Thursday, 31 January 2013

Evolution Sunday is a comin'

Only nine days to go (ten in some places still) till Evolution Sunday.
Hundreds of churches across the country will celebrate Evolution Weekend on the weekend closest to Charles Darwin’s birthday, February 12. Evolution Weekend is the day when religious organizations from all across the United States representing a host of denominations will come together to discuss the compatibility of religion and science.
Fantastic!  Nine New Zealand congregations are listed among the hundreds marking the day, with another eight across the ditch in a westerly direction.   You can learn more here.
One of the goals of Evolution Weekend is to provide evidence that evolution is sound science, that the science of evolution is central to the theology taught in most seminaries, and that the science of evolution poses no problems for people of faith. 
Alas, the majority of the clergy officers' corp, guarding the boundaries of what they can get away with without alienating those inclined to a monochrome fundamentalism, have been slow to embrace initiatives like this.  To those who have, may be Force be with you.

And what better way to prepare for the big event than a final dose of Lloyd Geering's series on Evolution: The Real Genesis.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The New Community Bible: A Review

The New Community Bible is a translation with a difference.  Where most English bibles are tailored for the American and British markets, the NCB has strong ties with the developing world.  This Catholic bible, based on Bernado Hurault's earlier Philippines-based project, the Christian Community Bible, has been produced primarily in India.  An international edition however was published in Australia by the Society of St. Paul at the end of 2012, and is currently being promoted in Catholic parishes there.

Catholic translations are better than most when it comes to reading scripture aloud, an essential quality where lectionary texts form an important focus in the church service.  And of course this is the way they were originally intended to be heard, given widespread illiteracy in the ancient world.  Here the NCB makes a strong showing, though perhaps not with the power of either the Jerusalem Bible or New Jerusalem Bible.  The NCB, as all Catholic bibles do, includes the deuterocanonical books, which are also becoming increasingly common in non-Catholic bibles, and were clearly influential in the formative years of the church.  More importantly, though it carries its own agendas, it is sound in its scholarship, and includes introductions to each of the books that are in tune with the current consensus about their authorship and origins, a task on which evangelical versions often prevaricate, or even mislead.

One significant change in this major revision of Hurault's work is the substitution of "the LORD" for Yahweh.  This seems a backward step given the associations Lord has with male gender and hierarchic thinking.  The reason lies in a 2008 Vatican directive that declared Yahweh unacceptable in Catholic prayer and music, citing sensitivity to Jewish scruples over the name of God.  Another emphasis in this translation, particularly in the footnotes, is an open approach to readers whose background in is other world religions, clearly a significant matter on the Indian sub-continent.  The notes to Matthew 6, for example, mention Hindu and Muslim fasting practices, Gandhi and parallels in the Bhagavadgita.

Artwork by Christopher Coelho
A further defining feature of the NCB however has nothing to do with the translation itself, but its artwork.  Both the Indian and international editions include calligraphy and illustrations by Christopher Coelho.  The benchmark for black and white artwork in modern bibles was set by Horace Knowles (appearing in various editions of the New English Bible and the Revised Standard Version) and later by Annie Valloton with her line drawings in the Good News Bible.  Overall the NCB seems less successful in this regard, and it seems strange that the very competent artwork in the Christian Community Bible was not used.

Here's Psalm 1 in the NCB.
The Two Ways
How blessed is the one
who does not follow the counsel of the wicked,
nor takes the way that sinners take,
nor sits where the scoffers sit;
instead, he finds delight in the law of the LORD
and meditates day and night on his law.
He is like a tree planted beside a brook
yielding its fruit in due season,
and its leaves never withering.
In all he does, he succeeds.
But it is different with the wicked, quite different,
they are like chaff driven away by the wind.
The wicked will not stand their ground when judgement comes,
nor will sinners be admitted into the assembly of the just.
Fot the LORD guards the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
 Overall the NCB makes a valuable addition to the range of English translations available with its developing world perspective and a concern to communicate respectfully with non-Christians.  Non-Catholic Christians may also find it intriguing.  It would be a shame though to see Hurault's CCB disappear.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Invasion of the Exclamation Marks!


