Saturday 30 October 2010

The Dummies Guide to the Apocalypse

David Hulme - doctor David Hulme - is the genius who edits the journal Vision. Never heard of Vision? No surprise there, it has a miniscule circulation, but is lavishly produced to promote the views of Hulme's sect, of which he is Glorious Leader. Vision has over recent years managed to obtain interviews with a number of those best described as "the good and the great" in the field of biblical studies, and the High and Hulmerous One himself has been published in obscure tomes, giving the impression of seasoned scholarship.

Those mighty accomplishments notwithstanding, Doc Hulme is a former cult televangelist who, after bailing out of that faith community, then being dumped from the presidency of a splinter group, now struts his stuff for a tiny, secretive fringe group.

All of which is by way of background to these statements from Hulme in the current issue of Vision. Subject: the book of Revelation.

The apostle John's final written work, the book of Revelation, concludes the collection we call the New Testament... There are many who question the book's authorship. But conservative scholars, basing their opinion on the earliest traditions, believe Revelation to be an authentic work by the apostle John.

This is clearly Hulme's position too, as the article is the nineteenth (!) in a series called The Apostles.

Hulme is absolutely correct when he notes that there are many who question the authorship of the Apocalypse. In fact most not only question, but totally reject the idea that the writer of the other Johannine literature is responsible for it. As for "conservative scholars," it's hard to know who he has in mind. Most mainstream 'evangelical' scholars would want to distinguish the apostle from the author (sometimes referred to as John of Patmos, or John the Elder) who penned Revelation. Bear in mind that nowhere does the author claim to be the disciple who Jesus loved. There is no internal evidence to support Hulme's position.

That the second century church fathers - specifically Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian and Justin - considered 'St. John' to be the author isn't in dispute, but Hulme hardly stands in a tradition that attaches much value to the 'church fathers'; in fact he'd probably run a mile rather than give them any credibility at all when it comes to other matters of history and doctrine. It has to be conceded that they could indeed be wonderfully inventive when the cause of righteousness required an apologetic flourish. There were other voices though: among those in the early church who questioned the authorship of Revelation was Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria (see below).

There are some really good reasons why the writer of Revelation is highly unlikely to have been one in the same as the disciple/apostle, but Hulme seems to have conveniently forgotten to list them. Why? Given the fact that he seems to go out of his way to rub shoulders with genuine scholars, it's hard to believe that he isn't acquainted with these reasons. For those unfamiliar with them, here's a "Readers' Digest" overview of some.
  • Differences between the style of Revelation and the other material ascribed to John. These are too great to be explained away by the use of different scribes. Dionysius mentions these as early as the third century, noting of Revelation that, where the Gospel of John and Johannine letters are skilful compositions, "in neither language nor style does [the author of Revelation] write accurate Greek. He makes use of barbaric expressions and is sometimes guilty even of grammatical error."
  • The author of Revelation refers to the other apostles as past founders - with no indication that he is of their number (Rev. 21:14)
  • John was one of the most common Jewish names of the era.
  • While the Gospel of John shows little concern for the end of the age, certainly less than the synoptic Gospel writers, there is a complete contrast in the single-minded apocalypticism of Revelation.
Perhaps the premier one-volume 'conservative' commentary currently on the market is Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. In fact it would be remarkable if Doc Hulme didn't have a copy of his own, doubtless gathering dust at this very moment. Therein we read: 'the precise identity of "John" remains unknown.' Hardly a ringing endorsement of Hulme's view.

Of course, there are many other churches which promote an uncritical reading of the Bible, but Hulme is a little different, he appears to play on scholarship. Which leads one to wonder why he can't bring himself to fess up about the uncertain authorship of the Apocalypse. Could it be that a sect like his makes huge use of this book in particular to fuel lurid prophetic speculation, speculation that lies at the heart of their sense of uniqueness and identity, and that consequently any doubt cast on the traditional authorship would seriously undermine the nonsense that undergirds such an approach?

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Low Torrance Tolerance

It may be a terrible personal failing, but I have an extremely low tolerance for the work of a certain gentleman who is currently much admired and fawned over in church circles I once moved in. No, not Karl Barth - although that would be equally true. I sinfully smiled when reading the following anecdote in Don Cupitt's 2000 book, Philosophy's Own Religion, published by SCM.

