Thursday 30 December 2010

Four Quotes from Cupitt

'Fundamentalist' religion, which is so counter-cultural, so hysterically anti-intellectual and of such poor quality... scarcely deserves the name of 'religion' at all.

We begin to see that historical ecclesiastical Christianity was from the first constituted by a great repression of something bigger and better that lies behind it.

Virtually the whole of the received 'life of Christ' is little better than pious midrash.

Only when we stop believing, and dismantle the old religious language, do we begin to see clearly just how clear and radical Jesus' ethical message was. So new, that it could be assimilated and presented only in mythologized, pietized, mystified form.

Don Cupitt, in the introduction to Theology's Strange Return, SCM, 2010

Monday 27 December 2010

Trinitarian musings

Castle Perichoresis
What a load of rubbish some people write about the Trinity. Daniel Migliore is among the more lucid. It's all about, according to these sages, interpenetration and relationship. Chuck in a few more syrupy synonyms - mutuality, communion and perichoresis (to trot out a really big one to impress the plebs) and the cake is baked (or perhaps more accurately, half baked.)

The word perichoresis means "mutual indwelling" or "being-in-one-another." What does that actually mean? That God is "up himself"? The model theologians of this ilk offer could just as easily be used to proclaim that the Trinitarian God is not so much generous and self-giving, but congenitally self-absorbed.
The three of the Trinity "indwell" and pervade each other; they "encircle" each other, being united in an exquisite divine dance...
That's nice as poetry and metaphor, and on that level most Christians would have no problem with it, but the key question is whether it describes anything real outside Migliore's head?

The thing is, the perichoresis brigade are, almost always, convinced that this is a matter of revelation and does describe God's actual nature and essence. This in turn makes it attractive - though certainly not exclusively - to the intellectual wing of the Reformed tradition, as championed by their Chief Priests; Torrance, Kruger, and of course...
The notion of a cosmic perichoresis implicit in the writings of recent trinitarian theologians, and articulated more precisely in Colin Gunton’s 1992 Bampton Lectures, represents the culmination of more than half a century of trinitarian reflection and debate since Karl Barth re-opened the door in his biblically-based [cough, splutter] presentation of the doctrine of the Trinity.
Thus, on this dubious bit of dogma are many shining, multi-turreted castles-in-the-air built. And do note, the version of perichoresis hawked around today is to the understanding of the Church Fathers what refined sugar is to molasses. What would those crusty old bishops at Nicea have made of it all?

Catholic writers like Leonardo Boff at least have the good sense to see perichoresis as having a functional political value. "The mutual relationships among three coequal persons within the Godhead have been argued to provide a model  both for human relationships within communities and for Christian political and social theorizing."

Uh oh, I think he just lost most of the Kruger crowd.

Sunday 26 December 2010

Merry Kitschmas

Bah, humbug! Now that the day has passed, it's time to reflect on the true significance of Christmas...


"Each year, Christmas time reminds us of the ‘holy’ power of kitsch."

Quotable words from Egyptian journo Ati Metwaly, writing on ahramonline.

Having never been to Egypt, I had no idea the Christmas season was a big deal there, but apparently so, and Metwaly has it pretty much sussed.

"Year after year, anything that could carry any artistic or aesthetic value is slowly but surely replaced by worthless plastic, sponge and glitter, glued to paper."

Then there's this neat quote from Austrian novelist Herman Broch:

“The maker of kitsch does not create inferior art, he is not an incompetent or a bungler, he cannot be evaluated by aesthetic standards; rather he is ethically depraved, a criminal willing radical evil.”

Preach it brother!

So how would you create a kitsch-free family Christmas tradition? Would Christmas even be Christmas without kitsch? The Coca Cola Santa Claus would obviously have to go, not to mention those schmaltzy (not to mention inaccurate) cards with snowy nativity scenes and shepherds hobnobbing with Wise Men. Rudolf and Dasher, Donner and Blitzen would be redeployed to the venison industry. And I'm all for anyone even humming "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (shudder) being thrown in the slammer till the New Year.

