Thursday, March 27, 2008

There Will Be Blood

Last night Su and I went to the cinema for the first time in ages,thanks to the babysitting services of my sister and Karl. There wasn't a lot on that we wanted to see, but in the end we decided on There Will Be Blood. (Perhaps not the most romantic of choices!) Well, what a strange and powerful film. It tells the story of Daniel Plainview, an oil prospector at the beginning of the 20th century and the start of the American oil business. It is a dark and bleak epic of how this man is overcome by greed, competition and misanthropy. Plainview's loss of relationship with his adopted son and his descent into alcoholism and murder is accompanied by an ongoing battle of the wills with a preacher who belongs to a very bizarre fundamentalist, pseudo-Christian sect. Fairly slow moving, there is very little dialogue in the film, but the drama is moved along by an incredible soundtrack, some stunning images and the wonderful, oscar-winning performance of Daniel Day-Lewis. There is no redemption in the film and the brutal and chilling climax is given away in the title. There is some kind of sub-text about the iraq war, oil, greed and errant religion going on there, although this is never explicit. Did I enjoy it? Well, enjoy would be a strange word to use for such a dark piece, but it did hold me for nearly 3 hours and I'd say it's worth watching just for Daniel Day-Lewis. Like 'Citizen Kane', I would say this is a 'film-buffs' film, not really a populist choice and definitely not a chick-flick. Su was not a big fan of the film, not that she only likes chick-flicks, but she definitely doesn't do dark, and she thought it was boring (it wasn't).

Billy Boy at the Beach

Monday, March 10, 2008

Everything is Spiritual and er.. Everything Must Change

Last night I watched the Rob Bell DVD 'Everything is Spiritual' with some friends. He is basically expanding on the creation story of Genesis 1 and arguing for a more Hebraic understanding of God, creation and our place in the world. I have to say I found it pretty awe inspiring. Partly because he is such a gifted communicator and partly because he is speaking about the wonder of creation which is mind-blowingly awesome. One of the problems with any theological preaching or teaching is that people sometimes expect you to say everything that can be said whenever you speak - 'but what about...?', and this is clearly impossible. Having said that, here's what I think -

A doctrine of creation needs to be held together with a doctrine of redemption. If you only emphasize creation then what you end up with is pantheism, everything is God, or panentheism, God is in everything. Rob Bell sometimes seems to come close to this idea, although I don't think he is actually saying this. On the other hand, if you only emphasise redemption, then you end up with dualism - creation is ruined and is going to be thrown in the dustbin and we need to escape to a 'spiritual' realm. I guess Bell is addressing a context which has often fallen into this second category and so is providing a welcome corrective. I look forward to the follow ups 'Everything is Broken', based on Genesis 3, and 'Everything is Being Renewed', based on, well, the New Testament. Everything is spiritual, but not everything is God. Everything is spiritual, but not everything is good.

I have also been reading Brian McLaren's latest book Everything Must Change
Now this is one of those book titles where you go, ok Brian, whatever - a tad over the top? What he is arguing is that if the message that Jesus brought, the message of the kingdom is true, then this challenges all the other prevailing stories and therefore everything must change, not least our understanding of the gospel. He is essentially examining how Jesus' message would address some of the global crises of our time. There is a lot in this book that I like and agree with but it has the frustration for me that whereas he has a very nuanced understanding of lots of huge subjects, and there are the usual McLaren footnotes, he does also seem to accept uncritically some recent scholarship where I think the jury may still be out, and sometimes comes across as somewhat naive and idealistic. Nevertheless he does, for me, capture the revolutionary nature of Christ's message and how the church in the West has tamed and commodified this.

As a taster, here is his reworking of the Magnificat, if Mary had the conventional understanding of the gospel that he received in his religious upbringing. Yeah, it's polemic and charicatured, but it makes an important point.

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my personal Saviour, for he has been mindful of the correct saving faith of his servant. My spirit will go to heaven when my body dies, for the Mighty One has provided forgiveness, assurance, and eternal security for me - holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who have correct saving faith and orthodox articulations of belief, from generation to generation. He will overcome the damning effects of original sin with his mighty arm; he will damn to hell those who believe they can be saved through their own efforts or through any religion other than the new one he is about to form. He will condemn followers of other religions to hell but bring to heaven those with correct belief. He has filled correct believers with spiritual blessings but will send those who are not elect to hell forever. He has helped those with correct doctrinal understanding, remembering to be merciful to those who believe in the correct theories of atonement, just as our preferred theologians through history have articulated."