Twenty years ago the Scottish dogmatic theologian T. F. Torrance read a paper in Cambridge setting out the whole gospel of the dogmatist. In the discussion that followed I asked him how he accounted for the widespread and intractable disagreements that plague theology. 'Sin,' he answered shortly (and doubtless with people like me in mind), and that was that.

Later Cupitt deals to Barth as well, writing of "the followers of Karl Barth, who are the last remaining people who still think of attempting systematic theology." How true.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Apostolic nutburgers - the Dominionators

2003 was the year Brian Tamaki received a message from his god. Eddie Long, the Atlanta "bishop" was there too, and endorsed the precious word of truth. Five years, and Brian and his buddies would be ruling New Zealand.

2003 plus five equals 2008. The hallelujah train appears to have been derailed. Perhaps Brian didn't shout loud enough. Maybe his god was busy all during 2008, or was off on vacation in the Maldives. Maybe the mighty Tamaki deity was just snoring off a hangover and missed the engagement completely - all of which were Elijah's helpful suggestions when the prophets of Baal failed a fire-lighting exercise (1 Kings 18: 27-29)

The video, along with reports of Tamaki's inspired miss-is-as-good-as-a-mile prophecy, appear on the Talk to Action website. A two part piece on dominionist churches in the so-called 'apostolic' tradition (by Rachel Tabachnick) appear here and here, while another article sums up the issues here. Some quotes:

American media treatment of religion is typically a mile wide and an inch deep...

The strongly anti-democratic nature of dominionism comes out perhaps most strikingly in the doctrine of “spiritual fatherhood” that’s now in mainstream media parlance especially due to the fact that Eddie Long has been accused of coercing sex from his “spiritual sons.”

Leaving its coercive spiritual aspects aside, the Discipleship and Shepherding movement established the sort of pyramidal hierarchies of authority one would typically find in a military structure – “shepherds” could disciple “sheep”, or serve as “spiritual fathers” to “spiritual sons” but such “sheep” or “sons” could in turn take roles as shepherds or spiritual fathers to other Christians presumably lower in the spiritual pecking order. And so on down the line.

Tamaki prophesied a church-based takeover of New Zealand would occur within five years and Eddie Long, whom Brian Tamaki has described as a “spiritual father,” lustily endorsed Tamaki’s theocratic vision...

So, has Tamaki's prophecy at least edged closer to fulfilment?

This is a prophecy which failed to be fulfilled despite Tamaki's launching of a political party. Tamaki is quite prominent and in the nation’s Reader’s Digest Poll has topped the list as the least trusted person in New Zealand. Canada's Benediction Blogs On notes that after the 700 men swore oaths of allegiance to Tamaki, New Zealand’s cult watch listed Destiny Church as being in the "danger level." Earlier this year a number of members walked out of a service at the network's Brisbane church.

Lord Baal just doesn't seem to deliver the goods, not in Elijah's time, and not today.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Calvin was a Hobbit

Sonimax. Is there a hobbit inside?
According to a report on, Google searches for images of actor John Callin who is to play Oin in the forthcoming Hobbit movie, "brings up a number of pictures of John Calvin, the leader of the Protestant reformation."

A couple of points: 1. Exactly who voted to make Calvin "the leader" of the Reformation. The leader of the deviant Geneva pseudo-reformation I'll grant you...

2. Could it be that Calvin was in fact a hobbit? An evil, twisted hobbit of course, and perhaps half-hobbit, half-human? That might explain his tortured, humourless soul somewhat. Though hobbits are usually regarded as convivial types, Calvin clearly suffered from deep identity issues and has long been regarded as lacking in the more human/humane attributes.

The clincher is that Callin - the hobbit actor who currently "channels" Calvin - is the voice of Sonimax in Power Rangers Jungle Fury. Coincidence?

In fact, when you think about it, John Knox was probably an orc. Even if he wasn't, I'm pretty sure Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen is...

