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.