Tomorrow's World and the Good News are two magazines with a lot in common.

They're free, attractively laid out, and published by competing splinters of the now defunct Worldwide Church of God.

But whereas The Good News is the domain of the rhetorical question mark, thanks to all those articles that expound on patsy questions (see this earlier post); Tomorrow's World salts as many exclamation marks as possible into its headlines.

- Resist Demons!
- Beware of False Prophets!
- When Nations Despise God!
- How Satan Seduces YOU!
- Jesus Christ is Coming to Rule!
- New Europe Rising!
- The End of the Age!

and my favourite: Become a Great Conversationalist!

Well, that's just a sample from last year. But there are enough of those cool GN-style rhetorical questions to have some fun with too. How would you respond to each of these?

A. Why Study Bible Prophecy?
B. Will Britain Leave the European Union?
C. Will the United Kingdom Break Apart?
D. How Would Jesus Vote for President?
E. Is Democracy the Answer?
F. Why Are We Here?

Feel free to send in your considered replies.

My suggestions: a. to make a fool of yourself in the same way Rod Meredith has; b. not all that likely; c. not before the Living Church of God does; d. Green; e. in most cases, definitely; f. to wise up enough to to recognise Rod's stuff for the hooey it is.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Good News - Answers to Questions

2012 was another cracker year for rhetorical questions in my favourite COG magazine, The Good News.  The problem, of course, is that even though you know the expected answer as soon as you read the headline, you still have to wade through mountains of text to find out how they get there.

So, as a public service in the public interest, Otagosh presents the answers to those great GN questions.  Not that we can answer the lot - and some clearly defy a logical response - but a representative selection appears below.  The format is simple.  First the question, then the predictable answer (without all the journalistic blather), and finally the real answer.  Just think of all the time you'll save by not having to hunt through the back issues!

Q. Europe's Woes: Setting the Stage for Bible Prophecy?
A. Yes.
RA. No.

Q. Does the Koran Promote Peace and Cooperation?
A. No.
RA. In about the same measure as the Hebrew Bible.

Q. What Can You do when Life Isn't Fair?
A. Read the free booklet at the end of the article.
RA. Not a lot, but stay positive.

Q. Planet Earth: Lucky Accident or Master Handiwork?
A. Master Handiwork.
RA. Uh, can we please have more than two options here?

Q. Do Science and the Bible Conflict?
A. No, as long as the Bible is understood to trump bad science.
RA. Yes, as long as you insist on fundamentalist assumptions about the Bible.

Q. Is Europe Going Under?
A. No, there's a prophesied resurrection of the Roman Empire on the horizon.
RA. Yes, continental drift should see to that eventually.

Q. Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?
A. Yes.
RA. No.

Q. Would Jesus Attend Your Church?
A. Not unless your church is the United Church of God.
RA. He'd probable look up the local synagogue first.

Q. How Can You Understand the Rapidly Changing World Scene?
A. Keep misinterpreting Bible texts the way we do.
RA. Stay away from Fox News.

Q. Has America Lost it's Way?
A. Yes, just look at the moral decline under President Obama.
RA. No, it's more likely finding it.

Q. Is the Stage being set for the Fulfillment of Daniel 11?
A. Yes.
RA. No.

Q. Does Marriage Matter?
A. Yes.
RA. Yes.

Q. What's Behind the Gay Agenda?
A. Satan and the Democrats.
RA. Human rights and dignity for all.

Q. What's the Real Truth About Christmas?
A. It's pagan.
RA. It's a occasion to get together with family and affirm those values you keep preaching about.  Get over it!

The Bible as Conversation

This will be an experimental posting - the laptop is in Australia being attended to by the nice people at Acer, and I am floundering around on a tablet which, till now, has been used for purposes other than typing missives.  Anyway, until I'm safely back in the Windows "ecosystem" things might be a tad more "no frills".

