Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What Story Does This Tell?

Are talented worship leaders and singers more likely to be physically attractive than not? Or have we as Christians failed in our calling to evaluate people from the inside out? That's not to even suggest that any of the above are unqualified for the task to which they have been called, but perhaps there are some gifted songwriters who will never see the light of day because they look at who is in Christianity's spotlight and feel they don't measure up.

The longer I stick around, the more convinced I am that if Christianity is to have anything to say to the world, the message of the cross demands that it be said by the weak, the marginalised, the ones we esteem not, the ones who have no beauty or majesty with which to attract us, with nothing in their appearance that we should desire them.

Come to Christ, the proponent of positive discrimination!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Film Watchers

Do we have a duty to be responsible, informed, and thoughtful film watchers? If stories are powerful things, how dangerous is it to be uncritical about them? Can we really just shut our brains off and enjoy some "harmless fun", or in doing so are we numbing our imaginations and moral consiousness? What about films that aim at seriousness and critique, such as American Beauty for example? How well versed are we to see what is really going on, what message is being communicated?

The stories we are drawn to will shape us, for better or worse. This reality should have profound affects on all that we watch and the way we watch it.

"Could still be fun though."

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Conversion of the Imagination

What makes for a good movie? What makes for a good piece of music? What makes for a good blog post?

"Room for imagination."

Tom Wright says that "the onlooker needs room for imagination, and loses interest if the artist leaves no room for it."

This has finally made me realise what it is about Heat (the movie, not the magazine) that I love so much. Everytime I watch it, I'm left thinking that different outcomes can transpire. My imagination refuses to conform to what I know to be true, and instead runs wild with the possibilites that the movie creates there and then, in the present. Maybe they'll kill Waingro right at the beginning, maybe they'll get away with the bank job, maybe McCauley won't chase revenge and will simply fly to freedom with his lover.

Perhaps it's time I stop thinking of theology as a science and start thinking of it as an art. If Jesus and his parables are anything to go by, then it is imagination that gets us closer to the heart of God. This shouldn't be surprising, since God himself is a creator, an artist.

Orson Welles said,

I want to give the audience a hint of a scene. No more than that. Give them too much and they won’t contribute anything themselves. Give them just a suggestion and you get them working with you. That’s what gives the theater meaning: when it becomes a social act.

On most if not all occasions what we get in the gospels is only "a hint of a scene", but maybe that is precisely what we need if we are to know in the way we ought to know.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


C.S. Lewis defined an unliterary person as someone who reads books only once.

In honour of my second reading (yes, that makes me better than you) of N.T. Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG), I'm going to post some selected quotes as I go along. Expect maybe one or two a week. If you've read the book already this will be a nice refresher. If you haven't, then perhaps something you read here will spark enough interest to make you go out and get a copy. You would not be wasting either your time or your money should you do so - that's a guarantee.

The point of having Jesus at the centre of a religion or a faith is that one has Jesus: not a cypher, a strange silhouetted Christ-figure, nor yet an icon, but the one Jesus the New Testament writers know, the one born in Palestine in the reign of Augustus Caesar, and crucified outside Jerusalem in the reign of his successor Tiberius. Christianity appeals to history; to history it must go. The recognition that the answers we may find might change our views, or even our selves, cannot and must not prevent us from embarking on the quest.

In Relationship, At Risk

Think of a time you thought something would happen and it ended up not happening.

Given how many expectations we have, it's surprising how relatively few of them are not realised. When I go to sleep at night, I fully expect to wake up. So far I have not been disappointed. When I sit on a chair, I expect it to hold me without breaking. When someone says something to me, I expect to hear them.

Such expectations are almost always met. We don't even think about them as possibilities. As far as we are concerned, they are certainties. But of course they are not certainties, and every so often we get a stark reminder of that. A chair breaks. An illness affects our hearing. A friend dies.

It is relationships that cause the biggest and most frequent gaps between expectations and reality. Choosing to love another person puts you deeply at risk, because now your expectations are resting not on favourable probabilities but on complex persons who can make all sorts of choices. Of course as a relationship grows, so to do the percentage probabilities of certain outcomes, while the choices actually decrease. This is epitomised in the act of proposing, where the man eventually leaves the woman with only two choices - yes or no. Before he gives her that choice, of course, days/weeks/months/years have been spent putting the probability of a "Yes" in his favour. As risky as this yes or no question is, as risky as a positive answer to this question is, he would not ask it if he didn't expect a Yes.