I'm partial to a dose of Handel's Messiah personally, then again, the libretto is unquestionably a pastiche, and I haven't been able to convince too many others of its benefit, whether or not they're big on pastiches.

Too late to purge the tinsel this year, but it's not too early to start planning, there are only 364 days till the next one!

Friday 24 December 2010

Suffering fools gladly

Richard Dawkins debunks the Noah's Ark tale in the video below (he cuts to the chase at around 4:15.) Gee, thanks Richard, but y'know what? I'd rather hear this from a prophetic voice within the Christian community. Why is it that among Christians who know better, so few (with honorable exceptions like Michael Dowd) are willing to stand up and call a myth a myth, an etiological tale an etiological tale, and slap around - for their own good - the morons who preach it literally?

The time has long passed when Christians should suffer fools gladly. Yet blowhard fundamentalists of the Ken Ham variety are largely left unchallenged by their more urbane brethren, as if it isn't proper form to notice their existence, let alone laugh out loud at their outrageous claims.

Dawkins effectively douses the Noachian nonsense with science, which is all well and good, but the people who embrace literalism aren't usually up to speed with that sort of thing (anyone can get a crash course by reading New Scientist for six months though!) Yet creationism isn't only appalling science, it's also appalling theology. Surely it makes sense to tackle these issues directly by addressing them unequivocally rather than politely coughing and hoping the whole embarrassing fiasco will go away.

So why don't they? Church leaders of the milquetoast persuasion seem to fear alienating a significant portion of their support base. Poor old Mrs Smith just wouldn't be able to handle it, so they choose carefully worded ambiguity, dancing around the the gaping maw of the fundamentalist pit on tiptoe, deliberately confounding metaphor with the real world. That's an abdication of responsibility and probably pretty shaky on ethical grounds as well. Has it worked? Looking at the ongoing decline in attendance, it seems fair to say that the strategy hasn't exactly been wildly successful. The approach which keeps Mrs Smith uneasily sedated has probably driven away both her children and grandchildren. The two-faced paternalism that in effect consciously misleads the "dumb sheep" lest they be offended is not only failing, it's also unworthy and dishonest.

While that situation exists, we should probably thank Dawkins for shouldering a task that most of us are unwilling to do ourselves.

(A nod in the direction of John Loftus' blog, where I found the clip featured.)

Western Wisdom

So far as importance for Christian theology is concerned, Emil Brunner is to Karl Barth what Huldrych Zwingli is to Britney Spears

Jim West on Zwinglius Redivivus

Thursday 23 December 2010

The Missing Priesthood

The priesthood of all believers was a central issue at the time of the Reformation, and maybe it needs to be a central issue today, particularly in those churches which emphasise an imaginary gulf between ministers and lay Christians. When all the power is effectively placed in the hands of local pastors, with little or no accountability either above or below, it's a sure recipe for grief.

At the time of the Reformation, the Western Catholic church was characterised by hierarchy. A pyramid of clergy, from the bishop of Rome on down, ruled the roost while the lay members were regarded as inferior and properly passive. This view harked back to "Saint" Thomas Aquinas, and was subjected to rigorous criticism by the Reformers, beginning with Luther, who took 1 Peter 2:9 as their rallying cry.

A priest is simply someone who has a right to intercede directly with God. If all believers are priests, then they all function in a priestly way. They are each directly accountable to God. The role of ministers then had to be thought about carefully, they were there as guides, not a privileged caste. They were there because the community of believers put them there to ensure that things were carried out in an orderly way, but the community - not heaven - was the source of their authority. It became a "bottom-up" model.

And it's a priesthood of all believers, men and women, not a priesthood of half the believers. How does that work? Take the issue of how much you give to your church: you decide, that's your perogative and responsibility. Your pastor may have an opinion, but that's his or her informed (hopefully!) opinion which you have the liberty to take or not.