For a full review of the book see Alan Mann part 1, part 2, part 3

So there we are - Everything is Spiritual and Everything Must Change.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Understanding the Muslim World

The end of another busy week at Trinity, and the end of an excellent course - 'Understanding the Muslim World'. This was a really well run course, probably one of the best I've attended so far at Trinity, with some expert speakers, and plenty of time for questions. It did sometimes raise more questions than it answered due to the highly complex nature of the subject, but was fascinating nonetheless. The tone of the course, set by the contributors such as Richard Sudworth and Colin Chapman, was very much a both/and approach to the dialogue or evangelism question, which I embrace. In other words in our relation to muslims, we need to pay as much attention to the great commandment, to love our neighbour as ourselves, as to the great commission. The course didn't, however, avoid some of the tough questions that the muslim community needs to ask itself, and is doing.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Big Up a Blogger

One of the things I've enjoyed about getting back into blogging has been catching up with some blogs that I haven't read for a while. I've been working my way through my blogroll which I use bloglines to keep an eye on. I thought I'd big up some of the bloggers I enjoy.

First up, is my friend Michael Pahl who blogs over at The Stuff of Earth.
Michael is from Calgary. I got to know him when he was over here to do the residential period of his PhD which he did at Birmingham University and has recently completed. He is a wonderful guy and a great scholar. His blog is a biblioblog covering various aspects of New Testament studies, as well as family stuff, and er.. icehockey.

To be honest, I'm slightly jealous of him, because he lives in Canada (and gets to go hiking in places like this) and because he is a New Testament lecturer which I kind of dream of doing one day. He is much smarter than I am though.

As well as keeping us up to date with the latest issues of the main New Testament Studies journals he produces some fascinating series. I thought I'd point to a couple:

What is the gospel? explores what is surely the most important question of our time from three angles:
the jewish scriptures
the death and resurrection of jesus
the roman imperial propaganda

followed by a a summary

he then offers the following concluding reflections :

concluding reflections 1
concluding reflections 2
concluding reflections 3

Another good series is popular myths of evangelicals

Some of these might apply more to North American evangelicalism, or the particular brand he describes as "fundagelicalism", but they are well worth a read.

"creation" = "creationism"
the eschaton = "the pre-trib rapture"
the bible is "the word of God"
innerancy guarantees orthodoxy

and a couple of other interesting posts:

pistis christou: the "faithfulness of christ

and one directly relevant to my MPhil dissertation

barclay, wright, and paul's anti-imperialism

very good stuff. thanks michael

Newbigin on the Church

In the last in this series of Newbigin quotes I will look at what he concluded about the role of the church. One of his more well known sayings is that
'the only hermeneutic of the gospel is a community (he uses the word congregation) of men and women who believe it and live by it.'

This community is centred on Jesus :

'Jesus... did not write a book but formed a community. This community has at its heart the remembering and rehearsing of his words and deeds, and the sacraments given by him through which it is enabled both to engraft new members into its life and to renew this life again and again through sharing in his risen life through the body broken and the lifeblood poured out. It exists in him and for him. He is the centre of its life. Its character is given to it, when it is true to its nature, not by the characters of its members but by his character. Insofar as it is true to its calling, it becomes the place where men and women and children find that the gospel gives them the framework of understanding, the "lenses" through which they are able to understand and cope with the world.'

He then gives six characteristics this community will have if it is true to its calling :

1) It will be a community of praise. That is perhaps its most distinctive character.
He defines this in 2 ways.
In reverence, over against the prevailing mood of doubt and the 'hermeneutic of suspicion' which is so dominant in modern society.
In thanksgiving - 'A Christian congregation is thus a body of people with gratitude to spare, a gratitude that can spill over into care for the neighbour.'

2) It will be a community of truth.
'The reigning 'plausibility structure' can only be effectively challenged by people who are fully integrated inhabitants of another.' In other words, by remembering and rehearsing the true story the church will challenge the false other false stories around, but in a way that is appropriate to disciples of Jesus.

3) It will be a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of its neighbourhood.
'It is God's embassy in a specific place.'

4) It will be a place where men and women are prepared for and sustained in the exercise of priesthood in the world.
That is, in the public world of work, arts, education, politics etc, etc. He recognises that this is very difficult and is too much for the trained minister. He suggests the need for 'frontier groups' of people working in the different sectors, together thrashing out the issues they face in their sphere. He also makes a comment on the inadequacy of training to prepare ministers for this task - 'I realise how extremely difficult it is to find the way forward in this matter, but it seems clear that ministerial training as currently conceived is still far too much training for the pastoral care of the existing congregation, and far too little oriented toward the missionary calling to claim the whole of public life for Christ and his Kingdom.'

5) It will be a community of mutual responsibility.
It is to be the foretaste of a different social order. 'Its members will be advocates for human liberation by being themselves liberated. Its actions for justice and peace will be, and will be seen to be, the overflow of a life in Christ, where God's justice and God's peace are already an experienced treasure.'

6) It will be a community of hope.
Again, this challenges the reigning plausibility structures of despair and nihilism.
'Everything suggests that it is absurd to believe that the true authority over all things is represented in a crucified man. No amount of brilliant argument can make it sound reasonable to the inhabitants of the reigning plausibility structure. That is why I am suggesting that the only possible hermeneutic of the gospel is a congregation that believes it.'

'This will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognise that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God's redeeming grace for the whole life of society.'

So there we are, at length, the words of a prophet, and one of the most important voices for the church in our generation.

Lesslie Newbigin