Sunday 17 October 2010

Christianity's Future

Cherie Blair, wife of the more famous Tony, hosts the final episode of Christianity: A History. Blair is a smart cookie in her own right, asking the question 'why is Christianity in decline in the West?' First she dismisses the idea that two world wars were the critical factor, then lights on the phenomena of the 1960s as the real culprit. Convinced?

The programme begins with a strong Catholic flavour. Blair was raised in Catholic Liverpool where these days churches are being closed as the faithless faithful stay away in droves. The lights have gone out since holy mother church took fright and rolled back the initiatives launched by Vatican II. Having sampled the despondent nature of mainline Christianity in Europe, the scene shifts to the United States and a celebrity lineup of talking heads: Laura Bush, Jesse Jackson and Harvey Cox. Blair seems entranced by the 'vibrant' nature of what passes from Christianity in the US, and seems awed by the operation at the Willow Creek franchise. She is impressed by the greater involvement of women - something unlikely to happen anytime soon in Catholicism - and sees the Willow Creek-type model as a template for what needs to happen back in Britain.

Which is, when you stop to think about it, a remarkable conclusion. Bill Hybels burbles on at length, and Blair decides that a radical overhaul is needed on the other side of the Atlantic. That goes without saying, but mainline churches are in decline in the US too, and Blair shows little awareness of the negatives associated with mega-churches.

I'm not sure she nailed the question, but it was still fascinating viewing.

Saving Dietrich

It's a terrible shame. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's story is such a good one - brave pastor defies Naziism and ends up a martryr. But oh dear, he wrote some hard to understand things that make my bonce ache. Of course, he must have been a nice Evangelical deep down; certainly not a nasty liberal. If he was alive today he'd certainly be one of us, tooting the trumpet for Intelligent Design and sticking it to those depraved Episcopalians and heretical ELCA Lutherans. I know, what we need is a book that reclaims Dietrich for us good guys! Bonhoeffer rebaptised! Then we could get a righteous company like Thomas Nelson to publish it.

Well, as luck has it, such a book exists. Bob Cornwall blogs about it over at Ponderings. When all else fails, it's a time honoured strategy to cherry-pick the facts and ignore the stuff that doesn't fit. It's the godly thing to do. It pains me to say that Bob doesn't seem to realise this.

The problem of course is that most true Christians - people with lots of Thomas Nelson titles on their otherwise sparsely covered bookshelves - have never heard of Bonhoeffer, after all he was hardly in the same league as Billy Graham or Charles Stanley. And those that have wouldn't bother to read his work, and probably shouldn't because it needs someone like Brother Metaxas to explain it all safely. After all, we don't want anyone confusing what was with what should have been, now do we?

Bless you Eric Metaxas. Now, where did I put that Derek Prince tape...

Friday 15 October 2010

God and Science

Colin Blakemore, a professor of neuroscience and a non-believer, hosts God and the Scientists, the penultimate episode of Christianity: A History. From Oxford to Dayton, Tennessee; from the Kentucky Creation Museum to the Large Hadron Collider, this is quite a romp. What seems like a rather sedate science-history doco at the outset - Copernicus and Galileo - morphs slowly into an impressive "curates egg."

Richard Dawkins puts in a very brief appearance, but I was more interested in the contributions by Ron Numbers, the former Seventh-day Adventist who has exposed the dubious history of creationism, and David Paterson, an Anglican priest who expounds the view taken by the "Sea of Faith" movement, which draws on the work of philosopher and renegade theologian Don Cupitt. Paterson makes the statement - profound or incomprehensible depending on your point of view - that there is no real difference between theism and atheism except the terminology.

Blakemore is clearly unimpressed by the persistence of religion, despite the best efforts of an affable Vatican astronomer, and given his later interview with Jason Lisle, a resident scientist at the Creation Museum, it's hard not to have some sympathy with his frustrations. Like many with similar views, reason stands firmly at Blakemore's back, but alas, there is not a lot of poetry evident in his soul. At the end of the day, religious belief is all about poetry and metaphor; how else could it be? Which is probably why wooden-headed fundamentalism of whatever persuasion is such a "fundamentally" stupid idea.

