrament, and order is ridiculously gnostic. Of course, there are always exceptional circumstances that mean that a person may not be able to participate in A church and yet still be part of THE church. That is not my concern here. Rather it is people who cock their noses at EVERY local church and go their own way thinking that they can be disciples of Jesus Christ and in THE church without any concrete lived expression of community with other believers in A church. Some people at the extreme end of the missional church movement have told me that when they sit and talk to me in the uni cafe they are "having church" (read "having fellowship") and that is all the church they need. I categorically reject this idea. The Christian church is an embodied community gathered around word and sacrament with the Risen Christ at its very centre. It has a "thereness" to it - like the Incarnation itself - it can be pointed to so that we can say "there is the church." To borrow Edward Schilleebeckx's words the church is the sacrament of the kingdom. It is human, yes very human, and this is why the ecclesiastical Docetists don't have any time for it. Just like the Christological Docetists who only wanted a divine and not a human Christ and ended up with no Christ at all, so the ecclesiastical Docetists want some kind of ideal church and have let go of the fallen human community of believers only to be left with - what? No church at all.

Christian or Christ follower?

I do declare that the whole "I'm not a Christian; I'm a Christ follower" thing is lame-o. This will pass like so many other fads. We've been called "Christians" since New Testament times so it isn't going to change now. Sure, people have funny ideas about what a "Christian" is, but so what? You don't disown your family name because some members of your family do and say stupid things. It comes across to me as lacking in honest self reflection, not being willing to accept that the sins of the church are our sins - we as the whole Christian community have to live with who we are and what we have done, past, present and future. It's laughable to me that people say they don't want to use the word "Christian" because it might turn people off, when it's likely that saying "I'm a Christ follower" or "I'm a disciple of Jesus" is going to sound a whole lot weirder, like we are members of some kind of new cult or something. I know the motive is right (wanting to make it clear that the word "Christian" does not necessarily mean what you think it does) but a better way to avoid this misunderstanding is simply to live down the opposition, to overcome the objection to being "Christian" by living more like Christ. I wonder too if behind the statement there is sometimes the conceit that we are better Christians than those folks over there who call themselevs "Christian" but aren't really "disciples of Jesus" like we are. We are the "true" Christians and they are only the "nominal" ones. Again, it is better to stand in solidarity with the whole church and bear the shame and ignominy of bad Christian behaviour with grace and repentance than to "thank God that we are not like those sinners" who are supposedly "Christian" in name only.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Frank Capra Revisited

I have just read probably the best film review I have ever read. If you have the time (it's long but well worth it) read Rod Bennet's incredible essay on Frank Capra at Godspy. If you haven't seen It's A Wonderful Life or any of the other Capra films he discusses, it may not be as profound but if you know these classic films, I promise you that after reading this essay you will never hear the expressions "Capra-esque" or "Capra-corn" in the same way again! This essay and the film(s) it discusses will definitely find their way into my Theology and Film class next year. Click here to read it.

Let the Bodies Hit the Floor

If you want proof that the church is seriously loopy these days just watch this video. I'm not sure what religion this is but it sure as Hades ain't Christianity. Thanks to Rhett's blog Rhettspect.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Riddler Strikes

Entering my office door recently I found a Birthday card with my Bat-likeness on it, and the following cryptic missive:

No Batman it's not your birthday It's time to explain your theology.

Is Robin the son? Is Alfred the father?

Are you moving in the Spirit, Batman?
What motivates you to save the city?

Is your cosmos confined to Gotham City?
Are you a Southern Baptist in disguise?

Here is an easy one Batman:


I am three yet I am one
For theologians I'm a sum
One makes three and three makes one
(To Freud and Jung I am none)
Most explanations are unsatisfactory
Nicene defines me as homoousion to patri
Unless you answer simple and plain I'll tell the world that you are... Bruce Wayne!

The Riddler


Holy conundrums Boy Wonder! Let's see what comes out if we run it through the Bat Computer. The first four lines refer to the Trinity, but from then on it seems to be the Son who is in view ("homoousion to patri" meaning "the same as (in the sense of being of one essence with) the Father. As for the identity of the Riddler (aka Edward [E.] Nigma) I thought at first it was one of my Introduction to Theology students but the reference to Freud and Jung makes me wonder if it might be one of my Apologetics students instead. Hmmm, the plot thickens.

