Friday 4 December 2009

Calvin, Barth, Torrance... eeccchhh!

I can't make sense of this. What is this dude talking about?

Jeff McSwain, founder of Reality Ministries in Durham, NC, talks with Mike Feazell about the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism, and the reformulated Reformed view of Karl Barth.

Inside the self authenticating bubble that constitutes the fictive universe of Reformed thought, I guess it must appear as non-nonsense, but, praise the Lord, most Christians beyond the gray walls of Geneva (Babylon the Grating) have been spared that travail. Ironically, the fellow doing the talking is in charge of something called Reality Ministries. Obviously an alternate reality, maybe somewhere close to Kolob, the Mormon home world, or orbiting close by with Xenu in one of L. Ron Hubbard's space ships.

Honestly, you could do a Seinfeld routine with a transcript of this thing. Forget the Mormons and Scientologists, it's those crazy Reformed folk we should all be worrying about.

(The picture above is an artist's impression of Xenu I think, but I suppose it could be either Barth or Calvin - or maybe even Torrance at a pinch...)

Sunday 22 November 2009

It Ain't the Barmen Declaration

Gathered in New York last month, the ideologues of conservative Christianity - "Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians" - launched something called the Manhattan Declaration (definitely not to be confused with the 2008 Manhattan Declaration on Climate Change.) It's a call to action that begins with a slop-bucket-full of historical misrepresentation.

After the barbarian tribes overran Europe, Christian monasteries preserved not only the Bible but also the literature and art of Western culture. It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery: Papal edicts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries decried the practice of slavery and first excommunicated anyone involved in the slave trade; evangelical Christians in England, led by John Wesley and William Wilberforce, put an end to the slave trade in that country. Christians under Wilberforce’s leadership also formed hundreds of societies for helping the poor, the imprisoned, and child laborers chained to machines.

In Europe, Christians challenged the divine claims of kings and successfully fought to establish the rule of law and balance of governmental powers, which made modern democracy possible. And in America, Christian women stood at the vanguard of the suffrage movement. The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.

This same devotion to human dignity has led Christians in the last decade to work to end the dehumanizing scourge of human trafficking and sexual slavery, bring compassionate care to AIDS sufferers in Africa, and assist in a myriad of other human rights causes—from providing clean water in developing nations to providing homes for tens of thousands of children orphaned by war, disease and gender discrimination.

This account is of course riddled with what used to be called "sins of omission." But having massaged history into something acceptable, the clarion call goes out. What great concerns must now be addressed in our times?

Abortion and homosexuality.

These people really do have one-track minds. Moral living is all about what happens below the waist. From Barmen to barmy.

And who signed this Barmen ripoff?

Archbishop Akinola, Anglican "primate" of Nigeria
Leith Anderson, president of the NAE (inheritor of Ted Haggard's position)
A Charlotte, NC. talk show host
Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary
Dr. James Dobson
Jerry's little boy, Jonathan Falwell
A couple of Cardinals
Ravi Zacharias
And a whole lot more.

It's a pretty ugly mob. Little wonder that you can find the Manhattan Declaration proudly on display at the First Things website.

Saturday 21 November 2009

Bibliolatry and the Age of Orthodoxy

The Reformation was an era of fiery debate, empowered by a dynamic that saw the world in broad brush strokes. Once the fire died down, and until the Enlightenment broke through, the embers were used to justify the reign of Orthodoxy.

Those assertions are not new, but I've been reminded of them by reading Bernhard Lohse's A Short History of Christian Doctrine. It's a remarkable work, especially given that the first German edition dates back to 1963 (which, if you're in need of a pop culture reference point, was the year The Fugitive first hit black and white television screens.)

Lohse is measured in his approach, but there's not much doubt that he is less than enchanted with the rise of Protestant Orthodoxy. The fact that it now lies gutted on the floor, a victim of the rise of historical thinking, doesn't change the fact that it affects us all still. Its outstanding but pernicious legacy may be the way most of us, as a default setting, were once taught to superstitiously regard scripture.

The Reformation thrust the Bible into a new prominence, and the big name Reformers were responsible for making it central to their agendas. Yet, as Lohse points out, the original layers of Protestant confessional writing contain no specific doctrine of scripture. That had to wait till the Formula of Concord in 1577.

It was possible, in those salad days, to be very critical of scripture - the letter of "James" for example (famously dismissed as "an epistle of straw") or the book of Revelation. The criteria for such judgment seems to have been whether or not a particular biblical document witnessed to what was seen as the essential gospel proclamation. Early German Protestant bibles happily relegated whole canonical books to a New Testament appendix, something almost unimaginable today.

In the Formula of Concord are found "the first traces of that development which sought to find in Scripture merely proofs for a comprehensive system of doctrine and which, at the same time, used Scripture as a law book..." (p.220)

Why? "This was done in order to obtain a bastion which would be safe from attack by the [Catholic] church... not even the most curious theories were disdained." (p.221)

Orthodoxy never solved the problems associated with this approach in a satisfactory way. In time the "dead hand of Orthodoxy" was first dissed by the Pietists (whose progeny yet prosper in a variety of evangelicalism) before collapsing under the impact of a modern world. But the proof texting approach that emerged then endures and prospers in the pigpens of fundamentalism.

The liberators - and of course Lohse is writing from a European perspective - emerged in the figures of Semler and Lessing, and the questions any thoughtful Christian faces today are not perhaps much different from theirs - unless you were raised in a "liberal" tradition to begin with. Semler "demonstrated the gradual development of the biblical canon, and in doing so undermined the Orthodox doctrine of the verbal inspiration of Scripture." Lessing grounded Christianity in the beliefs that predated the creation of the New Testament, the "rule of faith." Idolatrous claims about the bible and its alleged perfections have a long history of challenge.

For Lohse, these were liberating deeds. If so, it's a freedom that was enjoyed by many of the Reformers themselves, but after more than four hundred years has still to percolate through to the coal face of conservative Christianity.

Monday 9 November 2009

I love American Lutheranism

1. Because it's a long way from here, and the grass always looks greener...

2. Because the frisson between the various synods is invigorating.

3. Because the cardboard stereotypes of Missouri (conservative), Wisconsin (fundamentalist) and ELCA (liberal) members are uncannily accurate.