Hierarchic churches ignore the concept of the priesthood of all believers. Officials of Grace Communion International, for example, will talk about the ministry of all believers, but that's not the same thing. Any church where the pastor (or church administrators) conduct their business without the explicit endorsement and approval of the membership - through structures such as conferences and synods which have elected lay representation - simply don't "get it."

Does this mean a denomination shouldn't have structure; a president, board members, maybe even bishops? That's completely beside the point. In fact, having accountability structures above the level of the local congregation is probably a very good thing. There's nothing uglier than a strutting prima donna pastor with an exalted sense of their own importance. But it does imply that those structures themselves, at national, regional and local levels, must be accountable back to the people in the pews. And it does mean that ministers are not authorised to take a heavy-handed approach with the membership, or assume they can micro-manage the lives of those who choose to attend.

When that does happen it's time for the members to remind their pastors about the biblical limits to their job description.

Monday 20 December 2010

The Ephesians 4 Smokescreen

Even as I write this, a cabal of ministers recently departed from a minor American denomination are organising themselves into a schismatic body. They're making a lot of Ephesians 4 as the charter for their new organisation's structure. Here's the relevant passage.
11 As for his gifts, to some he gave to be apostles, to others prophets, or even evangelists, or pastors and teachers. 12 So he prepared those who belong to him for the ministry, in order to build up the Body of Christ, 13 until we are all united in the same faith and knowledge of the Son of God.
At first blush it sounds good, but...

But the writer of Ephesians wasn't writing into a vacuum. He had particular issues in mind. For example, he would have had a specific understanding of the role of an apostle and an evangelist. You can be sure that the pouting pastors have a quite different understanding, conditioned by their own distinctive doctrines and history. The embarrassing truth is that an apostle isn't a jet-setting tithe-farmer, and ordination as an evangelist isn't the equivalent of elevation to Britain's House of Lords. Slapping these verses onto the current situation is a bit like prescribing Aspirin for someone who's been electrocuted and is still twitching.

Then there's the unavoidable fact that these geezers aren't claiming to have an apostle or a prophet in their midst. They do have a dead apostle of living memory, but he's not a lot of practical use, other than as a pretext.

Nor do these confused clergy seem to grasp the fact that Ephesians is a less-than "100% proof" source for proof texts. Internal evidence strongly indicates that it was written by someone other than Paul. It isn't regarded as one of his genuine letters.

So why all the ballyhoo over Ephesians 4?

It can be used to justify hierarchy.

Now let's think: no apostles, no prophets, the prospect of a couple of retreaded evangelists from the previous administration (all title, no power)... now what does that leave them with?

Pastors and teachers. And the practice in these circles is to conflate the two into one.

What about garden-variety lay members. Well, what have they got to do with anything? Ephesians 4 doesn't even mention them, right?

(In fact the book of Ephesians is addressed to them: "to the saints in Ephesus, to you who share Christian faith." It's right there in 1:1. Lay engagement and empowerment is assumed throughout, or the writer - who wasn't Paul, but may have been a protégé - would have simply written directly to the pastor.)

Now my dear Watson, the game is afoot!  It would appear that the point of the exercise is to create a comfortable sinecure for a bunch of disgruntled ministers who couldn't handle being accountable to a governing structure which they themselves elected. Decapitate the denominational officers and you have a two-level hierarchy, them and us, dumb sheep and pastors. As they themselves say: "We encourage one another to follow the Ephesians 4 template for the pastor, members, and congregation."

Any provision for checks and balances, for restraints on pastoral authority? None that leap out at you. The new body appears to be a loose association of loose cannons. At the congregational level it's just "pray and pay" members with limited rights (or none at all) and underqualified pastors who hold unaccountable authority.

The potential for abuse is enormous.