Friday, May 04, 2007

T.D. Jakes: Heresy or Hearsay?

The popular American preacher T.D. Jakes has recently come under fire in a number of "apologetics" sites specialising in sniffing out heresy wherever it can be found. A lot of these are "loony" sites that are finding that every man and his dog is a heretic so we have to be careful about evaluating their claims. Probably the best is this one from the Christian Research Institute (the link is broken but follow the prompt to the homepage and do a search on "T.D. Jakes"). Jakes responded to this article which led to the follow up at this link.

There was an article in Christianity Today about Jakes which also seems balanced though I have only read a fragment of it on their website. Jakes did write in response to it to defend his views here.

Jakes grew up in a Oneness (non-Trinitarian) Pentecostal Church, continues to have links with them and has never disavowed Oneness beliefs. You can read Jake's own church's (The Potter's House) belief statement here. Superficially this may seem OK but note that it says, "There is one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in three Manifestations: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." The idea that God exists in three manifestations is the ancient heresy of "modalism." In the CT article Jakes says, "We have one God, but he is Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Spirit in regeneration." This is classic textbook modalism. The "Doctrinal Statement" (also on the Potter's House website) refers to "Three Dimensions of God" - Under that heading we read the following:

"We believe in one God who is eternal in His existence, Triune in His manifestation, being both [sic] Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND that He is Sovereign and Absolute in His authority."

We believe in the Father who is God Himself, Creator of the universe. (Gen 1:1; John 1:1)

We believe that Jesus is the Son of God. (Col 2:9)"

Again, we see that God is said to be "Triune" but only "in his manifestation." Furthermore the Father "is God himself," while Jesus is only "the Son of God." This seems to be a form of monarchianism, wherein only the Father is fully God and the Son holds some sort of subordinate divinity. So, as Lewis Carroll said, "it gets curiouser and curiouser."

There is a difference of course between outright heresy and sloppy thinking on the Trinity. Jakes may simply be guilty of the latter. The Oneness Pentecostal churches hold what I believe to be clearly heretical views. Because Jakes was raised in this church and has never disavowed its beliefs, the influences of Oneness theology on Jakes is obvious. However, his exposure to the wider church because of his high profile may be helping him to see that the language of "three manifestations" or "three dimensions" of God is theologically problematic and he may be revising his earlier views accordingly. Let's hope so. He does stand as a good example however of an attitude in the church that says "correct theology is not that important, so long as we are getting results."

There is no question that Jakes is a powerful personality. He is something of a black icon, having befriended rappers and other high profile African-American entertainers. He preaches a prosperity Gospel, is filthy rich from book, cd and video sales and yet he has poured millions into ministry to the poor. If you've ever seen him preach you know the sway he has over audiences. Black preachers have always been more animated than us whities but this guy is Pentecostalism on steroids! My advice would be to pray for Jakes that the recent attacks may not cause him to be defensive and remain entrenched in Oneness views, but that he may sincerely examine those beliefs and become more orthodox. Time magazine has asked the question of Jakes, "Is this man the next Billy Graham?" If that turns out to be answered in the affirmative, it would be a bit of a worry if there is not a clear break with "Oneness" beliefs. Or are we now at such a late stage of decadence in Christianity that it will not matter to anyone?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Which Theologian Are You?

Apparently I am Karl Barth. Keep in mind however that the first time I did this quiz I was John Calvin (!). I could not live with myself if that were true so I took it again with only slight variations to my very self conscious answers (the questions on these things are woefully loaded of course) I managed to divest myself of my latent Calvinism only to find out I was neo-orthodox. Dang! I really wanted to be John Wesley! Hang on! He's not even on the list. Oh, it's that old chestnut again is it? Wesley was not a real theologian. Right, and Chalres Finney was I suppose?

You scored as Karl Barth. The daddy of 20th Century theology. You perceive liberal theology to be a disaster and so you insist that the revelation of Christ, not human experience, should be the starting point for all theology.