4. Because you can both be horrified by and admire American Lutheranism at the same time.

5. Because of people like ELCA member Ursula Stemm, who, commenting on a proposal by a Missouri Synod task force to remove the word Missouri from the denominational name, "believes an LCMS name change would enhance the state’s reputation."

6. Because of the anonymous ELCA commenter on the Pretty Good Lutherans blog who, with reference to that same proposal, innocently asks: "Any talk about removing the word “Lutheran” from their name? ;-)"

Thursday 5 November 2009

Word & World

I've just noticed that Word & World now has its 2004 quarterly issues online in full. W&W is approachable theology from a committed Christian perspective, but not one weighed down with the baggage of Calvinism, what passes for evangelicalism, or crass apologetics. It's a commendable practice to make its wealth of archived articles available to all comers, including impoverished theology students, even if there's a five year time lag involved. The latest issue has me salivating for subscription status: In the Wake of the Beagle: Faith After Darwin, but alas, it's not currently in the budget. The editorial is however available, and once you recover from the title, it makes its point well.

Any undergraduate student in biblical studies would do well to check out the offerings, going back to Vol. 1 (1981), for suitable supplementary reading for course work. The 2004 themes include 1 Peter and Violence. W&W is produced by Luther Seminary (ELCA).

Saturday 31 October 2009

Bloated Pulpit Parasites

The publicity keeps rolling in for Brian Tamaki's Destiny Church, but it's probably publicity he'd rather not have.

It seems the Destiny franchise loves to practice the "give" way of life... by giving to Brian.

Brian Tamaki is given up to $500,000 every year in donations from Destiny Church members on top of his six-figure salary, according to a former employee.
The 7000-strong congregation is encouraged to donate money in an annual "First Fruits" offering in an October service, which is gifted to the self-appointed bishop for his own use, rather than funding church activities.
The practice... is based on Old Testament scripture, in which the people of Israel would give the first produce of the land each year to the priests to eat...
Lynda Stewart, a former financial administrator for Bishop Tamaki and his wife Hannah, was a member of Destiny for seven years but left after he was appointed as a bishop in 2005...

Soon after, the congregation were encouraged to give personally to Bishop Tamaki which was justified with scripture, which Ms Stewart says was taken out of historical context.
"The Bible was being used to manipulate people to give money for his personal use to fund his flashy lifestyle," said Ms Stewart. "And the people blindly accept what Brian says."
Nice! I'm all for it. Imagine a half million dollar bonus where the humble sheeple show their deep appreciation for you, the Lord's anointed. Of course, Bishop Brian's flock tend not to include the wealthy, educated and well off. Those generous donors tend to live in less salubrious suburbs and pull in a modest paycheck, while some receive welfare. Brian however is a different kettle of fish. He and wife Hannah do live in a mighty fine home with all the flash toys provided. Funny that...

Dr James Harding, a lecturer of theology at Otago University and a Christian, said the "First Fruits" offering was given in the Old Testament era because the Levite priests had no land to make a living from.
"[The offering] was to give them a living wage, so to speak, it was in that context. Quite a different context to Auckland in 2009," said Dr Harding.
"It is somewhat of a strain, quite a stretch I think, to use passages from the Old Testament to justify this. I'd be very interested to hear how they justify it theologically."

Indeed. Even for those of us with some small prior experience of money-grubbing apostles and empire-building evangelists, the rationale behind this particular cash-grab is stunning. Not even Herbert Armstrong on his worst day was quite this crass.
You can read the full story here.

I'm put in mind of a bloke called Byron Klein, who was pastor of the church my family attended when I was a kid. Byron drove an old VW Beetle with a lot of ks on the clock, including not a few in dropping us brats off home after confirmation classes. He and his wife Dawn, who worked as a nurse at the public hospital, adopted a child before raising their own family. Byron could see the potential in a lot of people when nobody else could, including alcoholics who were battling the bottle. Their home was open to any and all. He'd put the hard yards in to graduate from seminary, with a working knowledge of all three biblical languages (Greek, Hebrew and German!) and like most ministers then and now was rewarded by being underpaid and under-appreciated. You didn't have to be a Christian to know that he was a thoroughly decent and compassionate human being. He and Dawn were inspirational in a very down to earth way that had nothing to do with liturgy, doctrine or theology, and they weren't atypical.

The bloated pulpit parasites of the prosperity gospel (their prosperity!) seem to be another species altogether.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

The Evils of Higher Edjamacayshun

P. Z. Myers draws attention to this nice scan from The Watchtower, a fine publication seeking to draw impressionable, innocent youth away from the siren calls of Satan. Cop a squiz at the scenario in number 2.

A well-intentioned teacher urges you to pursue higher education at a university.


"... what will you do? Will you simply give in... "Can a man rake together fire in his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned.""

Forsooth. Touch not the unclean thing, gentle Witnesses. Flee the demon-haunted halls of higher education. "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."

Sunday 11 October 2009

Wise Words on Wiseacres

Augustine of Hippo may have had a hugely inflated reputation (for which James O'Donnell's biography is an excellent corrective), but occasionally he wrote something which is indeed worth repeating.

Now, it is a disgraceful thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of holy scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

... Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon holy scripture for proof, and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

Thus was it always so...

From Augustine's The Literal Meaning of Genesis.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

"So Amazing a Blasphemy"

It's an unremarkable verse in most English translations. Here's Jeremiah 20:7 in the ESV.

O LORD, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed:
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.

Pretty innocuous and quite suitable for pious reading aloud in a family devotion. James Crenshaw in his book A Whirlpool of Torment, however, offers these eye-opening comments on that verse.

"In the quotation from Jer. 20:7 above, Jeremiah accuses God of rape. This is no trivial accusation, nor is it uttered in a flippant manner. The words are carefully chosen to cover the act of seduction and accompanying violence."

Elsewhere, Crenshaw provides the following translation of the first part of v.7:

You have seduced me, YHWH, and I have been raped;
You have seized me and prevailed.

It's a disturbing image, and although I'd been aware of it for some time, it was brought back to me again reading, of all things, Mary Doria Russell's sci-fi novel Children of God, where the leading character mulls over God's "silent, brutal indifference."

