Saturday, February 28, 2009
Augustine's first treatise was about Music. It is well worth reading for many reasons. One of the things it reminds me is that he sought out and allowed himself to be impressed with, excellence in the realm of the arts. As a theological principle, we ought to refuse to seperate and divide our world into secular and sacred. Part of the implication is that Christians should seek to broaden their capacity for appreciation and enjoyment of, excellence. Whether it is music, drama, literature or art- we Christians can affirm all that requires creatures to hone and refine the gifts God has endowed us with.
In that spirit, here is a video clip of David Beckham hanging out with the NBA Basketball star, Kevin Garnett.
Garnett tries several times to kick a ball into a basketball hoop. Note the casual skill with which Beckhahm does it in one attempt. The sports star may not reflect on who gave him his skill and ability. It may not always be used in such a way that God gets the glory. But if you are a Christian, you know. You can pause for a second and wonder at the insights of Psalm 8.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
When I was an undergraduate at Oxford, ten years ago, the 'New Perspective' on Paul was, well, old. However debates about its significance and various applications continues.
As best I can ascertain, I find it difficult to get that excited about the New Perspective, since I still feel as I did a few years ago, Firstly, that the methodology and history of the development of the view is overly sociological; Secondly, that the doctrinal conclusions reached by the method do not fit with several important texts in the Bible.
However, I read John Piper's critique of NT Wright's views on Justification yesterday, and today began to read NT Wrights new book 'Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Plan.'
I honestly don't think I can make any substantive comments on Wright's book yet- the rhetoric and humour of it still stun me too much!
The opening two pages describe those who reject New Perspective views as being like both people who insist the sun revolves round the earth, and angry Pharisees! Now, to be fair, there is a serious point made by this image - developed later in the book as a metaphor for a God centred view of salvation. It is also used in the concluding pages as part of bitingly ironic satire of Paul. Still, it is a rhetorical approach that goes far beyond what one normally gets from academic theologians. Perhaps we ought to have more of it.
Once one gets past the rhetoric - often very funny and witty - one struggles to pin down the precise argument Wright wants to make. (Perhaps this is intended - on several occasions Wright says that if you don't agree with him it is because you have not understood him....) But the difficulty I have is that while Piper clearly points out the detailed definition of justification which he rejects, Wright keeps saying that it is the bigger picture of the Bible that Piper is neglecting - the Spirit, the Covenant, Israel and so forth. I suspect that if you want to know what Piper believes about the Spirit or covenants, he will tell you (indeed his sermon repository will preach it at you loudly)- but his detailed comments on the meaning of justification do, I feel, require a slightly more precise response than that given by Wright. It won't do to keep shifting a debate about definitions to the wider canvass of that which was not said. (Incidentally such an approach was a rhetorical strategy of Cicero's)
Still - I highly recommend both books. The sense of humour and irony in cracking jokes about the old new perspective is heartening. Further books on the topic are threatened...
I have been asked to provide a link to Ecclesia Reformanda, a new British Theology print journal.
All who know me are aware that I think there ought to be a good deal more entrepreneurialism in theology, ministry and teaching. There is far too much evidence that British evangelicals sort of stopped doing new things shortly after the second world war.... (yes I know that is an exaggeration/poetic license!)
Anyway, in the spirit if supporting efforts and energies thrown towards encouraging people to think theologically - here is the link:
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I have always been proud of the way Oxford does not try and hide the religious heritage it has. Here is a striking blend of the Protestant ancient and modern.
These are promotional photos which will appear on Oxford buses soon, promoting the Ashmolean Museum. Pictured are Colin Dexter (centre)- author of the Inspector Morse crime novels. Alongside him are two of the famous actors from the TV series based on his work.
Each of the figures are holding artifacts relating to the imprisonment and burning of the Protestant Martyrs - the band which held Cranmer, his manacle and prison key. Each portrait also has words scrawled over their forehead, linking them to the protestant reformation:
From top to bottom-
1. Cranmer said: 'I have sinned, in that I signed with my hand what I did not believe with my heart'.
2. Latimer said: 'play the man; we shall this day by God's grace, light such a tourch in England as will never be put out'.
3. Cranmer watched from the prison as flames consumed their bodies. His turn to die a martyr was yet to come.
Proud to be a Protestant? Colin Dexter is.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
A Book Review.
You: An Introduction.
By Michael Jensen.
Matthias Media, 2008.
Dr. Michael Jensen teaches nothing new, original or surprising in this short book. Which might make you think there is little point in reading it.
That would be a mistake. The reason why this book is worth reading becomes clear when we consider a little the nature of good doctrinal theology. Lack of new facts in the text is simply evidence of orthodoxy; not something to be taken for granted when reading modern theologians. The difficulty we sense is that if orthodoxy involves a certain rejection of the new, that may suggest that there is no need for fresh writings, and ‘sound’ doctrine ought to be dull, predictable and tedious.