Karl Barth


John Calvin


Jürgen Moltmann


Martin Luther






Friedrich Schleiermacher


Charles Finney


Paul Tillich


Jonathan Edwards


Which theologian are you?
created with

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reading the Empty Tomb (John 20:1-18)

The empty tomb is a hard thing to explain. When Mary came to the tomb that first Easter morning she could not make any sense out of it. “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2) It remains true today that people do not know what to make of the empty tomb. The story is told of a theologian who had an a priori belief that the resurrection did not take place. An a priori belief is a belief that we set out with before we even investigate a matter. It’s a presupposition that will of course affect our conclusion. When pressed by a student, “Well, then what did happen that first Easter Sunday morning?” he could only reply, “I don’t know but I know it wasn’t the resurrection!”

People still fail to read the signs of Easter correctly. Somebody sent me a greeting card last year which depicted two chocolate bunnies, one turns to the other and says, “Happy Easter,” the second one has had both his chocolate ears bitten clear off, and can only reply, “Pardon?” There is a kind of spiritual deafness that afflicts us so that the words “Happy Easter” and the event that Easter celebrates don’t register with us.

A radio announcer a couple of weeks ago asked callers to phone in and tell him the lies their parents had told them when they were children. Things such as “If you eat your crust you’ll get curly hair,” and “if the wind changes while you’re pulling that face it will stay that way forever (a favourite of my grandmother’s). One caller said that his parents told him that the tune that the Mr. Whippy truck played meant, “Sorry, all out of ice cream.” Now, that’s really mean, but an even greater tragedy is that parents still continue to tell lies to their children about the music the church plays at Easter. We sing “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!” but people are told the resurrection is only a myth, or it’s a story some people listen to every year but it has nothing to do with us.

I heard two radio announcers mocking Palm Sunday last week. They attended the annual Palm Sunday peace march and when telling their Moslem taxi driver where they had been he asked them what Palm Sunday was. They didn’t know what it was except that it had something to do with Jesus riding a donkey. They didn’t want the told the taxi driver to think they were Christians just because they attended a Palm Sunday march. They joked with the taxi driver, “We wouldn’t want you to think we’re Christians just because we attend a Palm Sunday march, just like you wouldn’t want us to think you were a terrorist just because you’re a Muslim!” Now I’m all for the Palm Sunday peace march but it’s sad that many who attend it are not reading its message correctly.

When I bought a potted palm for Palm Sunday from a local nursery I told the young woman in the shop that I wanted it for a Palm Sunday service. She looked at me quizzically and said, “What’s Palm Sunday?” When I explained she said, “I’ve never heard of that. My partner’s religious, but I know nothing about it. He’s Catholic but he only goes to church for midnight Mass once a year at Easter.” When I asked if she had ever gone with him she said she had, and when I asked if she enjoyed the service she simply said, “It was interesting.” How are those young people interpreting the empty tomb? If the result is a once a year church attendance then they are misreading it as surely as Mary did when she go to the tomb and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Even though the empty tomb is a hard thing to explain, attempting to do so can lead to curiosity. Even with Mary’s lack of insight her word of testimony to the other disciples led Peter and John to run to the cave to see for themselves (vv. 3-10). In verse 13, Mary repeats the same words she had used earlier, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him!” this time to two angels who ask her why she is crying. Then she turned and saw Jesus but she didn’t recognise him. He asked her the same question as the angels, but he added, “Who is it you are looking for?” (v.15) Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” She is still not reading this situation clearly, even when Jesus is standing right in front of her. Only the reality of the risen Christ fully explains the empty tomb.

It was only when Jesus spoke her name, “Mary!” that her eyes were opened and she knew it was the Lord. She replied to his single word exclamation also with a single word – “Rabboni!” an Aramaic word meaning “teacher.” He says “Mary” and she says “Rabboni” and a world is spoken in just those two words.

