Monday, February 20, 2012


The church calendar reminds us that time itself has been redeemed and sanctified. Time is not a passive, empty entity whose content we shape. It comes to us as a gift; as a moment that stands in some relation to the moment when God became man in time. We live in a time whose past, present, and future has been determined by Jesus. The church calendar as well as its practices exist to help us remember this reality in the face of the dominant definition of reality that speaks of time as if it is something we possess and control and get to make.

Into this dominant definition steps the voice of Lent. The time that Jesus spent in the wilderness recapitulating Israel's time is now recapitulated by the church. The world's definition of reality is exchanged for a definition of reality that is constituted by God and his gifts and his ways. The things thought necessary for life are forsaken for the things that really are necessary.

In light of this, I intend to give up some of the things that I think constitute my life as I now live it. I don't know exactly the shape this will take, but the reason I'm writing this now is that the internet is being chopped, save for and anything necessary for college. Life without the internet has become unintelligible. Lent is the time to remember that my life is only unintelligible without Jesus.

I haven't really thought this through, but I know I need to get away from this space and be elsewhere. In the word, in prayer, in communion with friends and family, in silence, in reality as defined by God and dependent on God.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What Is Creationism?

On the surface, it sounds as if it is the belief that a god created all things, which is both the first proclamation in Christian scripture and part of the first line of the Apostle's Creed. Yet there are numerous Christians who believe in a god who is creator but who are not creationists. Why is this possible? I don't ask because I doubt it's possibility, but because I just don't have a very clear understanding about what creationism is and isn't.

While I'm at it: Intelligent Design. What is it, and why should Christians who believe in a god who "fearfully and wonderfully made" us dismiss it as nonsense?

I ask these questions in light of viewing Conor Cunningham's documentary Did Darwin Kill God? One of his books -- Darwin's Pious Idea -- received praise from the likes of Charles Taylor, Slavoj Zizek, David Bentley Hart and Stanley Hauerwas, so he's clearly worth listening to.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Mortal Danger of the Exclusive Eucharist

According to Zizioulas....[a]ny church excluding Christians at a given place is not merely a bad church, but rather is no church at all, since a Eucharist to which not all the Christians at a given place might gather would not be merely a morally deficient Eucharist, but rather no Eucharist at all. That is, it could not be the body of him who encompasses everyone into himself.

- Miroslav Volf

Three Film Reviews For the Price of One

Blade Runner
This is an example of the ideas behind a film overshadowing the story of the film. That the ideas are interesting -- what is a human? do we need to kill god in order to be free? what are we to do in the face of our mortality? -- means forgiving the mediocre story isn't as hard as it ought to be. Still, while acknowledged as a postmodern work, the film commits the very modern sin of making the story a vehicle for some big ideas, rather than making the story the idea. A film like The Matrix accomplishes the latter with much more success, as does the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and they are all the better for it.

Still, cult classic, and all that.

The Mill & The Cross

This is not so much a film about a painting as it is a painting come to life. It is, quite literally, a moving picture that intends to capture Bruegel's The Way to Calvary on the big screen. The film/painting is set in 16th century Belgium, with the persecution of reformers at the hand of Spanish Catholics providing the context for a re-showing of the passion narrative of the gospels. But as Bruegel (played by Rutger Hauer, famous for appearing as Metropolis crime boss Morgan Edge on television's Smallville) tells us, the significance of the passion is lost on the crowds, who go about their daily lives as if the suffering portrayed in front of them is irrelevant for putting bread on the table. That, after all, is what the mill is for.

Though lacking subtlety, the beauty of the film is in showing, during a moment of complete pause, that these two objects -- the mill and the cross -- are not so different.

The Apostle

While Blade Runner is a film that uses the story as a vehicle for ideas, The Apostle is a film that provides a vehicle for a quite magnificent performance from Robert Duvall. He plays a charismatic (in every sense of the word) preacher in the south, whose broken marriage and criminal acts force him to start over with a new identity as self-appointed apostle "E.F." whose mission it is to plant a church and find again what he had lost. It should come as no surprise that a film about a pentecostal preacher is fraught with theological missteps and idiosyncrasies. Some are endearing, some are not. But given the over all picture of pentecostalism that Duvall creates, I was left with the feeling that the only real way for E.F. to achieve redemption was for him to abandon his pentecostal heritage. That may say more about me than about this film, which is worth seeing for the performance alone.

Monday, February 13, 2012


His birth was hers. Before him she was not what she is today. His new life has transformed the shape of her old one. It continues to do so. She was always near him, attached as if he was an extension of her. She reached levels of care she never thought possible. It's a strange thing to be absolutely depended on for life. The greatness of providence is thrust on someone so unprepared and ill-equipped for a role most fitting for a god. But she has been faithful. She has fed him, cleaned him, held him, sung to him, created a world with him in which they both dwell as its sole interpreters, its language and its customs often remaining  inscrutable to outsiders. Yet dependence in this world is not only his but hers also. These two that were created on the same day -- a mother and a son -- cannot be transported into bigger worlds without feeling the loss of the smaller one on which they have come to rely. She didn't realise it until now, but as she sees him climb over the fence into the neighbour's back garden and as she moves right against the window to catch sight of him hopping into a car destined for some place outside of home, she is left in a world that is empty and unintelligible without its co-creator. She cries into the freezing windowpane, and as the tears run down she wipes her eyes and begins imagining what the new world might look like.

Justice And Love: A Valentine's Day Message

The best argument against the church engaging in social justice is that there ought to be no such justice that needs to be modified by the word "social". As Hauerwas said (somewhere) "Justice is justice". In other words, something is either just or it isn't. The language of "restorative justice" or "retributive justice" or "social justice" pits justice against itself. If retribution is just, then it is not "retributive justice" that has been carried out, but simply justice. If retribution is unjust, then justice has not been done no matter what modifier we put on it.

As for social justice, if there is a form of justice that is not social then there is no triune god.

Something similar holds true for love. Christians -- including myself -- have a habit of talking about "self-giving love". But what other kind of love is there between persons? Because of the story of God's relation to humanity, love is self-giving. Talking about "self-giving love" prolongs our illusion that love can also be something other than self-giving. It can't, and the sooner our language reflects this the sooner we will realise that we live lives that have very little use for the word "love".

And on that note, an early Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!

ps - This phenomenon is also true of the gospel. In a recent blog post, Scot McKnight pitted the "soterian gospel" against the "story gospel". But in the letter to the Galatians -- the letter that was excluded from McKnight's list of gospel sources -- Paul says that there is only one gospel, though others have distorted it and thus have turned it into no gospel at all. Again, the point is simple. Something is either the gospel, or it is not. If the "soterian gospel" is not the gospel, then it is no gospel at all. If the "story gospel" is the gospel, then it does not need the word "story" before it. That's simply a kind of re-branding; a marketing trick that has no place in the work of theology.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Imagination Defined

"The capacity to host a reality or a world other than the one that is in front of us."- Walter Brueggemann

Tolerance Kills Us

Julian knew that toleration of the Christians would intensify their divisions...experience had thought him that no wild beasts are such dangerous enemies to man as Christians are to one another. 
- Ammianus Marcellinus, The Roman History

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Madman

Since I'm picking on a particular brand of atheism, bellow is a video that empirically proves that atheists are just as lame as Christians. Perhaps in this we find our common ground.

I honestly thought that something called the Reason Rally must be a joke. It isn't. It is, rather, "the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history." Larger than Stalin's? Until I see those numbers, call me skeptical.

I'm reminded of a wonderful Chesterton quote that I would love to print on t-shirts to be handed out to all embarking on the Reason Rally:

An Atheist and a Christian Walk Into A Blood Donor Clinic

Whenever I’ve participated in interfaith projects, they’ve been things like hosting debates/discussions (something atheist groups do all the time), volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter (ditto), donating blood (yep), etc. It’s never anything unique to one faith or another, because there’s no common ground there. 
When you want to do good — with other people from different backgrounds — god stays out of the picture.

This is the Friendly Atheist's view of what it means for a diverse community of people to do good together. Our common ground is that we are rational human beings who have reasoned our way to what "good" means, and therefore we can leave god out of the picture and work together to achieve that good.

That sounds (somewhat) noble on the surface, but scratch beneath and it is not only idiotic, but immoral. The search for common ground is the sacrifice of real, meaningful difference for the sake of psuedo-community. What this atheist is saying is "Become like me, and then we can work together to achieve what humans like me have decided is good."

To such inanity I can only quote the sectarian tribal fideist Stanley Hauerwas:

What makes the church ‘radical’…is not that the church leans to the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the churches view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right, both tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus. Big words like Peace and Justice, slogans the church adopts under the presumption that, even if people do not know what ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ means, they will know what Peace and Justice means, are words awaiting content. It is Jesus’ story that gives content to our faith, judges any institutional embodiment of our faith, and teaches us to be suspicious of any political slogan that does not need God to make itself credible…Most of our social activism is formed on the presumption that God is superfluous to the formation of a world of peace with justice.

That the Friendly Atheist can write what he writes is not evidence of positive, constructive atheist thought. (In my experience such thought is in short supply today, save for those atheists who grapple seriously with the persons of Jesus and Paul.) Rather, the Friendly Atheist can only write this because -- going back through centuries of Western thought -- Christians have trained him to think that way.

God damn us.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A History of Moral Philosophy in a Few Sentences

In Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart makes an attempt at summing up the moral frameworks of modernity and Christianity. How well do you think he does?


"It is choice itself, and not what we choose, that is the first good..."


"...we are free not merely because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well."

To sum up the summary:

For modernity, the good is our ability to choose, and in having that choice we enjoy freedom.

For Christianity, the good is what we must choose, and in making that choice we enjoy freedom.

Bureggemann On Barth

After saying "shame on you" to Episcopalians who do not read Karl Barth, Walter Brueggemann sums up the work of this pre-eminent Protestant theologian as follows:

Karl Barth's huge insight -- out of which he wrote two billion pages of fine print -- is that you have to reason from what is real to what is possible.

As Brueggemann goes on to say, the modern world operates under the assumption that the possible dictates what is real, which destroys any chance of newness in the world.

I've only watched the first 10 minutes, but I have no doubt that watching this video will be time well spent for you and me.

Walter Brueggemann Lecture "Preaching the Old Testment" from School of Theology on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Our Reaction to Future Shock

I was on a retreat over the weekend, and I noticed something peculiar, though hardly novel. We were looking at photos on a projected screen - photos of moments that occurred about 3 minutes beforehand. I looked up wistfully and said, "Remember that time we went on a retreat to the North Coast. Good times".

There are some philosophical ideas behind this phenomenon. Something like the fusion of the memory of an experience with the experience itself. The distance between an event and its remembrance, in our technological age, is becoming more and more reduced. And what's more, perhaps the order of importance is being reversed. The event itself is becoming less significant than the means by which the event is remembered - digital images uploaded onto Facebook. Things like Facebook aren't dangerous because they expose our lives to people all across the globe. They're dangerous because they end up living our lives for us, and (or by) remembering for us. Zizek uses the example of canned laughter to explain a similar concept. The laughter track is not there to encourage us to laugh. It is there to laugh for us, so that we can feel better after a hard day without doing anything. Witness what happens when the track is removed, and we are left to our active, subjective experience of the sitcom event.

We remember too quickly because we live life too quickly. This is our reaction to future shock; our defense against "too much change in too short a period of time." We don't have time to remember the event in the future, so we remember it in the present.

To give a further example, Lauren Winner -- who I know almost nothing about and whose books I haven't read -- has written two memoirs about her spiritual journey. It may be unfair to make jabs at this particular 36 year-old who has two memoirs under her belt, but pace Lauren Winner, isn't that the kind of thing footballers do? There is a tendency for "young" people to think we have to get as much done as quickly as possible, because we no longer value the creative contributions of old people, and we no longer possess memories capable of waiting and holding and fitting the narratives of our life into something much grander. We're anxious that we'll die before the world gets to see how amazing we really are! [This is a judgement on myself, not Lauren Winner.]

This may explain some people's problem with the gospels being written 40-60 years after the death of Jesus, rather than seeing this delay as getting closer to the true significance of Jesus life by allowing his story to be told by a future community who could in some sense see Jesus clearer than anyone could in the 30's AD. It is the assumption of many today that we would really know and believe Jesus if he had a twitter account, a Facebook profile, and if the Sermon on the Mount was available for live streaming. But this assumption betrays an epistemology that ultimately destroys the human subject, replacing us with an it that does our knowing for us.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Ecumenical Paul

One of Paul's last acts as a free man was to bring a financial gift from the predominantly Gentile churches in Asia minor and Europe to the predominantly Jewish church in Jerusalem. Paul knew he faced danger in Jerusalem, but he -- guided by the spirit -- considered this ecumenical act that displayed the oneness of the church (as well as the economics of the church) to be worth the risk. Indeed, it was acts such as this that were testaments to the grace of God, and were there no such concrete acts of unity and hospitality as the embodiment of his proclamation, Paul would have seen his mission and ministry as a failure - as a form of godliness without the power; as unfaithfulness to the very gospel he proclaimed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Of Creation

The description of Christians being "in the world, but not of the world" is open to numerous misinterpretations. Perhaps the most common is to interpret the description as if it is saying this: "be in creation, but not of creation." The majority of Christians are gnostics at heart, viewing our real selves as spirits/minds with knowledge of God entombed in bodies of flesh, awaiting creation's destruction rather than its redemption. 

The church exists to remind us that we are creatures, and that that is a good thing. It is a good thing because God is known not outside of creation, but as one who has eternally become a part of it. Embodied life is therefore not a hindrance to living in obedience to the divine will, but is its divinely ordained form. And not only ordained, but experienced.

Since the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, transcendent divine authority has presented itself as worldly moral authority. It comes to us not as a mysterium tremendum which simply destroys all wordly order, but as creation restored and renewed, to which God is immediately present in the person of the son of man. The teaching and life of Jesus must be morally authoritative if we are not to be thrown back upon the gnostic gospel of a visitor from heaven who summons us out of the world.
- Oliver O'Donovan

Christians are nothing more and nothing less than imitators of the life of Christ in mortal bodies by the power of the spirit, with the hope that God will do for those bodies that which he did for Christ's.