Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Films, Books and Television

 Here's a little round-up of my favourite/least favourite films/books/tv shows from the past year.

**Possible spoiler alerts**
Favourite Film

This has been a relatively quiet year of film watching for me. Looking at "Top 10" lists on other sites usually leaves me only recognising a minority of the films listed. Inception is one of those. I liked it, but more in the way I like a beautiful mathematical formula. I failed to connect with the film on an emotional level, which brings it down a notch. I also agree with a reviewer who said that for a film about dreams it is much too orderly. Harsh as it may sound, I think Inception lacked imagination.

The prize, then, goes to The Social Network. To make a two-hour film about designing a website is an achievement in itself, but to make it compelling is something else. The Social Network captures the spirit of our age. It may not represent accurate history, but the story it tells represents reality as we know it.

For better or worse, Mark Zuckerberg has defined a generation. The Social Network is therefore not just good; it's significant.

Most Disappointing Film

I could give this to Robin Hood. That would be a reasonable thing to do. I wrote about that mess after watching it, and stand by every word. Instead, the winner of this dubious award will have to be The Town.

Watching The Town was just like one of my sunny days. The worst thing I can say about it is that I'm not sure I'm able so say anything good about it. An unbelieveable male lead -- that is to say, a male lead who cannot be believed -- is the start of its troubles. A female love interest who is a love interest because, well, it's convenient for the plot doesn't help. Then there is the investigator who spends the entire film showing us how big his testicles are...metaphorically of course. Why do we even need an investigator in this film? He doesn't actually do any investigating, at least to any fruitful end.

Funnily enough, the most outrageous character in the film was actually the most believable, and therefore represented the only glimmer of light in a dark tunnel. Jeremy Renner played the part of psychotic hatchetman to perfection. His unwavering committment to violence and mayhem made some of the scenes worthy of a second watch.

But if The Town was hanging by a thread coming into the final stretch, Ben Affleck came on the scene with a high-powered chain saw and put it out of its misery. The last 20 minutes or so is as bad a resolution to a film that you'll see. Watch it, and see if you don't vomit in disgust. As I commented on Facebook afterward, "He now has a beard - he must have found redemption!" (How funny am I!?)

The strangest thing is, people rate this film very highly. It has been mentioned as a worthy follow on from Heat, which is tragic. It has a 90+% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Why? What do people like about this film? It is, as far as I'm concerned, a movie that is (vaguely) about redemption that has no redeeming qualities. The best thing I can say about The Town is that it makes me appreciate Michael Mann's cops-and-robbers classic all the more.

I'll fill in the blanks in due course...

Favourite Book

Most Disappointing Book

Favourite TV Show

Most Disappointing TV Show

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Desire To Explain

According to Stanley Hauerwas, modernity is characterised by a "desire to explain". This is why the scientific method is given pride of place when it comes to deciding what is true. In the link I posted below, Ricky Gervais says he is an atheist because "there is no scientific evidence" for the existence of God. Whether Gervais's statement is true is another matter, but say that it is. Say that there is absolutely no scientific evidence to suggest God exists. Does this fact, or indeed lack of "facts", require us to disbelieve the existence of God?

A phrase quoted by Merold Westphal sums up the position of scientism - "Anything my net doesn't catch isn't a fish". In other words, "If my method can't examine and explain it, then "it" can't be true." There is a subtle move here from a position that says "Science gives us knowledge of reality" to one which affirms, along with Gervais and many others, that "Nothing but science gives us knowledge of reality." William James says of this latter position,

a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from ackowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule.

Stanley Hauerwas says that the "desire to explain" is pervasive within the church. It is an act of unhealthy control, especially when it comes to Scripture. We apply our scientific methods to the Bible in order to "get behind" the text and uncover what's really there. And of course it goes without saying that "anything my net doesn't catch isn't fish." That is, anything my hermeneutic doesn't uncover isn't relevant. 