Sunday 19 December 2010

Marginal Nuts

Apparently there's something called The Common Man's Reference Bible (with apologies to all women, common or otherwise) consisting of the good ol' KJV with added comments by some bloke called David Hoffman. The sample photograph (click to enlarge) comes from the Unreasonable Faith site. Just take a look at what the Hoff has to say about Santa! And all because of the KJV "ho, ho" in Zech. 2:6?

I wonder if this guy would be interested in a job teaching at Spanky Meredith's Living University?

Saturday 18 December 2010

Christmas isn't pagan after all...

... or at least that's the position taken by a Seventh-day Adventist writer. It sounds unlikely, most of us know about Mithras and Sol Invictus, Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice, but if Andrew Willis is to be believed that's all either a coincidence or a series of red herrings.

Willis tracks the Christian observance of December 25 to the Donatists, a bunch of hard-liners if ever there was one. They make, Willis suggests, an unlikely group to introduce a pagan custom into their high demand community.
After much research, the church in the West and Africa settled on March 25 as the date of Jesus' crucifixion. This was important in determining the date of Jesus' birth because in Jewish tradition it was thought that prophets died on the same day as they were born. This idea may seem strange to us, but was understood and accepted by the early church. Jesus was different from the prophets, however -- his life didn't start at his birth, rather it began when the angel spoke to Mary. This is why early Christians celebrated the annunciation (or announcement to Mary that she was carrying the child) on March 25. Add nine months of pregnancy and you arrive at a birth date of December 25... we should understand that it is not a pagan festival "borrowed" by Christians. Rather, it is a very early Christian memorial.


Search the Web and Save the Planet

Forestle seems like a good alternative when searching the Web. Those annoying sponsored links are finally put to productive use, helping save the rainforest. As of November 20 this year about 9,250,000 square meters have been saved on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica.

Forestle, based in Germany, uses the Yahoo engine to bring up results. The site has been around since 2008, but seems to have a surprisingly low profile. There's an article on Wikipedia that provides some interesting details. It's nice to think that you can actually make a small difference each time you punch in a search - and the cost is nothing more than a mouse click.

Misery Synod Meddling

The president of the fundamentalist Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod has made an urgent appeal to the membership of that body.

The Rev. Matthew Harrison is concerned about the morale and esprit de corps of the US armed services. Why? The "don't ask, don't tell" policy affecting gay people in the military is under threat. Quick as a flash Harrison is rallying his own troops to petition senators and representatives in Washington. Verily, saith Harrison, "The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has a clear biblical position on this important issue."

Yup, in the LCMS discrimination is considered God's way.

Moreover: "Military chaplains striving to carry out their responsibilities for preaching, counseling, and consoling will find themselves under the strain of having to question whether to obey God or men (Acts 5:29)."

Since when did military chaplains "find themselves under the strain of having to question whether to obey God or men"? Military chaplains are there to salve the consciences of those who carry out orders that often conflict with the moral and ethical imperatives of Christianity; that's their function. What does Harrison think the military chaplains of the Third Reich did? Or the military chaplains of Her Britannic Majesty when the General Belgrano was sunk off the Falkland Islands? Is the man completely naive?

One of the enduring issues in Lutheranism - historically conditioned by the need to seek the protection of the German princes in its early years - is its willingness to hop into bed with any despot, excusing itself with nonsense about "the two kingdoms" (an adaptation of Augustine's mindless "two cities" doctrine) and the "left hand of God." There are not many advantages Anglo Protestantism has over the Lutheran tradition in my opinion, but one certainly is an identifiable backbone when it comes to speaking truth to those in power.

Harrison would be well advised to deal with the beam before he attempts to poke around with splinters. Hopefully those legislators who will address the issue of "don't ask, don't tell" will tell Harrison - and I'm choosing my words carefully - to bugger off.