But what if she says Yes, what if the marriage goes ahead, and then she proves to be unfaithful? Or what if the husband is the unfaithful one? An expectation is not met, a promise is broken, and a heart is shattered.

To be in relationship is to be at risk, in small ways and in the largest of ways.

Consider these words spoken by a person in the Bible who knows this full well:

And I thought, 'After she has done all this she will return to me', but she did not return...

The husband thought his wife to return to him, but she did not return. An expectation is not met, an imagined future is not realised. The husband loved, he put himself at risk, but all he got in return was disappointment and heart break.

This person in the Bible is YHWH.

If God's love for Israel put him so at risk, how much more at risk is he in the giving of his son for the sake of the world?

If God's greatest act of love is to be one with relational integrity, perhaps the real question isn't so much what happens to people who do not accept it, but what happens to God himself if his love is rejected?

Finally, if God's relentless love for faithless Israel is such that Paul can say "all Israel will be saved", what about the future of a faithless world?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Better Story To Tell?

When I look at the lists of the most popular movies with Christians it always includes Braveheart, The Patriot, on and on and on; movies that have great qualities, but they're almost always the favourites of Christian groups because they're about people who have been dealt an injustice, who pick up their weapons and go out and bring down justice violently on the bad person...and sometimes they even get to sleep with the sexy princess along the way, in honour of their murdered wife, of course.

You know, I just...don't we have a better story to tell?

We love it when the Christians win. "Come to Jesus. Pray. And look at all the good that will happen." "Come To Jesus. If you haven't been able to get pregnant, you will. You might even end up with a good truck." Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not condemning these films, but I'm wondering what they're saying. I came to Christ and my life got a whole lot harder...and it's getting worse - just like he promised!

I've never heard of Jeffrey Overstreet before, but he has some very interesting stuff to say about storytelling which you can watch and hear at the Rabit Room.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A New Story? # 8 - Don't Forget to Call

One thing often forgotten by modern readers of the Genesis creation accounts is this: They are Jewish documents written by Jewish people for Jewish people , and therefore they are completely irrelevant to you and me.

The more I read Genesis 1-3, the more I see a story not of creation, fall, redemption, but of something a little different. The jump from creation to fall is too sudden, too clean cut.

Consider Adam. He was created by God, but that wasn’t the end of God’s dealings with Adam until “the fall”. After God “formed” Adam, He did two things: He planted a garden, and then placed Adam in the garden. In this (what John Drane calls) “faith story”, Adam was not born into Eden. He was brought to Eden by God.

Verse 15 of chapter 2 puts it like this:

Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Adam’s life didn’t begin in a garden of paradise. It began somewhere else, until God called him to the garden he had prepared.

Creation. Call.

This was a familiar story to ancient Israelite ears. Like Adam, they were “formed” by God (Isa. 43:1). Like Adam, they were called out of somewhere and brought to a new and beautiful place (Hosea 11:1). But also like Adam, their disobedience to the call led to exile from God’s promised land.

The story of Adam is the story of Israel. The story of Israel is the story of the world.

The story of Jesus rights the wrongs of all three of these stories. To be “in Christ” therefore means to be re-created and re-called. Re-created in the image of a crucified and resurrected Messiah, re-called to a life lived in the fullness of this image, all of which is possible – no, guaranteed -- through the power of God’s life-giving spirit. It is this spirit, this unique “presence-ing” of God that Adam never had, which is arguably the whole point of the biblical story (and which is sadly overlooked by many, myself included).

  • God, Adam, Abraham, Jesus, Spirit, Church.

  • Creation, Call, Disobedience, Exile – Incarnation, Call, Obedience, Return, Presence

Monday, September 13, 2010


I'm going to make some changes 'round these here parts in the coming week/s. The design is going to get an overhaul, and the content is going to become more focussed. The last time I studied the Bible my biblioblog suffered, ironically enough. My m.o. for updating this thing is usually just spur of the moment posting, but since the majority of my life will now be spent knee deep in theology I know I won't feel like doing blog posts off-the-cuff in my spare time.

With a structure in place, however, I will have the necessary drive to fulful the tasks I set myself. That's my story anyway, and I'm sticking to it.

