Monday, 30 June 2014

The Loneliness of Doubting

© 2012, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Fyodor Dostoevsky once wrote “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.” I’ve always liked this quote by Dostoevsky. Rather than painting doubt as a negative thing, it is painted as a means to a deeper faith (even if it is a painful experience for some). In recent years we have seen an explosion in books dedicated to helping those who doubt find answers. But I’ve always found it curious that there is little ink spilled on the loneliness of doubt. From my own struggles with intellectual doubts I know that it can be a terribly lonely experience to stumble out into the great unknown areas of faith. I think there are two basic reasons why intellectual doubts can make people feel lonely (and I have experienced both). The first is that one can feel a reluctance talk about their doubts for fear that they will drag others down with them. But it’s the second reason that I want to spend this blog post addressing.  

Monday, 23 June 2014

No, Faith is not the Crux of the Evolution Debate

Source: Photopin

In the wake of the evangelical films God’s Not Dead and God vs Evolution comes another film about Christians vs “secular academia”A Matter of Faith. The film’s premise is essentially about a Christian girl who goes off to university and starts to drift away from her faith after she is taught evolution in her Biology class. As a result, her father decides to challenge her Biology professor to a public debate to prove Creationism (and therefore the Bible) over the theory of evolution. Now I don’t want to focus too much on this film, partly because I haven’t seen it. Instead I want to focus on a quote by the film’s director Rich Christiano. In an interview with Christian News Network the following was stated:

The crux of the evolution/creation debate, Christiano said, ultimately comes down to a simple question: “Who are you putting your faith in? Darwin? Or God?”

I disagree with this sentiment quite strongly for three reasons.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The Biblical Drama: Creation and Fall

Source: Wikimedia Commons
The opening chapters of Genesis are easily some of the most hotly debated chapters in the Bible. But in our efforts to mine these passages for ammunition in the origins debate we can miss the main thrust of what is happening in the story. Chapters 1-9 of Genesis form the first two acts of the powerful story of the Bible of creation and redemption.

Act 1 – Creation
Act 1 begins with the declaration that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth is formless and barren, covered by deep waters of chaos. What follows next is the dramatic account of Yahweh overcoming chaos to create the world. But to flatten this down to whether this was done in seven days or in seven million years ignores what the narrative is trying to see. It is a story of God creating the world and the dwelling in it with His creation. The Bible’s story of creation is about God creating the world as a temple for Himself and establishing His kingdom in it. One of the last things that God does in His creative act is to put an image of Himself into the world – humans (Genesis 1:26-28). The ancient audience would have readily recognised this as kingdom language; when God placed humans in the world as His image-bearers it was a symbol of His rule over the kingdom. What this image entails is quite explicit in the text – to rule over creation.[1] But this is command to rule is not justification for being environmentally abusive as some have tried to argue. Rather it is a command to be stewards who reflect God’s love and care into His created world. God invites humans into His creative work.

And God declares it very good.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Biblical Drama: Moving Away From a Chapter a Day

Someone once summed up the Bible as Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. I want to slap that person. I really do. There are a few reasons why I dislike this approach to reading scripture.

Source: Garry Wilmore
  • It takes the focus of scripture off God and places it onto the individual.
  • It represents an escape pod view of redemption where the Christian hope is in flying off to a Heavenly existence rather than the recreation and restoration of all creation.
  • It tends to lead to a self-help view of Christianity - an individualistic reading of scripture which becomes primarily about what the individual can get out of the Bible.  
  • It’s an overly simplistic treatment of the Bible which ignores that there is a great wealth of literary genres in the Bible from poetry to history to instruction.

But most of all, viewing the Bible as an instruction manual is quite possibly the most boring way to look at the Bible in existence. I’m a male; I don’t like instruction manuals. I can’t remember the last time I actually read a computer game manual before sitting down to play the game (in my rush to play the game I often find myself barely able to sit through the opening cinematic sequence). To me, the manual is just the designer’s opinion on how the game should be played. So you’ll have to excuse me if I have a problem with the Bible being placed in the same category as IKEA manuals. 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Jesus Wasn't a Conservative (but He Wasn't a Liberal Either) - Part 2.

Yesterday we looked at attempts by the German Christian movement to reinvent Jesus in order to support Nazi ideals, mainly by recasting him as a Gentile or a destroyer of Judaism. Today we will look at an influential theologian who fought against this movement.

Karl Barth  Wikimedia Commons

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), in response to these attempts to redefine Jesus, emphasised Jesus’ Jewishness, writing:

“A Jew, an Israelite, a Hebrew, Jesus is the Christ – that is the bit of earthly history, which takes place on the way from Israel to the Greeks, that is, to the whole world. We cannot split Jesus Christ and seek to retain only one of the two components. Jesus Christ would not be what He is, were He not the Christ, the Commissioner who come out of Israel, who is the Jew Jesus.”[1]

For Barth, it was essential that Christ was Jewish because of his place in the Salvation history. God had made a covenant with the people of Israel that He would save them. In antiquity names and titles carried a significant weight and meaning; they expressed an idea, revelation. The name Jesus and Christos carry significant weight. Jesus, or Joshua, means “Jehovah helps” and Christos is the Greek translation of the Jewish messiah, the one who would save Israel. The fact that the Jewish people had survived into modern day times when so many others crumbled was the greatest testament to Barth of God’s faithfulness in His covenant. Israel was by no means faithful to God. The Old Testament constantly portrays them as screwing up and running away from the God who calls them. But by sending Jesus, Israel becomes an example of God’s grace. Barth writes:

Monday, 2 June 2014

Jesus Wasn't a Conservative (but He Wasn't a Liberal Either) - Part 1.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
It seems like there’s a bit of a battle over Jesus these days with each side wanting to claim him for themselves. The conservative Christians loudly proclaim that Jesus is a conservative; the liberals argue that Jesus is a liberal, and the Marxists argue that Jesus was a Marxist. In fact I hear these claims all the time. But I don’t think that we can rightly make those claims. Why? The obvious reason is that apply these modern political systems on a first century preacher from Palestine is quite anachronistic. Saying that Jesus was a Greenie makes about as much sense as saying that Alexander the Great was one too.

But with that out of the way, what’s to stop us from saying that Jesus represented a proto-political party? Could he have been a proto-21st century conservative or liberal? However, I would caution against identifying Jesus as belonging to a particular political ideology. Why? Well we’re going to look at a rather extreme example from history.