When it comes to the interface of Scripture and sermon,  Mogwai fear satan Hauerwas fears explanation:

I fear that attempts to "explain" or "translate" Scripture too often manifest our attempt to make God conform to our needs. Of course God does love us, but his love usually challanges the presumption that we know what we need. The presumption that the gospel is "all about us" too often leads us to think "good" sermons are those "I got something out of." But sermons, at least if they are faithful to Scripture, are not about us - they are about God. That a sermon should direct our attention to God does not preclude that we should "get something out of it." But you will have an indication that what you got may be true if you are frightened by what you heard.

If explanations aren't the goal, then what is? "Showing connections" is the Hauerwasian answer. I won't explain what he means by that, partly because it would defeat the purpose of this post, but mostly because I don't know what he means by that.

For Hauerwas, the truth which all methods -- including the scientific method -- ought to point towards is that the world is "judged and redeemed by Christ". The goal of all truth-telling, then, is to help us develop the "imaginative skills" so that we can see the world in this light. Hauerwas applies this specifically to sermons, but numerous connections can be made between his statement and other disciplines.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Good News Of Christmas

Humankind is hopeless....Hope will depend on a move from God.
- Walter Brueggemann

Christmas represents one such move. Far from being the "unmoved mover", God was moved so much so that he chose to change his own history -- and therefore the history of the world -- in a way that we could never have imagined.

Three early Christian hymns sing about this dramatic move of God. In Philippians 2, one "who was in the form of God" became "born in the likness of humanity". God becomes a servant. God becomes obedient - obedient unto death. What kind of God is this? What kind of move is this?

Colossians 1 sings of the one by whom all things were created. He is the artist whose work of art stands as a testimony to his creativity and beauty. But the painting has been spoiled, and it will take the artist becoming a work of art to restore and renew. As in Philippians, this is a move that anticipates death. It is a move towards the cross. This is not art as we know it. What kind of God is this? What kind of move is this?

John 1 waxes lyrical about The Word. "The Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Word created our world. But one great act of creation was not enough. The darkness of the present world gave need for New Creation. This second great act began with the creation of The Word made flesh. The Word stands at the beginning of the old. The Word made flesh stands at the beginning of the new. The unseen God made a move to be seen. But his act of revelation was met by the world with a "did not know" and "did not receive". "The Word in the world creates conflict", says Dr Autry. Death threatens this move of God. What kind of God is this? What kind of move is this?

To quote my former teacher once more, "The incarnation reveals deity and heals humanity." The incarnation reveals a deity who will stoop as low as he can go in order to heal humanity. He will become like the ones who have chosen to be his enemies. But he will reveal himself to be their friend. The incarnation, in simple terms, is a move of friendship. It is a move toward "shared story". The story of the world, which became the story of Israel, has become the story of God in Jesus. This is why the death of Jesus is inevitable, but this is also why reconciliation becomes possible.

To complete the hat-trick, "Our story became his story so that his story could become our story". The story of Christmas begins the story of life, death, and life again. It is a story which depends from start to finish on "a move from God". Our brokeness moved him with compassion. His compassion moved him to enter fully into our brokenness, even to the point of death. But death does not get the last word.

The good news of Christmas -- the good news of incarnation -- is that creation is swallowed up by life.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Jervais On Atheism

Here's an article written by Ricky Jervais about atheism. Of course write about theism/atheism on the internet and you get, well, 3,684 comments. (Well, some people do, but I'm not bitter. Not bitter at all.)

Anyway, have a read.

Shared Story

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
Paul and Silas in prison.
Declan at the beach in Florida.

This is communication through story. Shared story. This is how an alien race in Star Trek converse with each other. They dip into the myths and stories of the past, and convey presents thoughts through allusion to these common narratives. The crew of the Enterprise understand the words, but they don't know what they mean because they aren't "in" on the stories.

The alien captain could have said to Picard, "You and I are going to go down to that planet and join forces to defeat a common enemy." Picard would have known what that meant. But all Picard got was, "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra." Without knowing the story of Darmok and Jalad, the words meant nothing to an outsider.

Nevertheless, there was a way for Picard to interpret, and the alien captain knew that way. It was the way of experience. Picard could not share the story of the past, but he could share a story in the present, and through that shared experience he could begin to interpret. By quite literally joining the alien captain on a planet in order to defeat a common enemy, he figured out what Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra was all about. These two heroes embodied a story of heroes past, and through that embodiment Picard's eyes were opened. Perhaps now he knew what Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra meant in a much deeper way than if someone explained the story to him.