Too much orthodox doctrinal writing is indeed simply endless repeating of the same surveys, facts and summaries. Such things make orthodoxy seem boring and other approaches enticing.
The value of this book is that it is an orthodox reflection upon one important aspect of doctrinal theology – anthropology, the doctrine of humanity – which while having nothing new to reveal, presents ideas in fresh and surprising ways. Karl Barth insisted that if Theology is to have the ‘gravity of true art’ then it must involve a certain ‘playfulness.’ (Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, Ed. C. Gunton, p.423.) This book is playful in the way that commends orthodoxy.
The book has an earnest goal:
‘The point of this book is to ask what the Bible has to say about You, and to compare it to some of the current alternative views of You. You are a ‘You’ in relation to other ‘Yous’ – especially in relation to the one who made You.’ (p.12-13)
Yet the points are made in a number of playful ways. After drawing attention to some of the ways playfulness creeps up on you in the book, I will conclude by suggesting how this aspect of the text promises readers spiritual benefit.
Playfulness is suggested immediately by the bright colours on the cover of the book (yes, we do all judge books by their covers!). The simple title, with its double meaning invites a giggle. ‘You: An introduction.’ The use of the word ‘introduction’ is infinitely more attractive in Michael’s book, than say that by, for example, Maurice De Wulf’s- ‘An Introduction to Scholastic Philosophy, Medieval and Modern’! Chapter headings maintain the evocative tone set by the title. Chapters include, ‘Touched’, ‘Stuff’ and ‘boy/girl.’
The book has an air of freshness and originality in structure, as each chapter originated in form as a blog entry. A few comments from other bloggers have been preserved at the end of each chapter. The playful blending of book and blog, invites reflection on the role of the internet in society and personal identity. It also reminds us that as in the sixteenth century, Christians used the new technology of printing press to spread the Gospel, we must today utilise the new digital printing presses.
Playfulness is also seen in the casual blog-like style of writing, and various comments throughout. A few of my favourites were the introduction of the story of a woman who suffered from bleeding- ‘Here’s a touching story.’ (p.33) Read Mark 5:21-34 and think about it! The creation story of woman is introduced by a heading- ‘A gentle Ribbing.’ (p.91). Readers are gently mocked, ‘If you are a human being (and if any non-human beings are reading this book, could you please let me know?’ (p.115)
Michael permits himself to join in the play by sharing a few personal comments – these are not overly done, but hint at a right and proper personal engagement with the subject matter. I think, for example, of his admitting to finding watching the Paralympic Games uncomfortable (p.38).
In summary, this book is peripatetic. That is, in the apocryphal tradition of Aristotle, it is a wandering meander through the lecture hall. Michael’s book does not just lay out in clear logical order the facts of doctrine, rather it sets ideas alongside each other in creative, stimulating ways. (You can read about the Peripatetics at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peripatetic_school.) We are invited to wander round the orthodox Biblical doctrine of humanity, to play with it, observe it from fresh angles and as we occasionally laugh – see again that the Bible is not only factually true but theologically rich.
The benefit of this to readers is that such doctrinal theology has a high likelihood of being the sort of doctrine that will impact readers and change them. All reading changes us, not because each book gives us a new piece of information, but because reading itself is an engagement in the process of re-envisioning our world. As Paul Ricoeur wrote, ‘As readers incorporate – consciously or unconsciously – into their vision of the world the lessons of their readings, then reading becomes a medium they cross through.’ (Ricoeur, Time & Narrative, Vol. 3 p.179.)
Reading orthodox doctrinal theology which is playful makes the process of change all the more enjoyable. This has too long been viewed as either a danger or optional extra for the theologian. In actuality the playfulness is itself part of faithful orthodoxy.
You can be purchased from:
USA orders: https://store.matthiasmedia.com/order/orders.asp
UK orders: http://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/You-an-introduction-you_1037/
Aussie orders: http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/mmstore/you
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
There has been much talk about slavery, and the extent to which Christianity ought to oppose it. I read a number of articles on the topic in preparation for this exposition of Philemon, but found they mostly failed to capture what I felt was the perspective of the apostle Paul. The reason for this is that when people approach the Bible, merely seeking to justify a position in a modern political debate, it is easy to miss the central concerns which preoccupy God and his apostle.
Briefly put - The NT works toward the genuine creation of freedom and dignity. This is not achieved by slogans, superficiality or idealism. Neither is it a false, unreal freedom that does not touch upon concrete life situations, such as slavery. The freedom God brings is wrought in the context of conversion, church and relationships - and it is the only meaningful point from which to offer both slaves and masters freedom.
Have a listen here: