Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writing For the Church

This summer I was given the opportunity to write for a particular church. I was given a text (1 Chronicles 29) and a theological theme (Giving), with the instructions to write ten short devotional pieces that would be read by a congregation. This is the most important task I have been given as a writer.

Much of what I've written in the last 3 years is intelligible to those outside of the church. I'm uncertain whether that's good or bad. But my hope with these devotional pieces is that they only begin to make sense to those who are part of a community that names a crucified Jew as the living ruler of the world. As the person who wrote them, you might assume that they make sense to me. That I know what I'm talking about.

I don't. I am guilty of saying more than I know. In writing for the church, I am writing also for myself. In the words of John Ames, I'm "trying to say what is true", which often involves saying more than one can know. But thanks be to God, Christianity is not a life of explanation but manifestation. The truth of Christian life cannot and will not finally be explained, least of all by me. It can only be only shown. And that showing takes a life time as members of Christ's body. 

The mystery of writing for the church is this: The church is not an audience for your writing, as if the church depends on what you write. Rather, you depend first on the church in order to write and in order to demonstrate the truth of your writing.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Recessional Christianity

The clue to the problem with this sickening piece is in the title, where the word "blessings" could be replaced with  "$2 billion" and the meaning would not change.

Isn't the Lord just marvellous that he would allow Christian publishers to cash in on the recession.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Promo Videos And Books

The promo video for Love Wins did its job, but it has left me wary of such tactics precisely for that reason. Scot McKnight's promo video for The King Jesus Gospel therefore leaves me uncomfortable. McKnight is a much more weighty author than every sense of the word. Therefore the video (posted below) strikes me as an unnecessary imitation of Rob Bell's sales technique. Christians don't write books in order to sell them. A book that claims to bring us face to face with the original gospel cannot be commodified, yet that is exactly what is inferred by having a promo video attached to it. Especially a promo video that claims to disclose the true gospel to a church that is mired in counterfeits. I'll be damned if I don't wanna find out what that true gospel is...although chances are McKnight has proclaimed it already in the excellent A Community Called Atonement.

Anyway, I am wary of claims to uncover what the church has hidden for years. And I am doubly wary of such claims being made through a promo video designed to increase the sales of a book.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Taking Postmodernism to Task

What postmodernism was/is doing, according to Terry Eagleton:
[A]lienating us even from our own alienation.
Replace 'postmodernism' with 'Facebook', and does this still hold? Of course if it does, how would we ever know?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Five Favourite Footballers - Valeron

Although about seven years past his prime at the time, this four-minute video captures the subtle genius of Juan Carlos Valeron.

He is the most creative player I have ever seen - the archetype of what it looks like to play "in the hole". Diego Tristan and Roy Makaay have him to thank for their reasonably successful careers, with the latter acknowledging that Valeron is the best player he has played with. I have him to thank for mapping out the way football ought to be played.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Mission of Theology

Every so often I find myself in the middle of an existential crisis. What on earth am I doing studying theology? What's the point of this alien discipline? Wouldn't I be better off just getting on with the real stuff of life?

Then I am reminded of the home of theology, and where I need to be:

Christian theology is relevant because it fulfills its mission: shaping a community of peace.

So says David K. Clark in his essay on "narrative apologetics". The message is disturbingly simple:

Outside of a community of peace, theologians are of all people most to be pitied.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Creation and Evolution

I'm interested in the Creation versus Evolution discussion not so much as regards which is true but rather how to read the Bible faithfully within this discussion. As a Christian, I take as a given the reality that the God revealed in Jesus is the Creator of creation, though as this God revealed to Job, I have no idea what God as Creator really means. I wasn't there.

But is that the end of the story?

In what I've read on this discussion there is a reality conspicuous by its absence in any Christian talk of creation or evolution, and that reality is New Creation. If the resurrection of Jesus changes everything, then one of the things it changes is our understanding of what it means for God to be Creator. New Creation is an ambiguous reality. It is here, but not quite. The seeds have been planted, but the flower is not yet in full boom. The child has been conceived, but there is growth in the womb still to be done. There is new creation, but it is still being created.

Moreover -- and I may come back to this with a giant eraser after I've slept on it -- creation gets to be part of its creation. God as Creator chooses to be co-Creator, at least when it comes to his most glorious creation. That is not to suggest equality between Creator and creature, but rather what Brueggemann might call "incommensurate mutuality". I think of Paul's directive to the Philipians to "work out your salvation...for it is God who works in you..." New Creation is not a passive process from humanity's perspective. We are actively involved in one way or another, not as isolated individuals but as a church - building each other up, iron sharpening iron, allowing the creative grace of God to flow through us and to cause us to be participants in the new creation of our brothers and sisters. Paul could even know himself as Timothy's father in the faith, recognising that God had made him part of this young man's birth into the family of God. This may all sound very "unphysical", but I think that is to draw lines between physicality and character that Scripture doesn't always know.