A thoughtful piece on reading the Bible as a conversation across the generations appears on James McGrath's blog, but sourced from http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-what-is-the-bible
Genesis isn’t twentieth century science. Leviticus is primitive, brutal and middle eastern. The Old Testament histories are not scholarly documentaries, but religious and tribal understandings of God and events. Proverbs comes from a mongrel wisdom tradition throughout the middle east. Song of Solomon is erotic poetry, and not much else. The prophets spoke to their own times, and not to our own. The scholars who help me understand these books as they are, are not enemies of truth, but friends. Call it criticism, paint it as hostile, but I want to know what the texts in front of me are saying!
The Old Testament and New Testament Canon are the selection of those parts of our spiritual literary heritage that make up the Great Conversation about the Judeo-Christian God. The Bible itself is a human book, created and complied by human choices. There may be other writings that contribute to the conversation, but those who know and experience the God of Jesus Christ hear the conversation most plainly in these writings. Canon is that human choice of what to listen to. Inspiration- the next section- is the validation and expounding of that choice.
Worth reading in it's entirety.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

The New Grandee from Arroyo Grande

As mentioned here earlier, Bob Thiel, tired of submitting to the Living Church of God mullahs in Charlotte, NC., recently unfurled his sails and set out on his own, paddle gripped firmly in hand, becoming in effect a one-man sect.  His new Arroyo Grande-based hobby-church is called the Continuing Church of God

Not that Bob doesn't have a few followers - I'm assuming though that we're talking the kind of numbers you can still reach on just fingers and toes - but he has adopted the legal strategy of incorporating as a "corporate sole."  So much more convenient than all that nasty bother of creating checks and balances in an accountable structure.

Bob's cogwriter website certainly once raked in a lot of visitors.  They came because he provided a fairly comprehensive news service about the many and various splinter groups that formed following the self destruction of the Worldwide Church of God, but funnelled through the rose-tinted glasses of a loyal Living Church of God apologist.  Trading on the popularity of his news page, Bob diversified into writing long, semi-literate position papers on various doctrines.  More recently he moved into self publishing the kind of books that titillate poorly educated prophecy-addicts.  Suddenly he was being touted as an 'expert' on the Mayan calendar and a variety of similar topics, and being fed patsy questions by cynical talk radio hosts hoping for a little diversion.

It all seems to have gone to Bob's head.  As the break from LCG opened up he was making strange claims about having hands laid on him for a double portion of the Spirit.  No matter that the minister who prayed for him had no intention in the world of feeding Bob's delusions, just of stringing some nice, edifying words together.

Now it appears that Bob is dancing around the idea that he is one of the Two Witnesses.  Despite never being ordained he now signs himself as "Bob Thiel, Pastor and Overseer."

As Dennis Diehl has frequently noted, candidates for the Two Witnesses are a dime a dozen.  The thing that Bob did do reasonably well, pass on the gossip about events in the WCG diaspora, has quietly dropped away.  Now that Bob has snatched the mantle of cult leadership he'll have other priorities.  Don't expect thousands - or hundreds - or even scores - of LCG members to follow this particular sideshow though; Bob is way out of his depth.  The wreckages of other ministries litter this path.  At best Bob can probably only become the Willie Dankenbring of a new generation.

One thing is certain.  2013 will bring yet more grief to the remaining true believers, former disciples of Herbert W. Armstrong.  Expect further spats and splits.  If you, like me, can see the funny side of it - a decades-long free soap opera that provides endless entertainment - then grab the beer and peanuts and settle back for the new season.  But if you're disillusioned, disappointed and hurt by it all, maybe it's time to start asking some critical questions and gaining some healthy distance from the drama.  There's life beyond the gulag!

Evolution: The Real Genesis (Part 3)

Continuing the recent lecture series by Sir Lloyd Geering.


Lies Bibliolators Tell

Ever heard how critical scholarship of the Bible has been debunked?  That you're completely out of date because conservative, 'evangelical' scholars have trounced the skeptics?  Some new archaeological discovery has proved the historical accuracy of the Old Testament?  All that 'liberal' stuff is so 19th century don't ya know, 'cos my pastor told me so.

Yeah, right!

Peter Enns tackles this bit of conceited deceit in an excellent blog post.  Do share it with your evangelical in-laws!

Friday, 11 January 2013

Keeping the little lady in line

"Are the ancient biblical instructions for marriage that call for a wife to submit to her husband still valid? How can a wife willingly submit to a less-than-perfect husband?"