An atheist producing an episode in a series on the history of Christianity? Somehow I can't imagine one of the big American networks taking that kind of risk. Too bad.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Dark Continents

Kwame Kwei-Armah fronts the sixth programme in the series Christianity: A History. The theme: Christianity, colonialism, and the emergence of a new Christendom with its centre outside Europe and North America.

Five hundred years ago there were few Christians outside Europe and the Middle East. Then the Spanish and Portuguese embarked on colonial adventures in the Americas with the overt blessing of Rome. Mass conversions were attempted at the barrel of a gun. The indigenous culture fought back in the only way it could, by melding ancient traditions with the new Catholic faith. This is where the programme begins, and we find a modern Catholic priest who doubles as a Mayan shaman with no apparent qualms of conscience. Truth to tell, Christianity - and Judaism before it - have always been deeply syncretistic (just think of the impact of Zoroastrianism with its dualism and resurrections), so it seems a little hypocritical to throw one's hands up in holy horror because it happened once again in the New World.

The focus next shifts to Africa, and Ghana in particular, with a walk through Cape Coast Castle, the former centre of the British slave trade with dungeons below and an "Uncle Tom" Anglican chapel above. I recollect being told once that the British were thoroughly decent colonisers - much nicer than the wicked, cruel French, Germans and others. Theirs was "the gentle yoke of Ephraim." Don't believe a word of it!

A change of location to Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, established long before Constantine's rape of the Western church. Here is a very different expression of Christianity, sharing unique links to Judaism and the Jerusalem Temple cult. Perhaps it's a measure of our lazy indifference that we know so little - and care even less - about this ancient tradition of which we are (and I certainly include myself in this) so woefully and pitifully ignorant.

While the Ethiopian church preserves a history and dignity that deserves the attention and respect of Christians in other traditions, the new and growing independent churches that have sprung up on the continent are something else again. The programme suggests that here is the future of Christendom, in the intellectual desert of Pentecostalism, complete with exorcisms, biblical literalism and faith healing. Unlike the Ethiopian church, the new churches are invariably the schismatic offspring of Western missions. What can't be doubted is that they are both fervent and growing. It is probably true, as the film suggests, that Africa today is much closer culturally to the world of first century Palestine than the effete and bloodless post-Enlightenment churches of the West, but is that really a good thing, and do we realistically expect it to stay that way?

That ultimately is a question for African Christians to answer. Dark Continents presents a sympathetic perspective that certainly deserves to be heard.

Wednesday 13 October 2010


Ann Widdecombe in Lewes

The rather shrill British Tory MP Ann Widdecombe hosts the Reformation episode of Christianity: A History. The logic of having a convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism producing this part of the series evades me, but by and large the approach is evenhanded. The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, for example, is covered in reasonable depth.

Before the programme bogs down in the inevitable Anglocentric bias - Henry VIII and all that - there is a nice intro with some great views of Wittenberg, Worms and the Wartburg. Luther is described, accurately I think, as imagining himself a prophet of the End Days. Widdecombe is surprisingly generous toward the reformer, but really endears herself to me by failing to mention that painful and pesky impediment to the cause of the gospel, John Calvin, even once. Nice touch.

Two remarkable images stick from the screening. One is footage of that sad, myopic Baptist, Ian Paisley, loudly heckling the late pope John Paul II as he attempted to address the European parliament. The second is the bonfire night celebrations in the English town of Lewes where, to this very day, they burn the pope in effigy each year to commemorate the martyrdom of fifteen local Protestants during the reign of Bloody Queen Mary. According to the organiser, even Catholics join in the festivities, though Mrs Widdecombe was clearly not amused.

The programme assumed throughout that the Church of England was (is) Protestant, but that assertion is contestable it seems to me as long as a significant faction within that church asserts otherwise, claiming to be a via media between Rome and Wittenberg Geneva, therefore neither fish nor fowl. Mind you, I have my doubts about those darned Calvinistas as well... and what, pray tell, do you do with crazy Sydney Anglicans whose grand high poobah, Peter Jensen, claims that Anglicanism is Calvinist?

But putting all that aside, Ann Widdecombe's perspective as a new Catholic is interesting, and her personal stake in the issues moves this treatment beyond the usual dry academic approach. Well worth the investment of an hour.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

Playing the devil card

It's not only Anglicans who are weird it seems.

Have a look at the cultic language in this little pastoral epistle, and have a guess at its provenance.

Leadership is being challenged - - - egad not leadership! Persecution is ahead! Satan is behind it all. Fast and pray!

The author, David Wells, is "pastor" at St Mark's Community Church in the little township (blink and you'll miss it) of Te Kowhai in the rural heartland of the North Waikato, not too far from the city of my birth. You'll understand then that I was mildly intrigued.

Even more so when I read Alistair McBride's name in this press report from the local paper. McBride, who 'oversees' St Marks, is a fine bloke who I've met before and even shared some committee work with in times long past (the focus was education, not religion.) He is also the minister at the church my sister attends, and describes himself as a "Presbyterian minister, baby-boomer, socialist leaning bridge playing whisky drinking fencer." Alistair is anything but a fundamentalist.

And the "crisis" that sparked off Mr Wells' purple prose? A couple who wanted their marriage ceremony performed by the previous minister who had served St Marks for a quarter century. Oh the carnal wickedness of such a desire! Satan was surely working overtime on that one.

Wells is not listed on the register of Presbyterian clergy, and the lack of a 'rev' in front of his name indicates he may be an overly enthusiastic amateur, or even worse, a Methodist. But, dear lord, even so is that any excuse?

Leadership is a trip-wire word here. Hear a preacher - any preacher - use it to boost their authority and sound the alarms, then run like the blazes, for nothing good will come of it.

Apparently even in a "quaint" little community church affiliated with mainline denominations.

(Heads up to "he who recently emerged from muddy waters" - who drew my attention to the press report.)

Monday 11 October 2010


Rageh Omar, a Somali born British journalist and writer, hosts the fourth episode of Christianity: A History. Pope Urban II preached "salvation through slaughter" - commissioning every murderous thug in Europe to help "liberate" the Holy Land. The crusaders, following on from the Augustinian doctrine of "just war," embraced something more vile by far: holy war. It's not a pretty story, and certainly nothing like the romantic image of fluttering pennants and good king Richard. The pope's mercenaries indulged in atrocities that are hard to imagine, but are documented by the very men who perpetrated them, including the butchery, and cannibalism of small children. Again one has to ask about the disjoint between the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament letters compared to those who, after putting thousands of civilians to the sword in Jerusalem, trooped into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the blood of their victims still staining their bodies and clothes, to give thanks to their god.

Sow the wind, as Hosea warns (8:7), and reap the whirlwind.

In the West the crusades are viewed as ancient history, best forgotten, but in the Muslim world they are remembered with the same fierce passion that still divides communities in the Balkans and Ireland. Old wounds were opened again last century when the bungling British proclaimed a mandate over Palestine and proceeded - as only the British can do - to completely screw things up for subsequent generations. When George W. Bush used the rhetoric of the crusade to launch the war on Iraq more fuel was added to the fire, an error of judgement that played into the hands of extremist groups like Al Qaeda.

And so past meets present. Both are sobering and disturbing. This is a film that gives anyone who calls themselves Christian pause for thought.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Dark Ages? What Dark Ages?

The third programme in the series Christianity: A History is, in my opinion, the weakest so far. Robert Beckford, a Briton of Jamaican heritage, is responsible for this episode which follows the fortunes of the church in Britain following the collapse of the Roman Empire. We are introduced to a gaggle of forgotten luminaries - "the hugely important" St. Alban, Ireland's St. Kevin, St. Cuthbert and others. The cameras take us to such exotic locations as Harrow, Sutton Hoo and...

Ggnn, mmpfff... oops, sorry, briefly nodded off there...

It was mildly interesting to recap on the spat between the Celtic church, with its stronghold in Ireland, and the Roman church, introduced by St. Augustine of Canterbury. The major contention, other than the authority of Rome, was the correct date of Easter.

If you were to believe Beckford, the eighth century church in England was multicultural and inclusive, embodying diversity and pluralism: a veritable "golden age."

Yeah, right! All history may be reconstruction, but this version seems to consist of a great deal of projection - today's concerns superimposed onto the past.