The particulars of reading old creation texts through the lens of new creation texts (and experiences) could provide some space for an imaginatively faithful rendering of the hotly contested phrase "In the beginning, God created..."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Steps to True Belief

Stephen N. Gundry on theologian Paul Tillich:

At best Tillich was a pantheist, but his thought borders on atheism.

From Gundry's evangelical perspective, it seems it's better to be a pantheist than an atheist. Perhaps Christians are aiming too high. Instead of trying to convince atheists to jump straight into theism, pantheism may provide a suitable launchpad if we can get them there. We could even push for panentheism in one leap if we're feeling especially persuasive! What might be the next step after that? Catholicism?

I wonder what someone might say of me when I am departed?

At best Kelly was a _______, but his thought borders on _________

Feel free to fill in those blanks with as serious or as humorous an answer as you like.

Monday, August 8, 2011

In the Wind

A reed in the wind
Moved by its nature
And the nature around

Leaning left, posing no resistance.
Tomorrow may be right,
It has no preference.

Save when the wind silences.
It stands up straight, always
As if this were its true nature:
To be unmoved.

But true nature is not made to be alone.
What if the reed only stands straight
To be caught in the wind once more when it speaks?
Moving to be moved by something greater

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Out Of Our Hearing

One of the challenges of preaching: The church is a community of people who have lived near a waterfall their whole lives. Allow some patients from a psychiatric ward to explain:

Harding gives him a blank look. 'Exactly what noise is it you're referring to, Mr McMurphy?' 
'That damned radio. Boy. It's been going ever since I come in this morning. And don't come on with some baloney that you didn't hear it.' 
Harding cocks his ear to the ceiling. 'Oh, yes, the so-called music. Yes, I suppose we do hear it if we concentrate, but then one can hear one's own heartbeat too, if he concentrates hard enough.' He grins at McMurphy. 'You see, that's a recording playing up there, my friend. We seldom hear the radio. The world news might not be therapeutic. And we've all heard that recording so many times now it simply slides out of our hearing, the way the sound of a waterfall soon becomes an unheard sound to those who live near it. Do you think if you lived near a waterfall you could hear it very long?'

If a tree falls, and everyone around is so used to it, does it make a sound?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Correct Question

A bombshell from McClendon's Ethics:

So the correct Bonhoeffer question to put to one who believes as I do that violence is not an option for the disciples of Jesus Christ is not the often-heard "Then what would you do about Hitler?" Quite possibly there was nothing that Dietrich Bonhoeffer alone could have done about Hitler, except possibly to help a few Jews escape Germany and help a few friends of a better German future make contact with their Christian friends in other countries. The correct -- because realistic and responsible -- question has been better put by Mark Thiessen Nation: "What would you do with a church which chooses to go along with a government that systematically eliminates Jews, gypsies and homosexuals, and mounts a war that would lead to the deaths of more than thirty-five million people?" That question makes it clear that (from the standpoint of Christian solidarity) it was not Brother Dietrich but we who failed.

This reinforces a growing conviction that it is not the church's vocation first to be against the world. Rather, the church is first to be against the church.

Five Favourite Footballers - Riquelme

If Xavi and Iniesta play in the future, then Juan Roman Riquelme plays in the past. I mean that in two senses. The first is that he is an anachronism, a player who would have fitted in seamlessly to a bygone era when athleticism and workrate were not prerequisites for attacking players, but in the modern game he looks strangely out of place. The second sense is that he plays the game at his own mercilessly slow pace - while others around him are running to and fro, Riquelme is in a time zone of his own - sometimes lost, but sometimes so in control of a game that he is untouchable.

My first proper exposure to him was a friendly against England in 2005, in which he was magnificent. He played the role of conductor, or quaterback or whatever word you want to use, and played it as well as I've seen it played. He was Argentina's fulcrum in a team that was (I think) the favourites to win the World Cup in 2006. They ended up being defeated in the quarter-finals, but that should never have happened. Jose Pekerman brought on Julio Cruz instead of Lionel Messi, and the rest is history. This was a very good Argentina team, second only to Spain in the last 10 years, but for one reason or another they failed to deliver on their talent. The story of Riquelme's career, some might say.

His time at Villareal was nothing less than extraordinary, mind you. One performance that sticks out the a Champions League quarter final against Inter Milan, which had England 2005 written all over it. Riquelme lived up to his monicker "Lazy genius", controlling the game in slow motion, and almost pulling off one of the most audacious shots I've ever seen.

He is a strange player to categorise. You could argue that he is selfish, always demanding and hogging the ball. But you could also argue that he is only doing that because he knows he can make the optimum use of it with a clever flick or a perceptive pass. For a selfish player, he has a habit of giving the ball to a teammate who is in a better position to score than he is. This habit, for me, is the fundamental aspect of a good player. Riquelme has it down to an art. (See his two assists in the recent friendly against Arsenal for proof that the habit dies hard).

Friday, August 5, 2011

Reading Romans: A Summary

We commonly read Romans through the lens which makes us see guilt as our biggest enemy, and our greatest need as affirmation despite our guilt. This is a legitimate, but limiting reading. We more faithfully read Romans through the lens which makes us see death and its deathly practices as our biggest enemy, and our greatest need as life and its life-giving practices - found only through participation in the death and life of the crucified resurrected Jesus by the power of the spirit. A phrase which characterises this life that we need -- that is, this life that we were created (and re-created) for?

Shalom with God.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I hate to go to my readers for anything but approval, but does anyone know of a (good) book that deals with the relationship between aesthetics and ethics?

The Church as Artistic Operation, Part 2

Speaking from a similar perspective to Walter Brueggemann, Richard Hays calls the church to fulfil her destiny as a people of artistry. This is a short but necessary read for Christians who have been trained to think that art is superfluous for the work of God.

If theological education focuses only on ideas and fails to reflect on their artistic milieu, we will be quite literally tone-deaf or insensible to major elements of human experience, and we will fail to perceive ways in which the gospel may challenge and transform us.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Five Favourite Footballers - Iniesta

I lived in the age when Championship Manager was the touchstone for football wisdom. My real knowledge of football was mediated through a computer game. In fact, what was true in the game became absolute truth. It didn't matter that Ibrahim Bakayoko was an incompetent fool when I saw him playing for Everton. He was a Championship Manager jewel, and that was the most important thing about him. It didn't matter that I had never seen Marc Emmers play before. He guaranteed me an 8/10 in most games, and that was the only truth I cared about. In fact, so real did Championship Manager become that two of my most treasured players in the game were actually created by the game itself - fictional Scandanavian's called Magnusson and Skulason - legends when played "in the hole".

Which brings me to Andres Iniesta. I have always been known as a manager who gives youth a chance. In 01/02, my eye glanced over the attributes of a teenage Iniesta, and I liked what I saw. He was versatile, and was above average in a lot of areas without excelling in any one facet of the game. In time he became a fixture in my midfield, with a keen eye for a goal. The decision to start him was perhaps more sentimental than anything else. I adopted him as my computerised son, and wouldn't let any charges of nepotism get in the way of his journey to stardom.

With my passion for Championship Manager waning, I had the unique experience of finally meeting Andres Iniesta in the flesh. The best analogy I can think of is the move  from online dating to a real life meeting. What does he look like? Is he as talented as the computer says he is? Iniesta's substitute appearance against Chelsea -- in the game made famous a) for being brilliant and b) for that Ronaldinho goal -- allayed all of my fears. He forced a marvellous save out of Cech and (I think) hit the post. He was a short, slight, pale 20 year-old who looked like a boy among men, but who played with the confidence of someone who knew he belonged on any football pitch. Crucial goals in a Champions League semi-final and a World Cup final only confirm that confidence he has.

Iniesta is gifted with a velvet touch and the ability to see things that most players just can't see. Those two attributes are no more present than in these few seconds against Athletic Bilbao.

I like to think of Iniesta as a fusion of Messi and Xavi., combining precise dribbling skills with a perceptive passing range and the wisdom to know and control the flow of a game. Someone said that Xavi "plays in the future". But he doesn't play there alone. Iniesta is right beside him, which is why the two together control every game they take part in. "Geometry in motion", said George Hamilton during Barcelona's triumph over Manchester United in Rome.

Iniesta is a player reared under the conviction that giving the ball away is the ultimate sin. Living under this conviction might stultify a lesser player, but with Iniesta you are left to marvel at the creative ways through which he not only retains possession of the football, but also nears it to the opposition's goal. A dink, a lob, a backheel, a chip over the top, a through ball along the ground, a mazy dribble followed by a last second off load with the outside of the foot, and of course his signature quick shift of the ball from one foot to the other. Every game produces moments that are worth watching again and again, and are worth trying to replicate.

Iniesta is known as the "anti-galactico". He is an unlikely superstar, but he is now regarded as one of the best players in the world, a vital component to the two best teams in the world. But to me he will always be my Championship Manager prodigy who came good - the anti-Bakayoko, if you will.