Yes, oh most definitely they are, at least according to the November/December issue of the Good News magazine.  No matter that we're all supposedly living in the twenty-first century, not the first.

I give the GN some credit in that the author of the article (A Woman's Key to a Happy Marriage: Trusting God in Submission) is actually a woman.  In the antecedent church body years, even decades, could go by without a woman's by-line appearing in official publications.  But I digress.

Linda LaBissoniere creates a fictive woman, 'Marissa', to illustrate her case (which I assume was fully vetted by her lord and husband before arriving on Scott Ashley's desk).  Poor dear confused Marissa had read Ephesians 5:22-24, and had a problem with it.

"Marissa felt that God surely would not consider this passage valid today. After all, Paul lived in a male-dominated culture, where women were often dependent on their fathers or husbands for survival. Today, women are able to support themselves and in most cases are as educated or even more educated than their husbands."

No, no, Marissa!

Naturally it's a bloke's T-shirt
"Perhaps you too have questioned whether biblical instructions regarding marriage are still valid today. Specifically, are the words of the apostle Paul out of date, or can they be used as a foundation for Christian marriages?"

Darn right about that!

"We must first understand that the biblical view of marital roles derives not from ancient patriarchal culture but from the order established by God at the creation of man and woman (Genesis 2:21-24). When couples submit to God's pattern for marriage, the result is peace and happiness.  Sadly, our Western society teaches women to reject the biblical view of the husband's headship and the wife's submission. Ignoring this role distinction within marriages is a major cause of many breakups today."

Next Linda backtracks to paper over the awfulness of it all.  Submission isn't all that bad:  "in our society "submission" sounds like a flawed relationship of inferiors to superiors."  Just "sounds like"?

"...  there are various times when a husband should wisely defer to the wishes of his wife (compare the principle of all Christians submitting to one another in Ephesians 5:21). This would especially be true in areas where the wife is more knowledgeable. Both partners should always discuss major decisions and goals. However, if their opinions vary, God has instructed that the husband should make the final decision, and all family members should honor and respect that (Colossians 3:18)."

 Next there's the gratuitous use of a spot of Hebrew to bolster a weak-kneed argument - specifically ezer (rhymes with geezer?) - before Linda gets back into stride.

"Scripture is clear that wives are to be submissive to their husbands and obey them unless obedience involves breaking God's laws and biblical principles."

So if the old geezer wants to stop 'Marissa' tithing, or wants her to stand lookout while he rams the Ford pickup into the local ATM, then she might discover a little spine, but otherwise...

"The key to understanding submission is to realize that ultimately a wife is serving God, not man... every wife should strive to submit to her husband's leadership with the same attitude that Christ displayed toward His Father. Even though she is equal to her husband in the eyes of God, she should not question his God-ordained right to lead, just as Jesus who shared divinity with God the Father did not question His authority"

Obeying hubby = obeying God.  How very convenient.

"By following her husband's lead, a wife is trusting in God's protection and deliverance. This parallels Christ's submission to God, even to His death (Luke 22:42). If her husband truly wrongs her by his decisions, he will be judged by God. However, she will be blessed in the long run if she trusts God and follows the biblical admonition to submit to her husband."

Finally it's time to catch up with our no-longer conflicted exemplar, Marissa.  Marissa has seen the light and knuckled down, submitting to husband Tony in the approved manner.  No surprise to learn that it's all coming up roses.

"Marissa and Tony were overwhelmed at the blessings that came from following God's marital instructions. Marissa found the love and security she so deeply desired, and Tony finally felt the fulfillment of his longing to have a supportive companion to help and strengthen him. They also experienced much joy knowing that their marriage more closely reflected the relationship between Christ and the Church."

There is so much wrong with this article that it's difficult to know where to begin.  If I had to make one response it'd relate to Mrs. LaBissoniere's statement that "the biblical view of marital roles derives not from ancient patriarchal culture but from the order established by God at the creation of man and woman..."

Wrong.