"You seduced me, Lord, and I let You," he read in Jeremiah, weeping... "You raped me, and I have become the object of derision."

We like to claim many comforting images of God: father, lover, friend, law-giver, creator, sustainer, provider, to name but a few. But homosexual rapist? Shades of Father Zeus and hapless Ganymede?

Harold Bloom, in Ruin the Sacred Truths, offers a similar translation to Crenshaw's, then adds:

"This is so extraordinary a trope, and so amazing a blasphemy, that I wonder always why there is not more than perfunctory commentary upon it."

The domesticated God and the domesticated Bible are a comfortable illusion. Occasionally - but only very occasionally - the wild nature of both escapes the ecclesiastical cage and leaves us slack-jawed.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

A New Botschaft Gottes

Could the new Conservative Bible Project really be this bad?
The earliest, most authentic manuscripts lack this verse set forth at Luke 23:34:
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
Is this a liberal corruption of the original? This does not appear in any other Gospel, and the simple fact is that some of the persecutors of Jesus did know what they were doing. This quotation is a favorite of liberals but should not appear in a conservative Bible.

The snip is in turn snipped from a rant by Atheist evangelist P. Z. Myers. Even if he was only half right (and that would be to underestimate him) the prospect of this bunch of Conservapædia nutcases producing something tarted up as scripture is truly disturbing. A quick check of the relevant website reveals that P. Z. is probably understating the perversity of the project. Just check those ten criteria!

Happily (or perhaps unhappily), we can judge what might be by a proposed translation of Mark by these unnamed scholars. The end result will surely be as worthy as the 1940 Die Botschaft Gottes (The Message of God), an "Aryan" New Testament produced by Nazi theologians.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Battle of the Evangelical Bibles

Is that a howling sound coming from the publishers of the ESV; the sound of a carnivore about to descend, all teeth and claws, on its hapless prey? Perhaps so. The gibbering hordes at Crossway seem to have decided (given the evidence over on Cyberbrethren) that this is a Pepsi moment. Galvanized by the move to dump the NIV and TNIV and replace them both with something new in 2011, they have apparently decided that now is the time, and Coke will topple.

The great evil of the impending NIV is, naturally, "the trap of gender inclusivity and neutrality that plagues much of modern Protestantism and Christianity." Oh dear lord, not gender inclusivity and neutrality! What to do? Let's tweak the 1952 RSV! "And it was so."

No denying that the NIV brand is a bit shopworn, or that the TNIV went down like a lead balloon among its natural constituency. No denying that the ESV brand has an appeal to conservative Christians. So, who knows, maybe the ESV will topple the NIV from its throne. We won't have long to wait, the bull-roaring season ends and the Big Fight commences in 2011, be sure to grab your NRSV, a large bag of popcorn, and a good seat, this one is unlikely to be an early KO.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Oh WOW, I can be a Biblical Archaeologist!

Hold me down Abigail, I want to transfer from Otago to LU! Why? Because Living University is offering a... wait a minute, the palpitations will go away shortly... a - you won't believe this - genuine Certificate in Biblical Archaeology!

What do you mean, you haven't heard of Living University? It's licensed to dole out things like these in North Carolina. Accredited? Well, no, but hey, does it matter? I mean this is a Certificate in Biblical Archaeology. So what if they run their university out of the back of their church headquarters? Which church? We're talking major league here, the Living Church of God! They must have a membership of around, uh, 6000. Impressive huh!

No indication of who is teaching these courses that I can see, but the LU faculty are all brilliant. I mean, Dr Roderick C. Meredith, what more can one say!

"This certificate normally requires one academic year (two semesters) to complete on a part-time basis." Kewl! And that includes a trip to the Levant... "This course [THL 479] consists of supervised excavation at an archaeological site in the Levant. Experience is in all facets of archaeological work including excavating, sifting, surveying, washing and reading pottery, and the process of computerized finds registration. Upon completion, students should be able to explain the major elements of the archaeological methods and analysis used on the site."

Can you hand me that atlas please Abi, I think the Levant is somewhere near Pitcairn Island...

Thursday 24 September 2009

Mindless in Missouri II

Good news, the LCMS doesn't demand that its two point five million members affirm that the earth is only 6000 years old. Of course, some faithful members are beside themselves at the thought that it doesn't, but Herr Pastor McCain sets that straight in a recent posting.

I confess, I thought they did, silly me. After all, Concordia Publishing House (CPH) still had Alfred Rehwinkel's hilarious book The Flood on their catalog last time I checked.

But McCain, true to the LCMS predilection for uncompromising clarity, spells out what LCMS does teach:

The Synod has affirmed the belief, therefore, based on Scripture’s account of creation in the book of Genesis and other clear passages of Scripture, that “God by the almighty power of His Word created all things in six days by a series of creative acts,” that “Adam and Eve were real, historical human beings, the first two people in the world,” and that “we must confess what St. Paul says in Romans 5:12″ about the origin of sin through Adam as described in Genesis 3 (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31). The Synod has also, therefore, stated that it rejects “all those world views, philosophical theories, exegetical interpretations and other hypotheses which pervert these biblical teachings and thus obscure the Gospel” (1967 Synodical Resolution 2-31).
At the same time, the Synod firmly believes that there can be no actual contradiction between genuine scientific truth and the Bible.

I hope that clears it up. Adam and his lady wife were real people - with or without belly buttons. There was no naughtiness in the multiverse before Adam (not sure why Adam, when it was Eve who chowed down on the pendulous passionfruit first, but I digress...) But - and here we may be grateful to Pastor McCain for his enlightened statement - there is no contradiction between science and scripture... as the latter, quite rightly, trumps the former every time.

See, isn't the truth wonderful!

Friday 11 September 2009

Time to take Dawkins seriously

It's getting wearisome listening to theologians whining about how Richard Dawkins doesn't engage with them in his critique of religion. Again and again they accuse Dawkins of being ignorant of the mega-minds of Christian belief, and taking cheap shots at fundamentalism.

John Haught, who is an otherwise fine writer and a thinker I deeply respect, even suggests that Dawkins should engage with Karl Barth. I'm not sure what he was smoking when he made that suggestion, as Haught is a Catholic with about as much in common with Reformed theology as Barack Obama has with the NRA. But let's take the suggestion seriously for a moment.

Dawkins addresses a general audience of educated folk. He is not talking to theologians. Theologians, on the other hand, talk to themselves. Rarely does one come down from the mountain to talk to the mixed multitude in the pews, let alone society at large. Ask ten worshipers at random on an average Sunday morning to explain Barth's theology... (no, "eat my shorts" is not an acceptable response.)

So why, if theological literacy is so woefully absent from the churches, would anyone expect Dawkins to waste his energy debating the intricate fantasies that obsess a tiny minority? Dawkins is certainly confronting the fundamentalist demons, but it is precisely that segment of Christendom that makes the noise.

Does that mean that those of us outside the walls of fundagelicalism can breathe easy? Consider this quote from The Greatest Show on Earth (his latest book):

"To return to the enlightened... theologians, it would be nice if they'd put a bit more effort into combating the anti-scientific nonsense that they deplore. All too many preachers, while agreeing that evolution is true and Adam and Eve never existed, will then blithely go into the pulpit and make some moral or theological point about Adam and Eve in their sermons without once mentioning that, of course, Adam and Eve never actually existed! If challenged, they will protest that they intended a purely 'symbolic' meaning, perhaps something to do with 'original sin', or the virtues of innocence. They may add witheringly that, obviously, nobody would be so foolish as to take their words literally. But do their congregations know that?" (p.7-8)

The man has a point. And it's not only the pew potatoes who are treated this way. Dawkins could be describing a thousand theology courses at institutions of higher learning. Confronted with this reality, who in hades would want to shadow-box with Barth (or Tillich, or Bultmann for that matter.)

Theology has to "do a Dawkins" itself if it is to have any counter-punch. It has to talk in plain English (or German, French, Swahili) to non-specialists, not sit in a corner and mumble to itself. It has to (and here's the challenge) make reasonable sense. The only people who seem to try that trick with any panache are the apologists, and a sadder lot of misfits would be hard to find anywhere.

The ludicrous nature of the problem came home to me at Xmas a couple of years back when a colleague, an intelligent, motivated young woman, gave me a gift-wrapped copy of The God Delusion as holiday reading (I wasn't about to tell her that I already had a copy, had read it, and actually agreed with a lot of what was in it.) She, knowing that I was doing a theology degree, simply assumed I wouldn't have encountered anything like that before. It is people like her that mark a seismic shift in society, and bleating about how Dawkins (or Hitchins) won't be sidetracked into arcane debates makes about as much sense as the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand.

Monday 7 September 2009

I wasn't expecting that

"The Parliament of the World's Religions is coming to Australia! It will be held in Melbourne 3-9 December under the theme 'Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth'."

I did a double-take, then read that paragraph again. Then I pinched myself, metaphorically. I wasn't reading that on some pink-hued New Agey website - full of ads for Theosophy and crystals - but the staid print magazine of one of Australia's more conservative, mainline churches. I started the article all over again.

The writer had embraced the event wholeheartedly.

"I came away from the training day for presenters and the first official pre-Parliament event really appreciating the engagement with persons who follow different faiths but are linked by the common value of compassion."

Excuse me, I thought I knew this church. There are people of "old school" persuasion therein who aren't convinced they should pray alongside Methodists. You stay away for a fleeting decade or two and, lo and behold, a generation rises up that knows not Moses.

Using my finely tuned BS detector, honed on back issues of another denomination's (using that term loosely) magazines and news releases, I went back in with a cynical eye. The September issue of the aforesaid magazine is clearly intended to soften up anticipated resistance from the old confessional warriors. I can't wait to read the letters to the editor in October! "How far have we departed (cough, hack) from our pure gospel witness!"

I have some sympathy with these aging fossils and their younger fundagelical kin. Let's be clear, Methodists are indisputably strange (though not as strange, of course, as Presbyterians.) But the Parliament is more than pretending to be civil to heretics like these benighted pseudo-Protestants : dear lord, the Dalai Lama will be there!

But yes, my heart is indeed strangely (to overuse the term) warmed by this unexpected openness. I recollect a sermon that raised my blood pressure not all that many years ago when the imported Aussie pastor berated the Kiwi pew-warmers for not feeling righteously indignant when they passed the Lower Hutt Christian Science Reading Room. Verily, if one was wearing sandals one should feel impelled to shake the very dust off! (I wonder what Lionel will make of this article?) And now, here we are, finding it possible to participate in a Parliament of World Religions?

It gives my cynicism a welcome kick in the teeth. I just hope the editor is braced for the Barossa backlash...

Thursday 3 September 2009

Gender blender?

Inclusive language, is it of the devil? The subject riles many a NASB devotee or KJV recidivist, what with all this pandering to the ladies. More surprising is the disdain inclusive language bibles generate among the good and the great, including such luminaries as Bob Price and - the most widely read biblioblogger in the known multiverse - Jim West.

Here's Jim in a recent entry: the silly debate about gender and language is the biggest waste of time since Red Riding Hood argued with the wolf. If a translation sets out to adjust the text simply for modern tastes and sensibilities, it isn’t worth a pot. If it says ‘he’ translate ‘he’ and let the exegetes worry about whether or not it’s generic for ‘humankind’ or gender specific. (source)

Jim West's blog deservedly outranks everyone else because he writes like a real person, puts on few airs and graces (except for an insufferable tendency to link to foreign language sources without warning), suffers from no false modesty, and his writing style has an "edginess" to it that slaps you around sufficiently to grab your attention. But he's dead wrong on this one.

If you attend a liturgical church, one which follows the lectionary cycle, you know that the main exposure congregants get to "the Word" is in the hearing thereof. Forget all the puff and faddle about devotional reading in the home: 90 plus percent of bible exposure is on Sunday morning via the readings.

This needn't be a particularly bad thing. This is the way it's always been, reaching back to the synagogue and beyond. In "bible times" books - and especially scriptures - were written to be shared by reading aloud. The scrolls, codices and whatnot were way beyond the means of your average person in the pews, who couldn't read them even if they had a shekel to spare.

So, what's this got to do with Red Riding Hood? Just this. Gender specific language in the context of liturgical use does alienate more than half those sitting in the pews. Week after week women get the message: they're peripheral. Liturgical use is different from that of tendentious scholarly exegetes; it is primarily pastoral. Which is why the NRSV is the best choice for most lectionary readings (don't get me started on the ESV!)