There are numerous connections to be made between this story and theology/hermeneutics/church praxis, but the reality I think it touches the most (which I suppose is a reality soaked in theology/hermeneutics/church praxis) is friendship. It speaks of friendship as shared story, which is really its essence. We share our stories of the past with one another, so that the words "Declan at the beach in Florida" assume meaning. We also share experiences together, so we can talk about "That time we...". Even just one word shared between friends can trigger a whole narrative; a whole web of meaning that grounds communication in something deeper.

I sometimes look at a couple who have been married for longer than I've been alive and wonder how the communication hasn't dried up. After so many years together, surely you've said everything to each other that can be said? But this is to ignore their shared story. They have a history together that will always be talkaboutable, and they are creating new stories every day. Stories of laughter, stories of pain, stories of hope. From the outside looking in their communication might at times be incomprehensible -- as it was for Picard and his crew -- but when you're on the inside the stories mean the world.

"Our words create our worlds." Our shared stories create our world.

Jesus on a cross at Calvary.

Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Essay Formerly Known As "The Myth of The Fall"

One of the reasons I chose to study Financial Mathematics and Economics was that I wouldn't have to write any essays. Other reasons were that I wasn't sure what else to do and it had a cushy number of lecture hours. A degree frought with danger from the outset, some might say.

Between finishing my first undergraduate degree and starting my second (you mean you've only ever done one?), I've taken up the art of writing. Of course it could be well argued that blogging is one thing, the art of writing another, and never the twain shall meet. But legitimate grievances aside, words are words and writing is writing.

Nevertheless, writing a blog post and writing an academic essay present two very different challenges. It's like moving from writing text messages only to writing a proper email. Gone are the "c u sn"'s and "l8r"s, hello to the "see you soon"s and "later"s. The same brain is doing the work, but it is being forced to refine its way of expressing itself.

The problem with this is that you can easily end up being untrue to yourself. An email, or an essay, becomes generic -- the literary equivalent of paint-by-numbers. The only thing to distinguish it as your work is that it has your name attached. I haven't avoided this pitfall in my opening attempt at writing an essay. But I am trying to write in such a way that the words come out of me rather than me re-arranging words from external sources. That's not to say I'm attempting complete originality. Rather, the goal is to soak myself in the words of others and then to express myself as only I can given this rich heritage that is slowly becoming a part of me.

Though I avoided them like the plague in the past, essays are a gift. The opportunity to write one and have it graded by somone who knows more than me is one that should be treated with a healthy mix of seriousness and joy. This first one that I've attached below was a labour of love. It was for a module called "The Biblical Story", so I tried to make it as story-ish as I could. Have a read and see what you think.

Setting the Scene

Primal Conflict
“A major feature of any story is its central conflict.”[1] The Biblical story is no exception. What’s surprising is how soon conflict appears on the scene. Genesis opens with a poetic retelling of God’s creative action, climaxing with his creation of human beings – bearers of imago dei (Gen. 1:26-27). This new human life is characterised by “vocation, permission, and prohibition.”[2] Living under God’s wise and loving rule, Adam and his wife enjoy an existence free of shame (Gen. 2:25). They are at peace with God, with one another, and with the whole of creation. Conflict arises, however, when the vocation, permission and prohibition given by God are neglected in favour of autonomy. Curse is introduced to a world that had previously only known blessing. Which of these two will triumph?

This story of primal conflict is merely the first in a series of connected rebellious episodes[3], culminating with people constructing a tower in Babel to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:1-4). With humanity subsequently scattered throughout the earth in a state of confusion, the stage is set for God to make a fresh promise to Abram.

The Faithfulness of God
Though the authorship of Genesis is inconclusive[4], two things are known – Genesis was written by the people of Israel and for the people of Israel. The implications of this have not always been appreciated by modern readers of the text.[5] If we approach the Scriptures with ears to hear, however, “The Fall” becomes more than a story of the human predicament and the origins of evil. It becomes, like the rest of Scripture, a story of God’s desire to be faithful to his creation even in the face of unfaithfulness.
The Story

Reading a story as Story 
The story of Adam and Eve has been read as a minefield of theological and anthropological truths since the dawn of Christianity.[6] While there is legitimacy to such reading, it is my intention to read the story as precisely that – a story. This is not to eschew theology, but rather to merge story and theology so that they become indistinguishable.