The Bible was written in the very real world that predated modern times.  That's why the command was issued not to covet "your neighbour's wife" only, but other choice items of property: neither his "ox, nor his ass". Yep, in those far off days women were regarded as property.  Biblical marriage also included polygamous arrangements and, if you were a male and had the wherewithal, concubines.

Where do we get this idea that the 1950s nuclear family is the ideal that has existed since creation?  Marriage has obviously changed.  It continues to change, and for the large part it's been change for the better.

But what about those New Testament texts?  Same general point.  Roman society, despite what Linda may have read in old church literature, was extremely pro-patriarchal in the traditional "husband wears the toga" sense.  Likewise the New Testament fails to confront the institution of slavery, shamefully telling those unfortunate souls who were slaves to... you guessed it... submit!

The fruit from this kind of article is unlikely to be improved marriage relationships.

To the contrary. 


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Dear UCG, beat this

I've been mulling over a throwaway comment from Michael Snyder in his review of David Barrett's book Fragmentation of a Sect.  Snyder didn't quite seem to feel Barrett gave UCG enough credit for its outstanding technological grasp of modern media, including "recent digital growth online to compete directly for attention with nearly all major Christian Internet ministries, leaving the online performance of most other COGs far behind."

Yeah, yeah, lard it on.

The thing is, other churches are riding the digital wave far more effectively than the lads in Milford.  It's no longer enough to have a moderately cool-ish website, or plant a few annoying ads on Facebook.  Welcome to the age of apps, tablets, phablets and smart phones.

If you can't carry it around in your pocket or purse on your Android or Apple, well, such braggadocio is just going to raise smiles from anyone under 25.

Take the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod for example.  Now these guys are almost as far back in the theological Stone Age as UCG, worse even than the Missouri Synod.  But, piggy-backing on the enthusiasm and talent of some of their staff, they've done what UCG hasn't even imagined yet.  Check out the YouTube demo below.



And does Michael know that LCG (which plays Pepsi to UCG's Coke) has a Tomorrow's World app, though nothing as elegant as this.  Nevertheless that must be another embarrassment for the techies in Milford.

[Addendum:  It appears that there's a Good News app that I overlooked, but only for Apple.]


From Middle Earth to Mt. Zion



Think of the New Zealand film industry and you'll probably have visions of hobbits, orcs, Peter Jackson and the snow clad Southern Alps.  But that's not the whole story.  Just up the road from where I live they've been filming a true slice of Kiwiana, Mt. Zion.

Bob Marley's influence on Māori culture sets the theme for this movie which was largely filmed in Pukekohe (pook-e-coe-ee).
In Mt Zion, Stan Walker plays Turei, a talented singer who dreams of his band playing the support act for Bob Marley's 1979 tour.

But it's a dream that challenges the traditions and values of his upbringing and will set him at odds with his potato-picking family, particularly his father (Morrison), who is a true man of the land.

Pukekohe is the backdrop for the film and earlier this year, the expertise of local growers was called on, confirming Pukekohe as the potato- growing capital of New Zealand.
Well, obviously it was a local journo who thought that bit about "potato-growing capital" was a relevant comment.  You can read the whole thing here, fresh from this morning's edition of the district rag.

Choice eh!


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

The Facebook File 001

Facebook is an interesting place to hang out, not least for the images.  Some too good, in fact, not to share...  Thanks Keith.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

First Review of Barrett's Fragmentation of a Sect

What is probably the first review of David Barrett's new book, Fragmentation of a Sect, has appeared on the UCG website.  The preamble reads:
Michael Snyder notes that the book is a sweeping and generally balanced secular review of the history and behavioral record of the Worldwide Church of God and its related organizations, particularly the disastrous and ill-conceived WCG breakup. For many, reading the book will likely be a painful experience, as while the book is not an “expose,” it does chronicle shortcomings of WCG and other offshoot leaders. 
Michael Snyder offers a largely positive and honest response to the book, though not without the theologizing, apologetics, special pleading and sermonizing that is par for the course on an official church website.  The body of his review is reproduced below.
Centered on a secular analysis of what has to be one of the world's most spectacular failures in change management, sociologist and British journalist David Barrett chronicles in this new work how successors to Herbert W. Armstrong deliberately deployed a non-biblical logic of "the end justifies the means" to essentially reverse the theological course of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG).  As Barrett painfully drills deep, the reader sees that instead of bringing the majority of WCG members to a new understanding of Jesus Christ, the incomprehensible act shattered the lives of multiple thousands, leaving in its turbulent wake freshly minted angry skeptics and agnostics, now hostile to God. Perhaps worst of all, as Barrett eloquently outlines, the wholesale betrayal of trust set in motion predictable human patterns where former leaders and ministers skip from church group to church group, finally claiming the "authoritative mantle" of Herbert Armstrong (HWA) for themselves and setting up a "new" one-man rule over an all-new religious group or splinter (page 209).