We are confused by the signs of God’s presence in the world until we hear him speak our name and then our eyes are opened. Jesus is not merely alive because he lives in our memory. We often speak of famous people as being immortal or we say that they will “live forever” because of the contribution they made to the arts and sciences or to society. The famous comedian and Hollywood director Woody Allen was once asked whether he wanted to achieve immortality through his work. He replied, “No. I want to achieve immortality by not dying.” Which is it? Is Jesus alive because there are those who remembered and cherished the fact that once we walked this “vale of tears” or he alive because he has once and forever battered down the gates of death? Gerald O’Collins has said, “In a profound sense, Christianity without the resurrection is not simply Christianity without its final chapter. It is not Christianity at all.”

Mary went from “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him!” in v. 2, to her final exclamation in v. 18, “I have seen the Lord!” perhaps today we can take her journey and arrive at the same place. The empty tomb brought us to church again. After all it is Easter and you go to church at Easter right? You had your explanations perhaps about the meaning of the empty tomb or maybe you just figured it was a mystery too deep to explain and had put it in the too hard basket. But this Jesus is speaking your name. Perhaps with Mary, you will call out his name in reply and be able to say, “I have seen the Lord!”

The King of the Hill Goes to Church

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Palms or Passion?

Worship leaders are told that we have the option on this day of celebrating the Liturgy of the Palms that focuses on Jesus’ triumphal entry or a Liturgy of the Passion that focuses on his impending suffering and death. It’s a hard decision to make. Obviously the Liturgy of the Palms is more of a celebration but this seems somehow out of step with the more solemn services of Holy Week.
We don’t want to get to Easter Sunday too soon.

They call the walk from the condemned prisoner’s cell to the place of execution, “The Green Mile.” Jesus is not quite there yet but that time is approaching. All the more wonderful too him, therefore, knowing he had not much time left, must the joyous shouts of praise have been – “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” This is the focus of the Liturgy of the Palms. But the story has within it hints of the Liturgy of the Passion also.

One of the great westerns is the 1952 film High Noon starring Gary Cooper as embattled Marshall Will Kane who one by one loses the support of the townspeople so that he has to face the outlaws alone. They are coming into town on the noon train having sworn to kill the sheriff when they arrive. The film is shot roughly in real time and the director Fred Zinnemann masterfully builds the suspense by returning to two shots – the clock on the wall approaching twelve and the long railroad track stretching off into the distance and which will convey the bad guys into town. Every one has deserted him – his deputies, all the menfolk of the town, even those who boasted early that they could help him face the bad guys even his new bride has left him. One of the great lines in the film is when Kane replies to the question of why he has to go the final showdown he says, “I've got to, that's the whole thing.”

Well Palm Sunday is the last hurrah before people start deserting Jesus and he will have to face his High Noon alone just like Will Kane. Only here the stakes are much higher. Kane was facing his fears to protect his own dignity and self respect and for the protection of a small frontier town. But Jesus was facing his High Noon alone for the salvation of the world. Barclay reminds us that this…"was an act of glorious defiance, and of superlative courage. By this time there was a price on Jesus’ head (John 11:57). It would have been natural that, if He was going into Jerusalem at all, He should have slipped in unseen and hidden Himself in some secret place in the back streets. But he entered in such a way as to focus the whole lime-light upon himself, and to occupy the centre of the stage. It is a breath-taking thing to think of a man with a price upon his head, an outlaw, deliberately riding in to a city in such a way that every eye was fixed upon him. It is impossible to exaggerate the sheer courage of Jesus.” [William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke: Daily Study Bible (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1953), 249.] This was a well planned dramatic prophetic action in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets who sometimes acted out their prophetic messages in dramatic action. Barclay again…"Jesus entered Jerusalem in a way that deliberately set himself in the centre of the stage and deliberately riveted every eye upon himself. All through his last days there is in his every action a kind of magnificent and sublime defiance; and here he begins the last act with a flinging down of the gauntlet, a deliberate challenge to the authorities to do their worst."

In one sense Jesus is walking into a trap but it isn’t really a trap because he knows what will take place. “No one takes my life,” he says, “I give it.” Jesus started this journey to Jerusalem with a crowd, but he will end it alone, or all but alone, with only his mother and the beloved disciple staying by him.