I'll wait until I get into the groove of college life before devising my fiendishly brilliant scheme, but expect it to consist of about 4 posts a week - one on something biblical/theological, one on a "current issue", one on life in Northern Ireland, and one on something light-hearted. It's all open to change at this early stage of development, however, so if you have any sugggestions then please make them known via comment or email. If they're good then I'll be more than happy to pass them off as my own.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


I can't. It's a calling, isn't it? I can't be uncalled for the day. Anyway, I've gotta go and do school assembly for Ellie and get cross-examined by a whole load of atheist 9-year-olds.

- Rev. Adam Smallbone


I tend to find congregations prefer Corn Flakes to Museli, theologically speaking.

- The Archdeacon

Just some of the choice moments in the BBC2 show Rev., which is about the life of an inner city vicar struggling to find meaning in his vocation. That premise won't appeal to most, but if it does then you're in for a treat, because Rev is refreshingly honest, perceptive, and genuinely funny. It's also strangely uplifting, but that's another post for another day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Narratable Gospel?

We have not thought of Paul as a storyteller, for the Jesus stories of the Gospels are absent from his letters. Yet his use of narrative is very important…because Paul’s central concern was to use the narrative [of Jesus] to form a moral community. The pivotal story for Paul was simple and astounding: God’s son and anointed one was the very Jesus who was most shamefully crucified, dead, and buried, but whom God then raised from the dead, exalted to share his own throne and very name in heaven, to sit at God’s right hand as Lord until all things would be subjected to him and God alone would reign in righteousness over all his people and creation. The drama of Paul’s career turns on his recognition that that story shattered and recreated his own conception of a life lived in obedience to God’s will.

This paragraph is from The Origins of Christian Morality by Wayne Meeks, which is then quoted by Richard Hays in his essay "Is Paul's Gospel Narratable?"

I'm in love with the last sentence by Meeks, and will echo it to form a definition of repentance:

Repentance means recognizing that the story of Jesus shatters and recreates our conception of a life lived in obedience to God's will.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Speaking Of Literal

Here's a video of N.T. Wright on the issue at hand.

The Problem With Literalism Is That It's Full of Literalists

Should we read the historical books of the Bible as having a one-to-one corresponance between "event" and "account of event"? To ask this another way, should we read the historical books "literally"?

Peter Enns argues that we should not. Reading the Bible this way places a weight on it that it cannot bear. Do you agree?

Enns uses an example from the OT to demonstrate his point, but how about the NT? Taking the gospels as "historical books" (in some sense of the term), what are we to make of the differences in the accounts? For example, Mark says that Jesus was anointed with oil a few days after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. John records this incident as happening before Jesus's triumphal entry into the holy city. Of course you could argue that Jesus must have been anointed twice, but that would just be silly.

What, then, are we to make of this? To some, this proves that the Bible is a sham. To others, this is to be ignored so that a "literal" reading can be maintained.

The theological implications are profound: what do these historical discrepancies do to the doctrine of inerrancy? What do they do to our understanding of Scripture in general?


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Press Like

"Let's see how many true Christians are on FB! Press Like if Jesus is your Saviour!!"

This seems logical. If you want to know who the true Christians are, a fan page on Facebook ought to separate the wheat from the chaff.

After all, as our Saviour once said, "You shall know them by their groups."

A New Story? # 7 - Free Fallin'

The story of Genesis is a "compassionate coming-of-age" story. So says Brian McLaren in his book A New Kind of Christianity. It is in this context that the section known as "The Fall" fits.

The Greco-Roman way of viewing this section is of mankind undergoing an ontological shift from perfect to sinful. The perfect state is traded in for a messy story. Paradise is lost.

I've had difficulties with this viewpoint for a while. It's like a chicken and egg scenario: Did Adam sin because he was sinful, or did Adam become sinful because he sinned? Can someone who is perfect do something imperfect? Can someone who only knows one language suddenly utter words in another?

This is usually the point when "free will" is mentioned, but I'm not so sure that solves the problem. Consider where the Biblical story ends: New Creation, with human beings created in the likeness of Jesus. For the sake of argument we'll call this "perfection". If the story of "the fall" is a story of perfection descending to imperfection, who is to say that this won't happen again?

Well, I don't think it will happen again. Therefore I think the beginning of the story was something quite different to the end. Adam was "very good", but he couldn't have been "perfect" in the sense of the absolute finished product. That he wilfully disobeyed God leads me to believe that he wasn't much different to you or me. As I said before, the goal is not for us to recover the life of Adam pre-Fall. The goal is new life in Christ.