The 283-page book (American edition) represents a greatly expanded version of Barrett’s first look at the WCG breakup, which first appeared as a 40-page case study by the same name in Barrett’s 2001 book The New Believers . This current WCG work is drawn on Barrett’s successful dissertation for a PhD in sociology from the London School of Economics (England).

Reviewing events ranging from the Philadelphia, Global and Restored groups to COGWA, Barrett draws on experts in human dynamics, presenting the secular analysis that 21st century church groups claiming to be the sole heir of HWA "compete for the same public, and frequently appeal to the same sources and authorities in legitimation of their position, thus engendering a competitive struggle to prove the purity of their doctrine and social practice" (Page 147).  Of the larger WCG offshoots, only the United Church of God (UCG) eschews the non-biblical "one-man rule," opting instead to adopt and deploy what Barrett calls a more "collegiate" form of senior government, relying on a collaborative "multitude of counselors" protective approach similar to what is found in the early chapters of the book of Acts. Instead of claiming theological authority from HWA, the United Church of God focuses on confirming that it is a continuation of what the Septuagint renders in Greek Ekklesia tou Theou, literally the spiritual Church of God that transcends any human corporate form of organization. In the United Church of God, Herbert Armstrong is remembered as a man highly respected and regarded as one whom God used in a powerful way, but his legacy of writings, sermons and broadcasts  (particularly as they changed and shifted over his 53-year ministry) are not viewed as divine scripture nor infallible (page 127). Like other human servants of God, Herbert Armstrong was a man, and therefore subject to everything that being a human means.

Barrett notes that unlike former books written about WCG with a decidedly pejorative focus, he strives for a balanced approach that includes numerous direct and indirect interviews with ministers and members (former and current) of virtually the entire spectrum of COGs. The result, however, is decidedly not pain-free for various COG groups. This work focuses on behavioral patterns as opposed to an evaluation of theology, and especially those patterns of behavior associated with the grasping of political power for the formation of new church groups, or in the case of WCG, the reversal of doctrine and organizational belief through raw authoritarian power (which WCG executives wryly refer to as “an ironic dynamic,” given their public condemnation of same). The book, which was more than three years in the researching and writing, includes more than 200 responses from a questionnaire openly circulated within the COG environment. In his analysis, which includes several direct responses from UCG members, Barrett demonstrates where one-man rule and a highly hierarchical form of Church government has resulted in numerous severe organizational issues in the old and new WCG and various offshoots, including outright abuse. The first half of this Oxford University-published book is largely dedicated to this analysis. It is decidedly not a pleasant read.

While striving to maintain a fair balance, Barnett often offers up his examination of the appearance of serious instances of "cognitive dissonance" -- simultaneous existence of conflicting beliefs or facts -- in many of the COGs and the old and new WCG.  He is particularly harsh in his comparative analysis of some old prophetic teachings of HWA, particularly as they are brought forward by HWA-reliant COGs and mistakes made yet again. The United Church of God is not spared in this, portrayed as slow and ponderous toward achieving its goals in its early years, and suffering its own schisms. But Barrett characterizes the measured UCG approach in realizing its organizational intentions as deliberate, noting that over the years “the Church was determined to get it right.” Given the cutoff date of the research, Barrett does not include more recent dynamic events such as the globe-spanning outreach efforts with the Beyond Today television program, and its recent digital growth online to compete directly for attention with nearly all major Christian Internet ministries, leaving the online performance of most other COGs far behind.