Friday 17 December 2010

Leibnizian Supralapsarianism

Adam and Eve, Augustine and Calvin. As Sir Walter Scott almost said, Oh the tangled web we contrive when first we try to theologise. The temptation - more a compulsion for most thinking folk - is to simply cut the Gordian knot with one slashing "snock" of the skeptics light sabre.

But more subtle solutions are out there. Some work, some don't. The trouble is, which category each falls in is impossible to nail down - beware the dark forces of apologetics! Take the Original Sin problem, for example. Along came dippy old Father Adam and screwed up the divine masterplan by following a woman's advice...

But wait, can a human actually do that? No, surely it was all part of the grand design all along...

Uh, hang on, let's take a reality check before we go any further. Adam? Eve? No such people, people!

Michael Ruse tries to untangle the knot, which is a commendable but possibly insane undertaking for a man who describes himself as a non-believer. Ruse however is a philosopher, so Calvinist conundrums are probably to him what Sudoku puzzles are to the rest of us. In the process he finds a kind word for John Schneider, a theologian at Calvin College who has fallen afoul of the dominees and predikants of that august institution.

So, a spot of subtle unpicking or the light sabre solution? I guess that the Calvin College retort would be "neither."

Which is where the problem arises in the first place.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

The reason for the season

In my little corner of the multiverse there isn't much controversy over seasonal greetings. Nobody objects when you say "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." In fact, I can't recollect anyone saying "Happy Holidays" at all. That debate is apparently significant mainly in the United States.

I'm on the negative side of ambivalent about this whole Christmas thing. On the grounds of good taste alone there should be a Royal Commission into the whole business. (What's the equivalent of a Royal Commission in the Rebel Colonies - a Congressional Committee?)

Having a somewhat sectarian detour in my earlier years, I learned to be scornful of the whole Yuletide celebration anyway. Christmas has a prehistory that has nothing to do with the Christian veneer that's been plastered over it. And as a Southern Hempisphere resident, it always strikes me as peculiar to drag out images of snow in the sweltering heat of Summer.

Which is why I found James McGrath's posting on Christmas refreshing. Christmas, McGrath reminds us, is something Christians knicked from the pagans. There is an irony in the fact that some Christians complain bitterly that the Christian content has been stripped out of the festival.
"So to those in the English-speaking world who consider themselves Christians, my recommendation is this: stop complaining about the "de-Christianization" of a holiday that we ourselves stole (sorry, borrowed) from others and successfully hijacked for more than a thousand years. And instead delight in the fact that, even in our changed and changing context,  you can express your Christian faith, and have at least as much of an opportunity to take already-existing holidays and customs and fill them with distinctively Christian values - for yourself and as an opportunity to share your faith with others - as Christians in bygone eras did."
Excellent advice.

Sunday 12 December 2010

This one is for you, Seamus

A nod in the direction of Jason Goroncy, who has probably just demonstrated the reality of total depravity with an anti-feline posting on his blog which, in the usual course of events, is full of that knotty variety of Hard Knox Calvinism that flourishes in the chilly sub-Antarctic climes of Dunedin. I beg you, gentle readers, to take his cat recipes with a grain (or several measured teaspoonsful) of salt. But do gather up the family pooch and give this charming little number a listen.

Constantine condensed - what a guy!

Why spend unnecessary hours hacking your way through a bookish biography of Constantine, the first emperor of Christendom, when you can pick up the essentials in under four and a half toe-tapping minutes. Some months ago I read Paul Stephenson's Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor. To think, all I really needed was the good services of YouTube! "Oh," as Dr. Smith was wont to say on Lost in Space, "the pain, the pain!"

Okay, so there's not much critical content, but then again, the Eastern church turned this pustule into a saint so, hey, who cares? And once you've absorbed the info on Con, you could even try your luck with Martin Luther.