Do you find when you watch a favourite movie, even though you know the outcome, you feel like you want to influence the players toward a different one? You know Rick is going to say to Ilsa in the final scene of Casablanca that she should get on that plane and leave with her husband. When Bogie says “it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” You know what’s coming; you’ve seen it all before. She’s going to get on that plane just the same as she has done every time you’ve watched the film. But there’s a part of you that wishes she wouldn’t.

In the same way the story of Easter is familiar to us. We know there is an inevitability to it and yet it still draws us in. There may not be real suspense any longer, because we’ve seen the ending, but there is still involvement and dramatic power. But there is one sense in which we can affect the outcome of the story – in our response to it. What if we were to walk with Jesus and share these experiences to some degree with him this week? Yesterday and today we have enjoyed time with friends and family – with the community of believers. This is what Jesus did before entering jeruslanm, he was with his friends at Bethany. We all have our Marys, Marthas and Lazaruses. Today we shout “Hosanna” and wave our Palm branches welcoming the King. What if tomorrow we were to drive out some money changers of our own as Jesus did when he went up to the temple? Perform some act of righteous indignation – sign a petition, write to our local member, challenge some injustice. During this last week Jesus taught several parables including the parable of the talents. On Tuesday we could ask ourselves whether we are utilising the talents we have been given, and whether we are ready to give our account to God. Charles Wesley wrote in 1762 -

A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!

Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare
A strict account to give!

Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured, if I my trust betray,
I shall for ever die.

Jesus spent Wednesday alone in prayer. What if on Wednesday we set aside some special time to be with God and to think about Jesus’ betrayal, and what ways we continue to betray him in our own lives? The early church fasted every Wednesday and every Friday, and John Wesley adopted this practice also - Wednesday in commemoration of Jesus’ betrayal, and Friday in commemoration of his death.

On Thursday we will have the opportunity to gather with the Lord and remember the institution of the Lord’s Supper in our Maundy Thursday service.

Friday will be a day of mourning, a day of deep agony, when sorrow and love will flow mingled down upon the most perfect brow of the Son of God. Will we be with Mary and John watching with them at the cross or will be trembling in hiding with the other disciples? I’m not asking, “will we be in church?” but something much more important, will we watch with Jesus, standing by him?

On Saturday the tomb will be sealed shut. Will we stand vigil and allow ourselves to let the tragedy of the death of Jesus really sink in?

When Sunday comes, we will be back here as we are each Sunday – but it will be a Sunday with a difference because the story has a twist. From Palms to Passion, and then...what?
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Palm Sunday at Spring Street

This is a photo taken last Sunday by Liselle Gonsalves of our altar table after members of the congregation had laid down their palm branches in honour of Christ the King during Eucharist. Thanks Liselle. There are also some great Eucharistic images, such as the one below, to be found at Rev. Melissa Powell's blog Pensees. Thanks Melissa.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Don't Look Back

Here's Bob Dylan behaving very badly indeed at a press conference. From the cinema verite classic Don't Look Back (1967), D. A. Pennebaker's take on the 1965 tour of England. Spare a thought for the poor bloke trying to do the interview! Megan may wish to differ from Dylan's opinion of himself as a singer, stated about 20 seconds from the close of the interview.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like Thunder On the Mountain, Bob Dylan in Melbourne 1966, The Concert for Bangladesh, The Magic of the Black Disc, and iPod Therefore I Am.

Revisiting Hellenism

One of my Kingsley students has entered the following interesting comment on the Intro to Theology blog.