The book has already been reviewed by a number of prominent religious figures, including James Tabor, a liberal American theologian who once served on the Ambassador College faculty. The fact that Oxford University Press has published the book virtually guarantees that it will receive serious attention as an authoritative work on WCG, UCG and other WCG-related organizations.  However, Barrett recognizes that many American evangelical figures regarded the shattering of the Worldwide Church of God  as a politically positive event, noting: "It is a truism that history is written by the victors, and in the case of books about the changes in Worldwide (Tkach 1997, Feazell 2003, etc.) this is at least partially valid" (page 245). Perhaps the true “ironic dynamic” of this phenomenon appears as the catastrophic failure of post-HWA WCG leaders to achieve the religious goals for the majority of members, all of whom had contributed more than $1 billion in tithe contributions in the post-HWA years, but for most now had little to show for it.

What lessons can UCG ministers and members—indeed all those experienced in the COG phenomenon—possibly learn from Barrett's work, particularly given its largely unsavory recounting of many unfortunate and sometimes tragic events of the last 75 years? Perhaps the chief takeaway is this: speaking to His disciples Jesus said, "Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known" (Matthew 10:26).  Certainly this is true of the 21st century Internet, where virtually anything can be published, true or not. Perhaps echoing this instant impact of the Internet thousands of years in advance, Moses wrote in the Torah, "be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).

Perhaps the real value of Barrett's work can serve to remind all of us of the urgent need to be individually and humbly transformed spiritually, that we "prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2), each of us following the true Leader of the Ekklesia tou Theou, Jesus Christ Himself (Colossians 1:15-20) as opposed to any single human leader.  In doing so, we can understand the critical role of the Church and its ministry in effectively demonstrating and truly bearing witness of God's way of life, as we are all individually accountable to God. As the apostle Peter wrote: "sanctify the Lord God in your hearts...having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil" (I Peter 3:15, 16-17, emphasis added).

To sum up, as translated by the 2011 version of the New International Version, the apostle Paul declares to us that the divine gift of love " does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs" (I Corinthians 13:5, emphasis added).  Instead, love , the godly quality that Jesus Christ said would be the openly defining behavior of true Christians (John 13:35), "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (verse 7). Unlike prophecies or knowledge, Paul declares that " love never fails " (verse 8).

In the light of Barrett's book, as the literal Ekklesia tou Theou moves forward -- ignoring any physical organizational boundaries -- perhaps each one of us, wherever we are and whatever we've done, can abandon the names and titles like "Abigail" or "pastor general," and truly heed the words of our Savior and soon-coming King: "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you" and finally, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5: 44, 16).
May God speed that day. 
(View the UCG review page here).

I get the feeling that Michael Snyder is, to some extent, whistling bravely.  Beyond that, I'm not going to comment further at this stage, and won't until I've got my hands on a copy.   And then... well, stay tuned.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Evolution: The Real Genesis (Part 1)

If you've got a spare 45 minutes and an interest in evolution and Christian thought, you might like to listen in to the first lecture of two by Sir Lloyd Geering.  Geering is in his eighties now, and has been causing havoc and consternation in fundamentalist circles since the 1960s.  Evangelicals tend to loathe him, apologists go into conniptions at the very mention of his name, and certain pallid academics - unworthy successors - try to ignore him, but he's still the sharpest mind in the public arena of New Zealand theology. Recorded on December 26.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Yesterday is still Today

Triffids, Daleks, Ferengi, Wookies...

Yes, it's still the 2nd of January in the USA, so there's still time there to celebrate National Science Fiction Day, so chosen because it marks the birthday of the immortal Isaac Asimov.  If I had my way it'd enter the liturgical calendar of Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran Christians at the very least; and if that can't be arranged, there's gotta be at least one of the myriad sects calling themselves "Church of God" that would be willing to tag it onto the Feast of Trumpets or something else (Bob Thiel could surely make it a denominational distinctive.) As it is, even biblioblogger James McGrath, no slouch in noting momentous events in the multiverse, doesn't seem to have noticed.

Anyway, live long and prosper, and may the Force be with you!