In fact Beckford seems to make no distinction between Christianity and Christendom. Was any of this actually 'Christianity' in any meaningful sense? Opinions will obviously vary. Christendom, yes; Christianity, well...

It probably helps to be an cloistered Anglophile to appreciate such wonders as the conversion of Ethelbert. Oh, and prospective viewers should also be warned that the éminence grise of Anglican bishop N. T. Wright briefly rises from the lowest pits to provide a talking head (a mercifully brief cameo) toward the end of the film.

But if the Beckford contribution is a weak link, the next programme in the series more than makes up for it. The subject, incredibly relevant given the ongoing travail in the Middle East, is the Crusades.

Saturday 9 October 2010

The Constantine Con

Rome is the second episode in Christianity: A History, which focuses on the appropriation of Christianity by the Roman state from the time of Constantine. With masterful choice the producers chose a politician to front the programme, and a lapsed Catholic at that, controversial former British Tory cabinet member Michael Portillo. A more appropriate choice to discuss the conniving Constantine would be hard to imagine.

The film begins in the wilds of Cappadocia, then moves to Ephesus before training its gaze on Rome and Constantinople. I was waiting for the usual lineup of suspects to appear with expert cameo commentary, but in fact the producers scorned the familiar faces and instead delivered various Turkish and English academics and Vatican officials. It made for a refreshing change.

The underlying questions: should the church be in bed with the state? Was Constantine's adoption of the church a good or bad thing? The answers are more muddied in Europe than America or Australasia, but Portillo ultimately gives Constantine - and his legacy - the thumbs down. Who'd have thought a Conservative politician would have been capable of such a thing? Eusebius is described as the emperor's PR agent, and I nearly stood up and cheered when Augustine of Hippo's dubious contributions to church history - the elevation of the papacy and the travesty of "just war" theory - were raised. Striking shots of St John Lateran in Rome, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and the bizarre sight of frocked bishops in the British House of Lords, add to the impact of the programme.

Friday 8 October 2010

Jesus the Jew

Christianity: A History is a 2009 British documentary series where each program is hosted by different presenters, each following a stand-alone theme. The only name that leapt out at me on scanning the talent was Cherie Blair, wife of the former Prime Minister, and that probably didn't serve as much of a recommendation. However, after viewing the first episode, Jesus the Jew, I'm glad I took the punt.

First, this isn't another of those horrible voice-over docos produced for the History or Discovery channels. In the opening episode Howard Jacobson, a British Jew, presents a passionate perspective on both the founding years of Christianity, Jesus and Paul, and then a warts and all picture of the church's anti-Judaic, anti-Semitic record in Britain, then widening out to include an interview with a Vatican official. Traditional Christians would be hard pressed not to squirm in their seats from time to time.

But squirm they - we - should. If the ability to see ourselves as others see us is a gift, then Jacobson has presented Christians with a pearl of great price. Yes, the programme has flaws. Within the time available it would be hard not to indulge in a few bald generalisations that a pedant might scoff at, but these are small potatoes compared to the thrust of the film.

Jesus the Jew will not impress the mythicists: Jacobson begins by assuming the essential historicity of the Gospel accounts in a broad sense. I can see Neil Godfrey taking a sharp intake of breath in the first minutes of the screening. Because this is a Jewish perspective, many of those interviewed are also Jewish rather than the usual lineup of talking heads from the world of Christian scholarship. Two exceptions; Jerome Murphy-O'Connor and the redoubtable James Tabor.

There are a gaggle of supposedly knowledgeable folk - unthinking advocates of supercessionism - who I'd gladly, if it were in my power, chain to their seats and make watch Jesus the Jew to the very end. It might not budge their dogma nor their unexamined prejudices, but it would certainly mean they couldn't continue to sidestep the issues.

Comments on episode two, Rome, to follow.

(I can't find the series listed on Amazon, but for anyone interested here's a link to the Aussie ABC online store.)

Monday 4 October 2010

150 Years of Seventh-day Adventism

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, when the pioneers of the movement, gathered in Battle Creek, first adopted the name by which they are known today. Credit for coining the distinctive name goes to one David Hewitt. The other alternative, Church of God, was left to a small band of schismastics who are - like the larger body - still with us today, though shattered into countless bickering fragments.

The SDAs have changed the world for all of us in the decades since, whether we know it or not, most noticably at the breakfast table with boxed cereals, and to a lesser degree in their crusading zeal with anti-smoking programmes. Arguably the Adventists have left a less healthy legacy in their championship of Young Earth Creationism, which they were early promoters of, and lurid, fantastical interpretations of the apocalyptic parts of the Bible.

The SDAs have also produced a handful of remarkable theologians of which, sadly, few have felt able to remain within their denomination. Desmond Ford springs immediately to mind, but mention has also to be made of fellow Australian Bob Brinsmead, whose journey from Adventism to a form of lower-case lutheranism (in Present Truth), and from there (in Verdict) to "Christian Atheism" and beyond, is a tale I hope he one day might be willing to share with a broader audience.

To Adventist readers, happy birthday.

Fire the racist moron

On breakfast television this morning Paul Henry, subsequently described by Prime Minister John Key as a "shock jock," launched another not atypical cheap shot. This time the target was Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand.

The GG is, as the name suggests, of Indian heritage. Interviewing the Prime Minister, Henry asked, out of the depths of his personal ignorance, whether Satyanand was "even a New Zealander."

The GG was in fact born and raised in New Zealand.

Compounding his stupidity, Henry went on to ask whether the next holder of the office - effectively the head of state - might sound and look more like a typical New Zealander.

What, I wonder, does a typical twenty-first century New Zealander look like? I suspect Henry thinks he (the choice of pronoun here is deliberate) looks and sounds a lot like him, a smug Pakeha (European) guy with a British surname and an old school tie in his closet.

Previously Henry has described the inspirational Susan Boyle as "retarded," pointed out facial hair on a female interviewee and wondered aloud whether anyone actually cared about the torture of prisoners in Afghanistan.

Obviously he didn't.

Why is this clown with congenital foot-in-mouth disease still on payroll at Television New Zealand?

Saturday 2 October 2010

Two men on the Mount of Olives

Matthew tells the story of the night Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives (Mt. 26: 36-46). The Master talks to his companions about the coming betrayal before inviting his closest disciples to share the moment with him. They, of course, famously fall asleep instead. Jesus prays fervently alone, pleading with the Father. Finally, resolved to go through with whatever must come to pass, he rises only to be confronted with arrest.

Was this the way it all happened, or is Matthew indulging in a spot of "creative writing"? After all, he wasn't there, and more to the point nor were Peter or John. So how did he - or anyone - know what happened and what Jesus said in private prayer?

"Now brethren," as certain preachers of my past acquaintance were wont to say, "if you'd keep your finger in Matthew, turn back to 2 Samuel 15."

Here we find a despairing, weeping David on the Mount of Olives (2 Sam. 15: 30). Here David prayed, according to tradition, the words of Psalm 3:2-3. It appears that Matthew was very familiar with both the psalm and 2 Samuel as he wrote the arrest account. Skip ahead to 2 Sam. 15:26 which expresses David's acceptance of whatever might follow: "let him do to me what seems good to him."

The parallels are fascinating, and it would be difficult to deny that while there are also obvious differences, one does not foreshadow the other. An ancient tradition is retreaded for a new audience

I'm indebted for these insights to Thomas Thompson's excellent The Bible in History (1999), now sadly out of print. Thompson writes:
On the night before [Jesus] dies, he fills David's role as pietism's everyman on the Mount of Olives... Like David, Jesus is abandoned by his followers. He suffers despair, and is without hope. He goes to his mountain to pray, paraphrasing David's words in the voice of tradition: 'not my will but yours be done.' ... This is reiterated history...
Reiteration is a theme Thompson returns to again and again. There is, he states, not a lot of originality in the scriptures. Their purpose is theological, not historical.

It's a point that seems hard to argue with, except we all tend to "take it as read" anyway, even when we know better. Naïvely citing texts as "Jesus' words" is as common among progressive Christians as fundagelicals, the only difference usually being the texts selected. Yet stories are often recycled, like episodes in various series of the Star Trek corpus. Klingons morph into Cardassians, but the storyline is the recognizably the same.

Apart from indulging in Pollyanna apologetics, just what do we do with that reality?