In Israel’s Gospel, John Goldingay writes, “It is the essence of Israel to be a people with a story….The Old Testament tells us who God is and who we are through the ongoing story of God’s relationship with Israel.”[7] While Goldingay’s assertion is valid, I find it striking that Israel’s Scriptures do not begin by telling the story of  God’s relationship with Israel. They begin, rather, with a much broader scope – God’s relationship with humanity, as told in the story of Adam and Eve. Is there a deep connection between the two stories? Does the story of Adam shape the story of Israel, and vice versa? An imaginative reading of the text suggests so.
Adam’s story moves in four scenes – creation, call, disobedience, and exile. Since no scene can be properly understood without relation to the other three, all four will be briefly examined.

Scene I – Creation
Genesis 2 focuses on God’s creation of man: “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:6).

In Israel’s faith this stands not as a historical/scientific statement, but as a theological proclamation: Man is only rightly understood as the creation of God -- and not just any God, but Israel’s God, Yahweh. The life that man has is a gift from Yahweh, and can only be truly lived in relation to Yahweh. This is what being Yahweh’s creation meant for Adam. This is what being Yahweh’s creation meant for Israel.

Isaiah uses creation language as he speaks to exiled Israel: “But now thus says Yahweh, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel” (Isa. 43:1, emphasis mine). As children of Abraham, Israel was a people created ex nihilo; the handiwork of a God “who calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). While the faith of Israel declared that Yahweh was the maker of everything, the account of Adam’s creation evoked for Israelites their own special status as a people not only chosen by Yahweh, but intimately formed by him for a unique purpose.

Scene II - Call
An overlooked detail in Adam’s story is his relation to Eden. Adam was not born into Eden: he was brought into Eden by Yahweh. The text mentions this twice.[8] The garden was Yahweh’s gift, and he chose Adam to enter into it as his partner, his vice-regent.

The Exodus – Israel’s foundational narrative -- is not only a story of escape from Egypt. It’s the story of a people who were formed by God and called to enter the Land that Yahweh would give them.[9] In this land they would embody the reign of God as his “kingdom of priests”.[10]

As a guideline to this embodiment, Yahweh gave Israel Torah. He set before them life and death – which would they choose? This choice reflects the choice facing Adam – Live in obedience to the Source of Life, or “you shall surely die”. What choice would Adam make, and how would future generations of Israelites identify with it?

Scene III - Disobedience
Conflict emerges in the form of a serpent. Adam’s wife engages in a “tutorial with this strange theological professor”[11], who questions the goodness of God’s purposes for his human creation. “Eat the fruit”, says the serpent, “and you will be like God.”

Adam and his wife succumb to the temptation. Life in relation to Yahweh is replaced by a life concerned only with self. Trust is abandoned in favour of unhealthy suspicion, and equality with God is considered a thing to be grasped (Phil. 2:6). And so they grasp.

Adam’s disobedience can be read as a prophetic exhortation/warning to a people who were prone to “do what was right in their own eyes.”[12] The message to Israel was clear: Trust in the goodness of Yahweh; respond to his graciousness with obedience, not grasping. If the people of Israel understood themselves as the renewed humanity – or even the ones through whom all humanity would be renewed – then they could ill afford to re-enact Adam’s story scene for scene.

And yet they did. Yahweh’s grace was met with disobedience at almost every turn.[13] Would “God’s-single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world”[14] fail? Had the people chosen to set right the story of Adam not also fallen short? Had Adam and Israel’s faithlessness nullified the faithfulness of Yahweh (Rom. 3:3)?

Scene IV - Exile

The consequences of humanity’s original disobedience are extensive, but the focus here is on their exile “East of Eden”. Faithlessness to their vocation leads to a loss of Yahweh’s special presence. Adam and his wife are “driven out” from the garden. Is there any hope of return?