Where, then, does this leave "The Fall"? Why the move from unashamedly naked to deep shame? Before there is blessing, now there is curse. Before there is garden, now there is wilderness. Adam's disobedience had major ramifications, but the traditional notion of the Fall seems to put more weight on Adam than a man of dust should have to bear.

Here's another way of framing the opening of the story:

Creation, call, disobedience, decay

I'm running ahead of myself here, but there are two good reasons for tracing the narrative as such. I'll call them "Abraham" and "Jesus".

The call of Abraham was God's first step in his re-creation of a world in decay. The obedience (or faithfulness) of Abraham was the required response, and was a counter move to man's (Adam's) disobedience to God's original call to be his representative on earth. Jesus, as the seed of Abraham, also had a call ("Out of Egypt I called my son"). His obedience unto death was the climax of the old creation and the beginning of the new.

Perhaps a simpler way to frame the story is to list every story's central component: Characters.

God, Adam, Abraham, Jesus, Church

What say you? Does the Fall need to be re-thought in light of the story's ending?

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Queen of the Sciences

This day next week I commence a three year Degree in Theology in Belfast Bible College.


There are many answers to that question. I could start by saying that I already hold an undergraduate degree in Fincancial Mathematics and Economics, but it's as useful for my career advancement as a piece of paper with the words "I'm not that good, but please hire me anyway" written in crayon.

This may sound like sour grapes, but I'm not overly upset that I don't get to crunch numbers at a computer five days a week. Nevertheless, I do wish that my degree was worth something. I regret not applying myself to the course. Enthused or not, talented or not, there is a responsibility on each of us to work as hard as we can in whatever we do. To quote the French economist and philosopher Arsene Wenger,

Nobody has enough talent to live on talent alone. Even when you have talent, a life without hard work goes nowhere.

Coming out of secondary school with good Leaving Cert results, I thought I had enough talent to live on it alone. I didn't. Not even close. What's more, I still don't. I often wish I was more talented. I wish I was smarter, I wish I could memorise tons of great quotes, I wish I could articulate my thoughts in a clearer way, I wish I was a better soccer player, I wish I could do what Clive Carroll does with an acoustic guitar, I wish I could write like David Simon, I wish I was funnier. But I'll tell you what I don't wish - I don't wish that I worked harder.

My life since college has been confusing, through every fault of my own. But a couple of years ago a glimmer of hope emerged. I sat at the feet of Dr Arden Autry -- now Scholar in Residence at First United Methodist Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma -- and passion for something began to enter my bloodstream after a long hiatus. Bad habits die hard, but at least in the area of academic study I did something I hadn't done in a while: I worked. Hard. After eeking my way through four years of Financial Maths and Econmics, getting grades that resembled a selection of temperatures from a spot of cold-ish weather in Massachussetts, I once again had numbers on an end-of-year transcript to be proud of.

Unsure of what exactly to do after the year of Biblical Studies, however, I slipped into old habits once more. I knew what I wanted to do in general (something to do with the Bible), but the desire to take the path of least resistance is not easily surrendered. The grace of God prevailed, however. This is no absract statement, but one with skin and bones, flesh and blood.

The question that began this post was "Why?" Why am I commencing a Degree in Theology? One of the answers is a simple, straight-forward one: My parents. Without their genorosity and grace I would be doing no such thing. I feel like I don't deserve to be doing this course. I have wasted too many years, spent too long in the wilderness to come out of it like this. I'm sure my parents feel partly like fools as they send me to Belfast. To many I'm sure they look like fools. But such is the risk of grace. No doubt the father felt a fool as he threw a party for his prodigal son. No doubt the townspeople thought he had lost the plot. The logic of grace can find no justification in the natural mind. Charismata -- the stuff of grace -- is of the spirit.

That being said, with the grace that has been given to me I now have a fresh responsibility. Talent (and talents, in the New Testament sense of the word!) have been supplied. What will I do? A tatoo on my hand reading "Remember Arsene Wenger" might not be a bad idea.

Richard Hays lays the path before me in another way. Though of course not addressing me directly in the video posted below, I can perform an act hermeneutical gymnastics and hear his words as words spoken to me:

If you're going to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem -- or, if you're going to embark on serious Christian study in this place -- be prepared to pay the price. Not just the price of your tuition, though that's challenging enough. But the price of wholehearted devotion to a cause so compelling that it will demand your whole life.