This week I have been reading ‘The Shaping of Things to Come’ by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, anyone read it? On pages 119-123, the authors present an interesting discussion on the topic of Hebrew and Hellenistic thinking in early Christian doctrines and their impact upon Christendom throughout the History of the Church. I have found the authors comments to be interesting and am keen to hear anyone’s comments in response to what they have to say. In summery, they argue that early Christian doctrine and thinking, including the creeds were largely and inappropriately influenced by Hellenistic thinking; an imbalance which could have been avoided had the early church fathers stuck to a more ‘Hebraic Spirit’ when interpreting scripture and discussing Christian dogma. They also perceive that when discussing Christology, early theologians focused too much on speculative doctrines, topics such as the Trinity, rather than ‘…the very elements that are stressed in scripture; ethics, discipleship, life and mission…[while also there being] no mention at all of Jesus the revolutionary, the subversive, the activist.’ As you have been reading through theology this semester, what do you think? Too much speculative theology, not enough practical? If so, has this had a profound impact of Christendom? In ‘Christian Theology, an Introduction’ on page 276, the ‘History of Dogma’ is introduced in relation to the topic of a suffering God. In this case, recent theologians seem to have altered their theology on this topic due to them having discovered an inappropriate leaning toward Greek Philosophy by earlier Christian theologians. Is there a danger of the same being the case in numerous other topics of Christian theology? I suppose, in view of Church history and theology, such questions have been the very heart of those who have gone before. Thomas Aquinas, an advocate for Greek philosophy, and Tertullian of Carthage, a strong advocate against the merging of theology and philosophy would be examples of this. Maybe I’m asking questions that too big for our little theology class. None the less, I feel it doesn’t hurt to ask and ponder.

Here is my reply: Certainly we need to be careful that we don’t allow our theology to be unduly influenced by philosophy (Hellenistic or otherwise) and the example you gave about the rediscovery by contemporary theologians of a suffering God is an excellent case in point. However the simplistic Hebraism good/Hellenism bad typology can be pushed too far. After all, the New Testament itself was written in Greek and the Old Testament Bible of Jesus and the Apostles was the Greek Septuagint translation, a product of Hellenised Judaism.

According to Cyril C. Richardson, “It was the Greek, rather than the Jew, who became the inheritor of the Christian message - a fact which should give pause to those who unduly exaggerate the importance of Hebrew over Greek thinking.” Christianity both inherited and displaced the older Greek philosophical system. When the Christian Emperor Justinian closed the philosophical school in Athens in 529 it was in one sense a sign of the victory of Christian theology over earlier modes of thought, but also a sign that the older views were no longer captivating the human heart and mind. Pelikan reminds us that the closing of the school was “more the act of a coroner than an executioner.”

Yet this “victory” over Greek philosophy was not complete “for the theology that triumphed over Greek philosophy has continued to be shaped ever since by the language and the thought of classical metaphysics.” A good example of this is the medieval doctrine of transubstantiation with its reliance on Aristotle’s distinctions between “substance” and “accidence.”

The so-called “Hellenization” of Christianity continues to be viewed as a subversion of genuine Christian teaching. This may be too simplistic but it remains true that in struggling to overcome pagan thought Christian thinkers often accommodated its terms in such a way that a high price was paid. Clement of Alexandria, for example, was heavily influenced by Middle Platonism. Even Tertullian, who asked what Jerusalem had to do with Athens, applied philosophical categories in his very attempt to distance himself from philosophy! The continuing influence of Greek philosophy on Christian theology is evidenced in part by the latter’s keen interest on the twin themes of the “absoluteness of God” and the immortality of the soul. Christian theologians typically asserted the Greek concept of the impassibility of God (his inability to experience feelings) as a given without providing much biblical proof for the idea, a concept which, as you have pointed out, has come under increasing attack in more recent theology.

Still, we should not press this “Hellenization” theory too far as if Christianity were not making an entirely new contribution or did not have its own unique voice. Chadwick comments on the paradox of Clement of Alexandria being “Hellenized to the core of his being, yet unreserved in his adhesion to the church.” The Fathers very often modified Greek philosophical ideas in light of Scripture. Indeed, Pelikan has argued that the theology of the creeds may well be seen a result of the “dehellenization” of earlier errors and that the real place to find Hellenism is among the heretics!

It could also be argued that Hellenized Christians were living in a Greek-speaking, Greek-thinking culture, so that Hellenising its message was simpy being missional! They utilized the thought forms of the very air that the church was breathing, in order to speak the truth of the gospel to a watching world. Indeed, it could be argued that if the church had failed effectively to Hellenize its message it would have remained a Jewish sect, exerting little influence on the surrounding world.


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