For exiled Israelites reading Adam’s story, the parallels would be regrettably complete, yet the story would feel unfinished. They knew Yahweh as Creator and Caller, they knew themselves as disobedient covenanters deserving of exile.[15] But who would have the last word, and what would it be?

It is significant that in Adam’s story, judgement and gospel intertwine. Curse is pronounced, but clothes are provided.[16] Moreover, the expulsion from Eden itself is an act of judgement and grace. God sent Adam and his wife away not only as a punishment, but also as an act of mercy. Yahweh would not have them eat of the tree of life and live forever in a world with curse. Adam naming his wife Eve – which ‘resembles the word for “living”’[17] – also injects hope into the drama as the act draws to a close. A future of life, not death, is prophetically imagined.

Exiled Israel held fast to Yahweh’s desire for blessing – a desire which undergirds the story of Adam.[18] They knew that their exile was punitive (e.g., Jer. 7:14-20), but hope that it could also be restorative began to emerge. Jeremiah captures this hope. Like Adam, he prophetically imagines that life and not death, presence and not absence, will have the last word:
11For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. – Jeremiah 29:11-14

The Climax of the Story
A New Story Emerges
During Israel’s exile a new story was told amongst the people: The story of a Servant.[19] Would Adam’s story of “falling short of the glory of God” – a story embedded not only in the conscience of the nations, but in Israel herself -- be put to rights through a righteous Servant?

The Return Home
It is into the yoked stories of Adam and Israel that Jesus of Nazareth fits. Indeed, he forms the climax of these stories and in turn weaves one new story for all of humanity to participate in: the story of cross-resurrection; the story of “new creation”. Israel’s Messiah becomes the “second Adam”. The exile is over. Access to the “tree of life” is once more available (Rev. 22:2). The Father is calling for his sons and daughters to return home.
Has Israel’s faithlessness nullified the faithfulness of God? Me genoito! Through the faithful Israelite Jesus, “God’s single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world” is brought to fulfilment. Blessing triumphs over curse.

1 C. Bartholomew and M. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture, 22. Screenwriter Robert McKee takes this truth one step further in his Law of Conflict: ‘Nothing moves forward in a story except through conflict.’ – R. McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, 210.
2 W. Brueggemann, Genesis, 46
3 Cf. J. Goldingay, Old Testament Theology Volume One, Israel’s Gospel, 147: ‘…Genesis 1-3 only begins the narrative’s portrayal of the origins of human wrongdoing. It is Genesis 1-6 or Genesis 1-11 as a whole that offers the total portrait.’
4 See the discussions in R.B. Dillard and T. Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 38-48 and T. Fretheim, Genesis, 322-324

5 Cf. D. Alexander, “Pentateuch” in The IVP Introduction to the Bible, 54: ‘As readers we need to attune ourselves to what these ancient authors wished to say and not impose our present-day agenda on their writings. We must not expect the biblical text to answer questions that its authors were not addressing.’
6 The origin of this Christian reading is Paul’s Adam/Jesus typology in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. As a guideline for its continuing practice, it should be noted that Paul was more interested in making proclamations about Jesus than about Adam, and that the Old Testament itself has little or nothing to say about Adam and “the fall” other than what we find in Genesis 2-3.
7 Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, 30

8 Genesis 2:8 and 2:15
9 Cf. Genesis 15:7; Exodus 6:8
10 The language of “priesthood” evokes Israel’s calling to be a “light for the nations” (Isa. 49:6). This point is well made in D. Peterson, Engaging With God, 28: “As a priestly kingdom, [the Israelites] were to serve the LORD exclusively and thus be a people through whom his character and will might be displayed to the world.”
11 Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, 131. Cf. H. Thielicke, A Little Exercise For Young Theologians, 34: ‘Consider that the first time someone spoke of God in the third person and therefore no longer with God but about God was that very moment when the question resounded “Did God really say?”’