The strange, new world of the Bible has sunk its teeth into me. But "serious Christian study" comes with a price. Nothing less than all of me is required.

Of course, Hays's words apply to all of us who identify with Jesus, and to all aspects of our lives. Only yesterday was I reading about Peter's great confession followed quickly by Peter's great correction. He gets that Jesus is the Messiah, but "may it never be" that Jesus should have to suffer and die. Jesus's response is harrowing: "You don't have in mind the things of God, but the things of man."

So much of modern Christian life is lived though the mind of man. We expect certain comforts, certain securities, a way of life that is far removed from taking up a cross and following Jesus to certain death.

Even -- or perhaps Especially -- as I approach a degree in Theology I can have expectations in complete antithesis to the gospel. Oh how I want to be learned, thought of highly, an authority - all for the sake of ego. The way of the cross stands as a stumbling block to these ends: It is the way of self-empying love, humility, servanthood.

I don't want the fruit of three years in Belfast to be either a stick with which to beat people or shiny object with which to dazzle those "uneducated" Christians. I want this three-year experience to be an instruement of God's "troubling grace" - a grace that shapes me into a person who loves well.

To paraphrase one of the world's leading theologians, I can have all the theological knowledge in the world, but if I have not love then I am nothing.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Mastery

I was alerted to this video on one of my favourite blogs, but screw that whole HT thing. For starters, I still don't even know what the letters stand for. Actually, that about covers it.

I'll post something on the contents of the video in a day or two, but for now just watch and soak in the mastery of Dr Richard B. Hays, Dean of Duke Divinity School.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Jesus In Summary

Who is Jesus? Here's a thoroughly biblical summary of the man from Terry Eagleton:

Jesus...appears to do no work, and is accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. He is presented as homeless, propertyless, celibate, peripatetic, socially marginal, disdainful of kinsfolk, without a trade, a friend of outcasts and pariahs, averse to material possessions, without fear for his own safety, carelss about purity regulations, critical of traditional authority, a thorn in the side of the Establishment, and a scourge of the rich and powerful. Though he was no revolutionary in the modern sense of the term, he has something of the lifestyle of one.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Worth A Watch

There is a good discussion on the Bible that you can watch here. Man of the hour Brian McLaren features, as do Tim Keller, Alister McGrath, and Dempsey Rosales-Acosta. This is well worth a watch, both for its content and its tone. I particularly enjoyed McGrath's contribution. I have yet to read any of his work, but very much aim to rectify that after hearing this.

Feel free to discuss the video in the comments section, by the way.

A New Story? # 6 - The Journey So Far

We've been having a conversation with Brian McLaren over the past week. It started with simply opening our eyes and ears to what he has to say. His most recent book, A New Kind of Christianity, generated a lot of heat when it first came out. The general impression I got was that, ironically, the "Brian McLaren is dangerous" camp were happy with it while the "Brian McLaren might be on to something" camp were unhappy. The former thought that with this book McLaren finally came out of the heretic closet, and so they were happy to have some concrete evidence against thier danger man. The latter thought that McLaren may have veered too off course for them to follow his trail, and so reluctantly they pulled up. Of course many are still side by side with McLaren on his spiritual quest, willing to journey with him to the depths of orthodoxy and unorthodoxy in order to emerge with a hidden pearl of great price.

I am none of the above people. I'm new to this environment. A visitor from out of town, seeing some commotion and asking McLaren what it's all about.

The launching pad for McLaren's exploration is his disillusionment with the traditional overarching story of Scripture and discovery of a new narrative. For McLaren, the old story is neither morally believable nor biblical. It is, rather, a story steeped in Greco-Roman thought, which is wholly different to the very Jewish worldview of the Bible - the worldview McLaren seeks to recapture.

He begins this mission by looking at the creation narrative in new light. The result, so far, is more a severely edited version of the old narrative than a brand new one. McLaren's argument is not without deliberate provocation and obvious contradiction (nothing new for the man who is both conservative and liberal, Catholic and Protestant, Calvinist and Armenian), but I find in many of his thoughts a deep resonance with my own when I am most honest.

The conversation has been interesting so far, and will remain so as we discuss what is commonly dubbed "The Fall".