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Friday, 31 July 2009

Wendell Berry as theologian

Rereading Wendell Berry's novel Jayber Crow brings into focus just how good a theologian Berry is.

Jayber Crow besides being a good read as a novel would repay attention by theologians interested in ethics, pastoral care, ecclesiology and the character of God.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Kierkegaard on reading the Bible

The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we as Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.

- Søren Kierkegaard

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Christian Advocacy for Human Rights

In mid-August 2009 a website will be launched, www.IsaiahOne (the theme verse being Isaiah 1:17).

It aims to be a resource for Christians who want a positive and constructive engagement with the human rights issue. It is a complex and broad-ranging area. The focus will be primarily on the debate about whether a Charter of Rights will assist the needy in society, and especially what Christianity has to say to this question.

This is a debate on which the Christian tradition has a good deal to say but one on which voices shaped by a nostalgia for return to Christendom have so far proved to be the loudest. anyone interested in this initiative should contact:

For a good book on this issue see Crowned with Glory and Honor: Human Rights in the Biblical Tradition by Christopher D Marshall Pandora Press, 2001 (Studies in Peace and Scripture Series Volume.6)

The human rights “tradition” has been taking a bit of a battering over the past few years. It has been caught between a post modern account of human life which opens the door to a corrosive form of cultural relativism on the one hand and an increasingly imperialistic approach to human rights by the emerging US empire in which human rights are defined by imperial interests.

The connection between the biblical tradition and the human rights tradition over this period has not been clearly expressed and defended particularly by activists from the evangelical tradition.

Chris Marshall a New Testament scholar currently teaching at the Bible College of New Zealand in Auckland offers something to both traditions in this slim thoughtful volume of less than 150 pages. In this brief space he has provides a systematic and readable account of the deep connections between the framework and language of human rights and the broad vision of in the biblical tradition of what makes for fully human life in God’s good creation.

The introduction provides a brief survey of some of the key philosophical issues and historical background to the emergence of human rights. This paralleled by a chapter on Christian approaches to human rights and the role and the limits of the Bible in informing discussion of human rights. With the groundwork laid out Chris outline his approach to the linkage of the two traditions in the following terms:

My strategy will be to focus on several key narrative moments in the larger biblical story or acts in the biblical drama. Each time I will be seeking to discern values and beliefs that have implications for human rights …

… my approach will be more than descriptive or historical. It will necessarily entail a degree of theological interpretation and appropriation of specific texts … an analysis of key passages or themes from the perspective of a particular faith-based construal of the direction and meaning of the overall biblical story.

That story I suggest has six main ”moments”, with human rights significance: Creation, Cultural Mandate, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation. (p.53)

The biblical material relevant to understanding the claim that human rights have on Christian support and action is presented under these six headings. This form of presentation locates the discussion within the heartland of Christian systematic theology.

There is a critical edge to the author’s presentation of the engagement between the two traditions though. In a final chapter Chris presents a brief account of how the biblical tradition can give a distinctive flavour or edge to our understanding and practice of human rights.

Theologically this is a work that is both informed by both a deep familiarity with Scripture and engagement with a variety of Christian theological traditions. Themes and insights from evangelical, anabaptist and reformed traditions of theological reflection are all drawn on by the author in the course of developing his argument.

This is an exciting, challenging and accessible piece of work and it deserves a wide audience inside and outside the church. In addition to contributing to our understanding and challenging us to a form of discipleship which embodies a commitment to support human rights.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

God is Back? The subtleties of globalisation and some other random thoughts about the relevance of Christendom

Interesting difference in the subtitle between the US and the UK editions of God is Back:

How the Global Rise of Faith is Changing the World (UK)
How the Global Rise of Faith will Change the World (US)

Interesting to try and guess why the subtle difference in the subtitle. The difference in the cover is striking - the US edition is much more soothing.

The story offered by the authors on the future of religious faith is told using an economic model. Sociologists might want to argue about whether the story is really one that could equally be told in sociological terms on the spectrum of establishment versus sectarianism. Interestingly a large part of the same story could be told in terms of church history using the differential historical impact and significance of the Christendom legacy between Europe and North America as the key element.

In assessing the future trajectories of Christianity and Islam the authors might actually have found some strands of theology of interest. I would argue that the Anabaptist tradition of Christianity by its essential logic calls for the implementation of a secular and pluralist political order as every social order must be secularised as part of the critique of idolatry.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Kingdom and Empire

Every now and then the ABC produces a program that justifies their existence. The recent Encounter program on the Kingdom of God as a critique of Empire is one of those programs.

The program puts Jesus' account of the Kingdom of God into a realistic political context:

Brian McLaren: Jesus never said he came to start a new religion. In fact if he had started a new religion, if that's all he was out to do, Rome didn't have any problem with that. You could have any religion you want, as long as you didn't challenge the powers-that-be and you didn't make a challenge to the Empire of Caesar. But Jesus didn't just say, 'I want to start a new religion', he came proclaiming a new kingdom, and even more radical, he doesn't just say 'The Kingdom of God will come some day, at the end of the world, or after we all die', he actually said 'Today it's happening, and we've got to wake up and realise it's at hand, it's here now. So it is an incredible revolutionary message, and it's the kind of message that could get a person killed in fact.