12 Judges 17:6; 21:25
13 See, for example, the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32, about which Terrence Fretheim asserts “It is Genesis 3 all over again.” T. Fretheim, Exodus, 279
14 N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 105

15 See Leviticus 26:27ff. for an Israelite understanding of the link between disobedience and exile.
16 Cf. Ezekiel 16:8-14 for an interesting parallel between Adam and Israel.
17 T. Fretheim, Genesis, 364
18 Cf. Goldingay, Israel’s Gospel, 139: “To describe God as blessing but not directly cursing suggests that blessing is Yhwh’s natural activity, while cursing is less so. It parallels the implication that light and mercy are nearer to Yhwh’s true nature than darkness or anger. While Genesis can imagine the possibility that Yhwh might curse and get angry (Gen 5:29; 18:30, 32), it sees that as not Yhwh’s first nature. In Yhwh’s nature blessing has priority over cursing, love over anger, mercy over retribution.”

19 Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Enlightenment Freedom vs Covenantal Freedom

When Christians talk about sex, it sounds like they are against freedom.

Enter the man of the hour Dr Brueggemann, who says we need to

distinguish between Enlightenment freedom, which means 'I'm not accountable to anybody', and Covenantal freedom, which means 'I'm situated in a neighbourhood and my freedom is defined in relationship to the neighbours'.

The Christian story of sex is not rooted in command or control; it is rooted in community. Community gives birth to sex, sex gives birth to community...quite literally. Therefore to think our sex lives are our own is to begin down the path of self-destruction. As we have discovered, Enlightenment freedom -- the freedom of autonomy -- is the pathway to lonliness. It is into this lonliness that the Christian narrative as it relates to sex should sound not like oppressive legislation, but like good news.

Why, then, do we seem to always make it sound like oppressive legislation!? The gospel isn't merely good news about our eternal destiny. It is good news that has profoundly positive effects on our sex lives in the present. We need not apologise for them.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Nanosecond With Jesus

Walter Brueggemann on the church's (ab/non-)use of the Old Testament:

the church...under the pressure of reductionist fundamentalism has wanted to reduce the whole Bible to a nanosecond with Jesus, and if you can do that then you can get rid of almost everything costly and everything important.

Friday, December 10, 2010

To Be Truly Human

From a comment by Daniel Kirk in his post on Christology in Luke:

...I think that one of the more significant things we find in the Jesus of the Gospels is what it means to be truly human. Too often, in my experience, when folks start finding divinity in the Gospels that becomes an explanation for why Jesus can do what he does (heal, exorcise, etc.)–and why we, in turn, can’t. But if all of it is a big picture of what it means to be truly human, as God’s children, then the family of God on earth has just such a high calling and stunning responsibility.

If this is true, might it be a good enough reason to continue using the word "incarnation" in reference to the church and its mission, despite the fair warnings of Creideamh? Incarnation, after all, is about becoming truly human -- something the church and the world is called to be.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

- Author of Hebrews

Everything starts with belief and if you don't believe you might as well not play...

- Robin van Persie

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Theology Out Of Footnotes

From a Christian perspective, then, Old Testament theology is a truncated exercise, but a defensible one. In contrast, New Testament theology seems not only a truncated exercise, but also an indefensible one. It deconstructs. One of the New Testament’s own convictions is that the Old Testament is part of the Scriptures (indeed, is the Scriptures), give or take some questions about its boundaries, and that the Old Testament provides the theological framework within which Jesus needs to be understood. The New Testament is then a series of Christian and ecclesial footnotes to the Old Testament, and one cannot produce a theology out of footnotes.

There may be a hint of bias in Old Testament scholar John Goldinagay's words, but the man has a point. Nevertheless, there are four books in the New Testament that stand as a stumbling block. The irony is that they are probably the four books most overlooked when it comes to developing what might be considered a "New Testament theology". They are of course Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Footnotes they are not.

That being said, the Gospels might arguably feel more at home in the OT rather than the NT. What do you reckon? Would that transform our reading of the Bible, perhaps helping to bridge the gap between the testaments? Do pipe up, so I can call the people of NIV before it's too late!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How You Play the Game

When learning a new game, a guy I know does not ask, How do you play? He asks, How do you win? The definitive question of a results oriented culture. What matters is not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose.

I had the pleasure of watching El Clasico a week ago, accompanied by two Barcelona fans and a Real Madrid fan. This was a club game that the world was watching, and it didn't disappoint. To sum up, Barcelona were breathtakingly good. As one writer described it, they not only had the ball on a string, but the had the Madrid players on strings too, so in control were the Catalans. 5-0 was the final score, but after the game my Madrid amigo was defiant that this isn't the end, and that we should wait and see who gets the trophy in the end.

I think such comments reflect not only a misunderstanding about football, but a misunderstanding about life.

Madrid may well win the title at the end of the season, but nobody watches football so that they can see a large cup being passed from a suited gentleman to a sweaty football player. We watch football, as a typical Arsenal fan said, for the moments of delight that flicker our way every now and then. If Barcelona celebrated like they won the league last week, it's because the joy they felt was on a par with if not greater than they joy experienced had they just completed a league triumph. That's how much style means to them. Winning will get you on the history books; style will get you into stories that will be passed on for generations.

Can I relate this to Christianity? You bet I can!

Salvation as we conceive it has become the answer to the question, How do I win? We don't care about the present moments of beauty and faithfulness and love, forgetting the reality that it is such things that will echo through the ages. We're like my Madrid-supporting friend, consoling ourselves with the thought that we'll end up winning the big prize eventually therefore the present moment is of little worth.

The Bible flips this on its head. We're told that precisely because of the grand future that awaits us -- i.e. resurrection bodies restored to the image of Christ -- our present moments of beauty, faithfulness and love are not in vain. This is like telling Barcelona that right now they are playing the football of the future, the kind of football that will last through the ages, the kind of football that will triumph over Jose Mourinho's dark arts once and for all.

Good news, eh?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Nothing Comes Easy

Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
- Paul of Tarsus

The problem with Christ's kind of love is that it hurts. Often times it seems wasteful and foolish, but the mysterious truth is that it is the only kind of love that will last. The invitation to take up our crosses is not so much about enduring hardhips like illness or poverty with the knowledge that one day such things will be no more. The invitation is an invitation to love people now in the way that we will love them in the age to come.

I want an easy Christianity, an easy love. But as my old friend Mr Beaver might reply, "Easy? Who said anything about easy? Of course it isn't easy. But it's good." If you read nothing else this weekend, read the following extract from William Willimon's book Who Will Be Saved? In it he describes the surprising "grain of the universe".

Jesus' love is what Jesus commands, something enabled by who he is. He expended everything. He laid down his life for a bunch of stupid, wayward sheep, friends who were also his betrayers.

In so doing, Jesus was not simply being a great ethical teacher; one is impressed by the impracticality of what Jesus commands. If you give everything you've got to the poor, eventually you will have nothing to give. And how does self-giving better the lot of the poor after they have consumed everything that you have given? Will such liberality only produce character flaws in the poor? If you so thoughtlessly give to the needs of others in this way, you will eventually be used by others who will take advantage of you. Taken to the extreme, it could lead to your death.

But then Jesus says that this is exactly where this should lead.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The New Additon

I reference my "former teacher" a lot, especially now that I'm in Bible College and I want to appear to know more than I do. Have a theology-based conversation with me and by sentence three I'll have probably said, "My former teacher used to say that..." 

By "my former teacher" I mean to refer to one Dr Arden Autry, with whom I metaphorically walked the road to Emmaus as he opened to Scriptures to me for a whole year. His classes were the embodiment of what I wrote about yesterday. Nobody left the classroom without being formed ever-so-slightly more into the image of Christ. If you wanted a simple piece of encouragement to help you make sense of the life of faith, Arden would provide it. If you wanted a discussion on Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics, Arden would provide it, though probably not until either break time or the end of class.

I learned many things from Arden during my year of biblical studies, but perhaps I learned nothing more important than how it is a Christian ought to know things: with humility, grace, and, if necessary, firm conviction (a half-hour debate with a man about the resurrection of Jesus was a particular highlight of mine from the year).

I write all this because my former teacher has been persuaded to start a blog! Perhaps he has become too embarrassed at the half-truths that his former student is spouting across the internet and now intends to the right the wrongs. Whatever the reason, this is good news. The address is I'll let you decide whether that reads Ask In Garden, A Skin Garden, or Asking Arden.

Go ahead and begin reading here. I'm not exactly sure what the contents will be, but I am very sure that all of it will be worthy of your time.