Thursday 9 December 2010

The Emperor's New Grand Narrative

Presbyterian systematic theologian and Barthian authority Daniel Migliore writes:

As long as the church remains faithful to the self-communication of the triune God, it will acknowledge the priority and authority of the scriptural witness in its life and mission. At the same time, the real humanity of the biblical witnesses will also be recognized without apology or embarrassment. It is not a weakness but a strength of the Christian understanding of revelation that its original witnesses are unmistakably historically conditioned and remarkably diverse human beings. That we have the treasure of the gospel in clay jars (2 Cor 4:7) is as true of Scripture as it is of all subsequent Christian witness based on Scripture. Hence not everything found in the Bible is to be taken as a direct word of God to us. Some texts of the Bible may stand in utmost tension with the revelation of the character and purpose of God as identified by the grand narrative of Scripture. ...Scripture witnesses to revelation but is not identical with it. Even Calvin acknowledge[d] this, although not as boldly as Luther. Today it is essential that a Christian doctrine of revelation distinguish clearly between Scripture's witness to the personal self-disclosure of God definitively in Jesus Christ and the historical contingencies and ambiguities of this witness (Faith Seeking Understanding, pp. 40-41, as cited by Ted Johnson).

What does this actually mean? Here's a helpful "translation."

Oh shoot, this thing is all over the place. But hey, lets suck it in and turn lemons into lemonade. Let's see now... if people find bits of the Bible unpalatable we'll say "it doesn't matter." The ambrosia comes in a damaged cardboard tetrapak, and the date on the top might be past its use-by too, but... "it doesn't matter."

Clay pots. What's pot and what's not? What's Word and what's turd? The grand narrative determines it! Who determines what's grand narrative and what's not, what's in and what's out? Well your majesty, it's blindingly obvious isn't it, just like this suit of invisible clothes. See the fine workmanship? Just like the grand narrative. You have to be thick as a brick not to see these fabulous garments I'm holding up, and likewise your highness, you'd have to be a depraved, carnal pleb (or a Jew, or even worse a Unitarian) - totally bereft of the Holy Spirit - not to perceive the grand narrative in all its Trinitarian grandness, don't you agree?

And now your magnificence, if you'd kindly strip off and don our non-existent incredibly beautiful attire, we'll send you off on a lap of the palace gardens so the common folk can admire your, um, superbly regal presence. Talk about a revelation! Now that'll give 'em a really grand narrative to tell their grandchildren about!

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Theology - queen of sciences or the study of nothing?

Neil Godfrey, bless his evil Ocker heart, has a few things to say on the study of theology in public universities. Among the comments is this quote from some bloke - significant in American history I believe...

“The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion. Not anything can be studied as a science, without our being in possession of the principles upon which it is founded; and as this is the case with Christian theology, it is therefore the study of nothing.”

–Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

Ouch! What a pain(e)! It's worth rememembering that theology was once described as the queen of the sciences. Mind you, the same honorific was also applied to astrology. In a varsity essay I wrote a couple of years back I quoted Richard Tarnas (The Passion of the Western Mind) who uses it with reference to astrology, only to get a snooty note back from the marker that I should have specified that I meant theology!

Anyway, may I say, as someone who has just completed a course of study in the queen of sciences (here I do mean theology) at a public university, and state with some passion, that I thoroughly...

Ack! Ggnnn! (sound of throttling)

[Normal service will be resumed shortly]

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Why go to church?

Why indeed! Chaeyoon Lim has the answer in a study published in the December issue of the American Sociological Review. It makes you happy! Professor Lim seems to have some valid data to back up the findings. (He obviously hasn't, however, surveyed some of the less than bliss-filled churches I've been involved with over the years.)

One thing does ring true though. The good folk who troop through the doors each week are usually there for one main reason, and it's got nothing to do with pure doctrine, felicitous sermons or tightly knotted theology (let alone fluffy, vacuous thoughts of 'thankfullness' and 'worship.') Those are more often than not pretexts or acceptable justifications. The real reason?

"Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction... the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there.

"The report said the findings were applicable to the three main Christian traditions and found 'similar patterns among Jews and Mormons, even with a much smaller sample size."

That might be true down at St. Joseph's Catholic or St Aidan's Anglican, but does this apply to sectarian communities too? They seem to me to score on the " belongingness" continuum, giving members a sense of personal significance ("Why were you born?") rather than social connectedness. After all, to join a marginal community, or high-demand group, you generally have to sacrifice friends and family in order to embrace "fictive kin." Take it from me, in certain sects life isn't a beach, it's a piranha tank!

And why, with all this supposed churchly happiness, are people leaving in droves. It would be interesting to see if Lim's study could be repeated outside the United States where Christian decline is more acute. And is it possible to get the same benefits by joining a weekly gardening circle or hiking club?

Then again, why bother asking. The message seems to be "don't worry, be happy." Who can argue with that?

Now, where did I hide that hymn book?

Monday 6 December 2010

Lions and Lambs

The Peaceable Kingdom is a powerful millennialist image. It graced the seals of two church bodies that I'm aware of, the one I hardly dare mention following a recent pigeon-hole post on Jim West's blog, the other is the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS church.) A print of Edward Hick's artwork - he painted around sixty versions on the theme - hangs on a wall in my home, a reminder of times past. Hick's paintings testify to his Quaker faith, and hope for colonial America as a blessed land. They are light years removed from the awful kitsch that has since sprung up in its wake.

Over at Scott Bailey's blog is this sweet picture. Sweet as in saccharine loaded. But could it perhaps be thought to depict something other than what the artist consciously intended? Gives a whole new angle to the expression "dumb sheep" doesn't it... somehow appropriate in view of how it was used in that certain church referred to above (not the RLDS/COC - they're basically a very decent bunch.)

Actually, I feel a caption contest coming on. The trick is to create something that is both apt, and readable by your grandmother with little more than an arched eyebrow. Submissions must meet both criteria.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Concordia-style credibility?

The Missouri Synod's Concordia Publishing House has some truly different titles on offer, and is now - progressive little beavers that they are - pushing them as Kindle editions. How 'bout this little gem called The Discovery of Genesis?

This linguistic analysis of the Chinese language suggests the ancient Chinese were well aware of the God of Abraham. Readers will discover the possibility that the Chinese were a remnant of the Tower of Babel dispersion. The authors start with the observance of some astonishing points of correspondence between certain characters in the Chinese language and elements of the Genesis account of man's early beginnings. They go on to analyze dozens of the ideographic pictures that make up words in the Chinese language. The evidence they compile supports the thesis that the ancient picture writing of the Chinese language embodies memories of man's earliest days. The characters when broken down into component parts, reflect elements of the story of God and man recorded in the early chapters of Genesis. Man and woman, the garden, the institution of marriage, the temptaton and fall, death, Noah's flood, the tower of Babel - they are all there in the tiny drawings and strokes that make up the Chinese characters. 

Well, there you go! The brilliant authors are C. H. Kong and Ethel Nelson, and this outstanding text first saw the light back in 1979. 1979! Mind you, Concordia's recycling programme can dig even deeper into history; it still publishes The Flood by Alfred Rehwinkel. That one tracks back to 1957, and the first edition earlier yet. I had that one on my shelf as a teenager back in (mumble, mumble.)

So, which imprints do you most trust and distrust? When I'm cruising the shelves at Church Stores in Ellerslie, the first thing I usually look for isn't the title but the publisher. IVP, Fortress, WJK, Baker, Eerdmans, Paulist, Polebridge, Thomas Nelson, SPCK... Some leap off the shelf into my hands, others I wouldn't touch with the proverbial barge-pole.

Concordia titles are pretty rare at Church Stores, which is a mercy. But I always flick through them anyway. Laughter is, as the nice people at Readers' Digest have always insisted, the best medicine.