In fact, I'd recommend any serious bible reader get a hold of something called The Inclusive Bible,a radical Catholic translation that claims with some justification to be "the first egalitarian translation." If you want strict correspondence to the original languages, then it won't be your choice. But if you have a pastoral concern to speak (or be spoken to) in a way that is congruent with life in the twenty-first century, you couldn't do better. And hey, it reads as well as the NRSV - sometimes even better.

No argument from me on two matters in the West post, however. The NIV is rubbish, and the REB is an under-appreciated (even if a little dated) triumph of the translator's art.

Saturday 29 August 2009

Mindless in Missouri

Don't get me wrong, I have a grudging admiration for Martin Luther, more-so having recently read psychoanalyst Erik Erikson's biography - an oldie but goodie first published in 1959 - Young Man Luther. No doubt about it, Anfechtung has a lot to answer for!

But these two pictures are nothing but jaw-dropping in their Lutherolatry. I mean, c'mon guys, talk about putting someone on a pedestal! The first is apparently arranged to exhibit the excellencies of Concordia's ESV Study Bible being released about now. Weighty. Authoritative. I mean who would argue with a glowering visage like that!

The second is the somewhat unimaginative but phallic cover of the initial volume in the Concordia edition of Luther's works. The reformer protectively holds a bible while gazing upward. It begs for a caption: Nein Katie, you must stay up in the loft, these chocolates are mine, all mine!

You'll need to click on the photos to appreciate the utter horror of it all in larger form. Mercifully, both publications come from the whinging Misery Synod, famous for its wooden literalism, rather than any responsible Lutheran body, but still... this is verging on cultic.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Rodney vs the Reprobates

Rodney Stark is author of The Rise of Christianity, a volume with a good deal to recommend itself - at least from the perspective of the church history paper I took a year or so back. Stark is a sociologist with a fascinating reconstruction to offer on how early church growth reached warp drive so quickly in the first centuries CE.without the aid of either WGN or a Branding Task Force.

Stark's subsequent books have been tilted in an ideological direction, something bemoaned here once before. The Stark truth is that Christianity turned out to be the best thing since sliced bread. No wait, that's a bit redundant... sliced bread owes its genius to Christianity (or something like that.)
Wicked rationalist Richard Carrier is calling his bluff. Stark would have us believe that the scientific weltanschauung could only arise in the Christian West. This is just bad history, according to Carrier, in two podcasts for the Polyschizmatic Reprobates Hour. This is an amusing excursus, if you're moderately geekish or into ancient history.

Okay, so you have to be a bit patient while Carrier and his affable host "Dan the Demented" indulge in a spot of intellectual banter on famous-but-forgotten Greeks and Romans, but perseverance will reward with some weirdly fascinating historical stuff (did you know that Luther is said to have had a copy of Josephus with no references to Christ?)
Sorry Rodney, but I think you're toast.

Sunday 16 August 2009

And Matthew begat Josh

I've just had one of those "duh!" moments. You know, when something completely obvious finally penetrates through your thick skull.

How many times have I read through (or skipped over - it's not exactly riveting) the alleged genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. These passages have proven to be a minefield of bad exegesis over the centuries. The two disagree, and given that there's supposed to be no genetic contribution to Jesus from Joseph's side anyway, the whole purpose seems a bit irrelevant.

Of course there are the Josh McDowell types, eager to race in and explain it all away, but then they would, wouldn't they? Working back from the conclusion to fiddle with the evidence till it fits... not a good look.

Then a light snapped on, courtesy of Julie Galambusch. In her book The Reluctant Parting she writes:

Matthew begins his gospel with a rather quaint nod to tradition: a genealogy of Jesus modeled on the "begats" of the Hebrew Bible. Matt. 1:2-16 is based loosely on 1 Chron. 3:1-3, but with the generations juggled in order to divide Jewish history into three distinct, fourteen-generation epochs... Matthew seeks to demonstrate numerologically (a practice called gematria in Hebrew) that the moment for the messiah's birth has arrived.

That's it - gematria! Forget all the tortuous apologetic drivel from McDowell, and even much of the painstaking eisegesis in the commentaries, we're talking numerology. Matthew wasn't completely incompetent after all, nor was he trying to be dishonest by the standards of his time. As a Jewish scribe he is doing something quite predictable, and something McDowell himself would understand in the event that he had a moment of honest clarity: he's fiddling with the numbers to make them say what he needs them to say - but (as I'm sure they'd both assure us) all in a good cause.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Lutheran Ethics, Abortion and George Tiller

As a person with a Lutheran background (somewhat convoluted and sidetracked admittedly, as most people who read this blog know) I found a recent university course on Christian ethics moderately distasteful in its carelessly assumed Calvinism. I prefer progressive Catholic teaching on ethics by far, and am especially impressed by the work of Daniel Maguire (not top of the bishops' hit parade by any stretch!) Maguire's A Moral Creed for All Christiansis worth a truckload of Reformed gnat-straining.

A specifically Lutheran approach to ethics, however, is hard to pin down. It's not the same as our Calvinist brethren, and often woefully negligent in specifics. I found this article by Ed Knudson, an ELCA pastor, fascinating because he actually tackles the ethical question, and in the difficult context of the recent murder of George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions. Tiller was also a practicing Lutheran. Knudson goes as far as implying that he was a martyr.

I'm not sure how to evaluate Knudson's article. It needs time to "settle," and deserves a second (and third) reading before leaping to conclusions. Reservations? You bet. But definitely food for thought (and grist for fundagelical outrage, no doubt.)

Related Link: Online Journal of Public Theology.

Friday 19 June 2009

Hans Kung on Beginnings

Hans Kung is a brilliant scholar and among the most perceptive voices in Christendom. Reading his Christianity: Essence, History & Future (2004) is to subject oneself to a well-deserved slapping about the chops for intellectual laziness and historical ignorance from a writer whose rigor rises far above those charges. Mea culpa! Non-Catholics in particular should probably read Kung to get a flavor of the best-case-scenario for the church-to-come, both post-Ratzinger and post-Calvinist. Kung is a prophet ahead of his time.

Having said that, The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religionis a disappointment. Kung is outside his field, and doggy-paddling beyond his depth, a keen amateur out for a romp. Intelligent and articulate? That goes without saying. Convincing and authoritative? No. A good editor might pare the material down to a salvagable level by dumping a good third of the text, but even then I have my doubts. This book, unlike his others, is likely to date quickly. John Haught is the better communicator on the fault line between religion and science

Pommies posturing on Paul

BBC4 has a recent program on Paul the apostle available online for those with an interest in this pivotal figure. Some mildly interesting discussion hosted by the insufferable Melvyn Bragg, with a sizable dose of utter nonsense as well, and a lot of dim-witted posturing by the blokes, dressed up with upper-class accents. Possibly the only sane person in the studio is Helen Bond, if you don't fall asleep before she gets a chance to get a word in.

BBC programs only stay on the web for a short time, so "get it while it's still lukewarm."

Saturday 2 May 2009

LSB - kinda cool

Study Bibles: there are the academic ones (Oxford, HarperCollins etc.) and the apologetic ones, and ne'er the twain shall meet. Except perhaps this once.

Augsburg Fortress' Lutheran Study Bibleis now out. I was surprised on unpacking the box to find what a substantial volume this is. LSB is designed to mesh in with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Book of Faith project, and mark out the distinctives that separate a Lutheran approach to scripture from the overwhelmingly Reformed emphasis that largely reigns unchallenged in the English speaking world.

In terms of appearance and design, beautiful may be a little strong as an adjective, but not by much. The list of scholars who have contributed is impressive: Terence Fretheim, Karl Donfried, Diane Jacobson... But the LSB isn't designed for eggheads either, ELCA wanted it accessible to a wide readership, and I think they've come close to striking a decent balance. The text appears in a single wide column, with study notes in a side margin, with icons identifying whether background information, theological insights, or Lutheran perspectives are being supplied. A further icon indicates questions for reflection, a category that will appeal to some, but I personally find rather twee.

The LSB uses the text of the NRSV, minus the apocrypha. Flicking through the Pentateuch you will find additional charts on the ten plagues, the ten commandments (with the separate numbering in Jewish, Catholic/Lutheran/Orthodox, and Reformed/Anglican communities), and Hebrew festivals.

The quality of the study notes varies from book to book depending on who each was assigned to. The notes in Numbers, for example, are much fuller and more engaging, than those in Genesis. To get a feel for the LSB you can download the book of Jonah.

Several essays anchor this NRSV firmly in a Lutheran context, and because this is an ELCA production we are talking about a stream of Lutheranism that stands in the best tradition of European and American scholarship (though again, this is not a scholarly Study Bible as such.) Lutheran Study Bible from Augsburg Fortress should be distinguished from the yet-to-be-launched volume of the same name from the fundamentalist Missouri Synod (Concordia imprint) which promises to be something else entirely.

My initial reaction, in a country like New Zealand where Lutherans are as rare as hens' teeth, was to immediately share my delight by finding a smug Presbyterian or Baptist to whack over the head with it (metaphorically speaking, of course.) Wisdom prevailed, and I'll bide my time till the next Jehovah's Witness comes knocking...

Monday 20 April 2009

Stark Ideology

Rodney Stark, well known for his The Rise of Christianity, has produced a large (nearly 500 pages) treatment of "the origins of the great religions and the evolution of belief": Discovering God. It's a fascinating but crotchety treatment, with Stark swatting at scholars left and right (well, mainly left) while laying out his own distinctive account.

Durkheim? whack!
Freud: slash!
Philip Davies - take note. "Some militant extremists from several minor universities even claim none of it [OT history] ever happened."

How about this: "Strange ideological commitments have driven some contemporary scholars, especially Rosemary Ruether, Jules Isaac, and John Gager, to claim that Christians originated anti-Semitism." (143) Ouch! But should the pot call the kettle names?

Or how about: "At least Crossan stopped short of reporting that Jesus had a hooked nose, a hairy chest, and calloused hands... Crossan's entire undertaking is an immense irrelevancy." (287)

Also boxed on the ears is Jonathan Kirsch, Burton Mack, and Q scholarship. Stark wears his own ideology on his sleeve with little effort at subtlety, combining the "qualities" of Rush Limbaugh and Major Bloodnok (from the highly esteemed 1950s Goon Show). I'm not sure whether I enjoyed the rhetoric or was appalled by it: maybe a bit of both. Good fun to read, and a fresh perspective, but the only real balance may come from the writer having a chip on both shoulders. A curate's egg: two stars.

Friday 17 April 2009

Honest Theology

I've grown jaded about the competence and objectivity of "hard theology" since beginning a degree in that discipline. Biblical studies are endlessly fascinating, but when it comes to the dogmatic side, I've learned to shrug my shoulders and press on regardless through, what often seems in effect, a muddle of highly refined apologetics and wishful thinking. Tarting it up with specialized terminology convinces nobody but the already convinced.

At the root of the problem is the reality - in clear contradiction to historic church doctrine - that a fall/redemption narrative is nonsense; a fact that's inescapable to any thinking person in modern times. The was no Fall from a primal state, mortality and decay has been part of life on this planet from the very beginning. Whatever we make of Jesus' life, ministry, death and resurrection, it cannot atone for a mythical sin by Adam, Eve, or any other ancestral figure or group. There is no "original sin", and that's only the beginning of the conundrum.

But wait, Alister McGrath and N. T. Wright come riding in to the rescue from Team Anglican, Ratzinger astride a Vatican donkey, and a host of rabid neo-Calvinists uttering the sacred mantra "karlbart[h]: ommmmmmmm". That's without counting the ragtag bunch of drooling zombies from Dallas Theological Seminary and its ilk.

So it's a huge relief to find Philip Kennedy's A Modern Introduction to Theology. It won't appeal to fundamentalists, anglogelicals or their kin, but it will bring succor to those about to throw up their hands in disgust and walk away because of the duplicity and dishonesty of those who want to cling to pre-modern verities, and thereby sell their souls for - with apologies to ye olde KJV - the pottage that Augustine sod. You'll meet Feuerbach and Kant, find quotes from Cupitt and Kung, and much more - without the usual tap-dancing and tambourines in the background. Kennedy avoids the jargon, and cuts to the chase. I read it over two days, and am heading back in with a highlighter.

Long overdue: five stars.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

The First Paul

Borg and Crossan are both impressively credentialed scholars, but neither has "gelled" with me particularly. The prospect of a book on Paul, however, piqued my curiosity. Sadly, I'm mightily unimpressed.

The Borg and Crossan Paul is an advocate for restorative and distributive justice, Spirit transplants, communities of caring and sharing, reconciliation between liberal and conservative Christians and suchlike. This is a Paul who opposes slavery (citing Philemon) and the prevailing domination system. He is Paul as many of us would wish him to be, but not as he undoubtedly was. Borg and Crossan have swept down to rescue the Apostle from Tarsus from the conservatives, and domesticate him for the kindly, liberal souls who sit in mainstream pews on Sunday mornings.

In short, this may be the way we should interpret Paul in Century 21, but it'll take more than Borg and Crossan to convince me that this is the way he actually was in the context of his own time and ego. The joy of encountering Paul is discovering that he was as much a jerk as a genius. Borg and Crossan's "radical Paul" is a sanitized, PC version, and as a result is less than believable - at least for this cynic.

The book isn't technically hard to read; you might even say it dummies things down to talk to the imaginary person in the pew, who apparently is none too bright. There are occasional insights - if you can manage to swim through the fizzing sugar-free sarsaparilla to find them. I persevered to the end, but I was going through the motions. Earnest, well meaning writing, but The First Paul is forgettable. Two stars.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Deformed Ethics

Something I've had to come to grips with over the last year or so is the field of Christian ethics. "Had to" because they lay in wait, jaws snapping, on the study path to my objective of a degree in theology.

At the venerable institution I study with, the Reformed influence reigns. I say that because, when it comes it ethics it's all Gunton, O'Donovan and - most horribly of all - Samuel Wells. These guys either build their ethics on the powdery grey clouds of Reformed dogmatics, or in an adjoining en suite. "Metanarrative" is the key word. The line goes from that ancient heretic Augustine, loops a few times around Calvin and then proceeds - faster than a speeding bullet - to Karl Barth. It's all Adam's fault (the Fall) and only Christians can be truly ethical because of nod-nod, wink-wink "revelation."

Looking at the course outlines you'd never guess that there was a whole other paradigm out there, but there is. Those wicked Roman Catholics are at the forefront. Catholic moral theologians are a stimulating if endangered breed. Hans Kung in Germany, Charles Curran and Daniel Maguirein the US (both thorns in the side of Holy Mother Church.) Across in Australia Michael Morwood(not an ethicist but a Catholic educator who fell afoul of the hierarchy, and who has a lot to say about ditching the Fall/Redemption theory.)

The moral theology perspective is far more optimistic than anything that comes out of the Reformed camp, with a passion for justice that is inclusive rather than turned in on itself. It doesn't depend on symbolic acts by fictive characters who are convicted of terrible deeds they couldn't have done even if they were real. Death and sin did not enter the world because of Adam. There was no Adam. Death and suffering have been doing the rounds since well before life crawled out of the oceans. The universe is not in disarray because of a snake and an apple. We didn't do it. The "metanarrative" is screwed.

So, my ethical dilemma is whether or not to parrot the expected party line, or stir in a dose of dissent on this semester's course. As readers of my other blog know, I'm an irenic fellow, rarely confrontational or controversial.

To hades with the grade: which way to the jugular?

Friday 6 February 2009

A Noahide Manifesto?

A Review of Restoring Abrahamic Faith, James D. Tabor, Genesis 2000, Charlotte, NC., 2008

Restoring Abrahamic Faith is not intended for an academic readership, but those with either an interest in the “Hebrew roots” movement, or who perhaps have been members at some stage of a Sabbath-keeping church. “It is more particularly addressed to the millions of biblically oriented Christians who love the God of Abraham, Moses, and the Prophets.” (p.4)

The potential for a book like this is huge. The Hebrew roots movement is usually known more for its enthusiasm than its scholarship, but Tabor is undeniably a scholar, and a very good scholar.

The first surprise was that Tabor is not interested in a specifically Christian debate, and the New Testament is peripheral to his case.

… the TORAH and the Prophets must be the fundamental foundation of any restoration of BIBLICAL FAITH. Other sacred texts offer commentary and elaboration... (p.20)

The second surprise is that the writing style is not only non-scholarly, but highly reminiscent of the author's former affiliation, the Worldwide Church of God. Tabor speaks of a “great and unseen Hand” (p.2), Earth is “our polluted planet” (p.1), the purpose of life is “the creation of holy, righteous character” (p.69). Like old copies of The Plain Truth there are – as the first quote demonstrates – caps and italics in profusion. The introduction is reminiscent of the opening pages of The Wonderful World Tomorrow – What It Will Be Like: the world is going to hell in a handcart (“And yet we live in a world of utter religious confusion.”) But Tabor has a panacea to offer: “You can expect to be surprised and challenged by what follows.” It's not a promising start.

Neither does Tabor do his credibility any favors when he cites with approval a Jehovah's Witness booklet, Strong's concordance, McMillen's None of These Diseases, Hislop's The Two Babylons, and Adam Clarke: a selection that most of his fellow academics would surely regard as motley. Works of contemporary scholarship are thin in the footnotes, and there is no bibliography.

Given the many Christian references and footnotes, it takes a while to appreciate that Restoring Abrahamic Faith is in part an appeal for Christians to abandon any idea of Jesus as Messiah or Son of God, and to adopt a cut-down form of Judaism (more on this below.)

Certainly the Gentiles who turn to the God of Israel in this way, as well as those from the Lost Tribes of Israel, will live their lives in a new solidarity with the fortunes of the Jewish people. Others may choose conversion to Judaism... (p.107)

The problem is that Christianity denies the pillars of the BIBLICAL FAITH: God, TORAH, and Israel. (p.153)

It's worth pausing at this stage to ask what Tabor means by “Lost Tribes of Israel.”

Significant portions of these tribes ended up among the peoples of northwestern Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States – namely among the Welsh, Scots-Irish, Scots, Anglo-Saxons, and Scandinavians. (p.79)

… history shows that the bulk of these tribes migrated northwest into Europe, and did finally fulfill the promises that were made to the two sons of Joseph – Ephraim and Manasseh, about unprecedented national greatness... (p.80)

… these so-called “Lost Tribes” of Israel... have lost their Israelite identity and consider themselves Gentile... (p.65)

This, we are assured, is not the same thing as Anglo-Israel or “standard” British-Israel theory, a point Dr Tabor was keen to stress in personal correspondence in preparation for this review. Anyone familiar with British-Israel belief might however be hard pressed to see something different here. Isn't this sort of claim pseudo-history? “I refer to good scholarly research as to where these tribes actually migrated.” (p.80) What good scholarly research? Dr Tabor cites Anne K. Kristensen, but was unaware of Greg Doudna's challenge to Kristensen's hypothesis in Showdown at Big Sandy (p.228-239) when questioned. Tabor rejects out of hand the explicit racism of “identity theory” (White supremacist interpretations of Anglo Israelism), but seems unaware of – and unperturbed by – the implicit racism that under-girds the theory itself.

While at first glance there doesn't seem to be a lot of difference between what Tabor is arguing for and the “non-standard” British-Israelism of Herbert Armstrong, the Lost Tribes theory has had other advocates, among them David Horowitz (1903-2002).

In fact Tabor's personal manifesto seems largely indistinguishable from that of the United Israel World Union, a marginal Jewish organization formed in the 1940s by Horowitz, and maintained by Dr Tabor since the founder's death.

The primary purposes of UIWU are to represent a universal version of the Hebraic faith to the non-Jewish world... Central to this mission is the conviction that scattered among the Gentiles are untold numbers of descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel who are discovering their identity and their kinship to the Jewish people. Membership is based on the simple declaration of faith in the One God of Israel and a commitment to live according to the principles of the Hebrew Bible. Members, accordingly, observe the Sabbath day, Jewish festivals, and a biblical “kosher” diet, although the manner and extent of such observances is left to one’s individual conscience. (UIWU website.)

The organization has a tenuous “real world” presence in the ministry of Ross Nichols at the former Temple Sinai Synagogue in St. Francisville, Louisiana.

To describe United Israel as Messianic Jewish would be wrong; a better term is Noahide.

Noahides describe themselves as people who have embraced the Seven Laws of Noah as set out in the Torah and the Tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud. Jewish Law defines them either as Bnei Noach or Gerim Toshavim. Almost all of the modern-day Noahides are former fundamentalist Christians who have rejected Christianity and the divinity of Jesus... Dr. Tabor... is generally thought of as the most academic of the Noahide leaders... While many of them view Jesus in a positive light (as an observant Jew who tried to spread the message of Torah to the world), they make it clear that they view Christianity's deification of Jesus as blasphemy. Yet their positive attitude towards the human being Jesus clearly presents a challenge to the Jewish world. (Rosemary Frei)

While Tabor, in recent correspondence with the writer, expressed reservations about the word Noahide, he states in the book: “This Noahide Code... might be likened to a basic 'clean up operation' for those who are turning from idolatry, paganism, and misguided ways of our secular society.” (p.55)

Whatever the preferred terminology, the author has moved a long way from his sectarian Christian roots.

Commenting on the merits or otherwise of Noahide Judaism is something that's well beyond the scope or competence of this review, other than to say that it manifests a certain allure – a stripped down monotheism with neither Trinity nor Talmud. My reservations are more that the book exploits pre-critical assumptions about biblical authorship – for example that David composed the Psalms, or Moses wrote the Pentateuch – and also fails to distinguish myth from history, as in the Cain story (p.68). It's hard to imagine that Dr Tabor shares these views, yet they're seemingly “good enough” to ease his case for this target audience. Accepting that the book is an exercise in apologetic rather than academic writing, these failings still grate. Tabor is a master of almost saying something, but leaving wiggle room. This may be the mark of a cautious scholar, but this is not intended as a scholarly text. Does Tabor support a version of British-Israelism or not? "Not 'standard' BI." Is that a no or a yes?

At times the author's imagination seems to take full flight in passages worthy of William Dankenbring. “These tablets [given on Mt. Sinai] seem to reflect some kind of advanced laser-like holographic technology in which data was embedded into these translucent stones.” (p.42)

Good theological writing moves people on. It encourages them to read widely and expand their vision. It doesn't patronize them or, even worse, exploit their naivete. It seems to me that Restoring Abrahamic Faith fails these criteria.

Chapter four, “The Messiahs”, is possibly the strongest, and most provocative. Tabor makes some telling points relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the “varied and even contradictory” messianic traditions that became “hardened and inflexible” in the hands of emerging orthodox Christianity.

The great error of Christianity was to turn the Nazarene into a paganized God-Man, hardly even a human, who uniquely “suffers for the sins of the world.” (p.147)

The chapter concludes by directly asking “Was Jesus the Nazarene the Messiah?” The answer offered is an only slightly-nuanced “no.”

The final chapter is a kind of altar call, though not one Christians – those who believe that Jesus was much more than a good man and a great prophet – could embrace. Tabor's plea is for Christians to purge the Hellenistic dualism that was introduced early in church history; to return to the faith of Jesus, not a faith about Jesus. There can be little doubt about the author's passion or sincerity. Unfortunately for those who share Dr Tabor's background, there may be disturbing echoes to be heard, among them the voice of former colleague Roderick C. Meredith, bludgeoning his flock with a battery of proof texts on “restoring apostolic Christianity.” Listen a little harder perhaps, and you might hear the shade of Ellen G. White asserting her role in completing what she thought the sixteenth century Reformers had failed to complete – a theme Tabor also mentions (p.165).

These are well traveled roads. James Tabor has simply followed them further back than most, into the years BCE.

Which is fair enough, if the road actually leads anywhere. But if we had the ability, via some kind of time machine, to return to an agreed beginning, would we really find a pure, unblemished faith, or were the waters just as murky for those people living then? Is the projection of a perfect moment of origin, whether in Abraham's time, at Sinai, or later in an upper room in Jerusalem, the revelation of a shining ideal, or just another mirage that masks the realities of human inconsistency?

Restoring Abrahamic Faith is available for $15 plus postage from Genesis 2000 (