Sunday 19 May 2013

Conundrums along the Continuum

I have three books underway at the moment, each representing a different point on the continuum that runs from fundamentalist Christian to uncompromising secularist.

The first is Rob Bell's What We Talk About When We Talk About God. Bell is a progressive Evangelical and highly articulate in the inane patter-style that characterises the semi-hip contemporary preacher. If you can overcome any aversion you have to this kind of glibness, he can be quite winsome. Bell is well along the continuum, but, alas, probably convinced he can have his cake and eat it too. It's a neat trick of you can get away with it, and after a few pages you kind of hope he can. Bell's God is warmer and fuzzier than the Old Sod in the Sky most of us grew up with, a Deity dragged out into the light of the twenty-first century, given a decent haircut by Bell and some smart casual clothes. It may be an improvement, but you get the feeling that, despite Bell's protestations, it's largely a cosmetic makeover. Nevertheless this is the kind of book you could recommend to one of those 'difficult to shake loose' Southern Baptist types. It'll get them thinking without triggering a total shock and horror reaction.

Way down the other end of the line is Joe Bennett's Double Happiness. It's not about religion as such, although Bennett takes some lusty swipes along the way. The subtitle sums it up: How Bullshit Works. By bullshit Bennett means a great many things from advertising strategies to royalty. Double Happiness has something to offend almost everybody, so you can alternate between deep groans and loud bursts of applause. This is what life looks like to many decent folk who have consigned religious faith to the trash can. I love the straight talking, no jargon, no nonsense approach (obviously this guy could never be a theologian!) Almost Joe, almost thou convincest me...

Somewhere between these two very readable volumes sits the third, Why Weren't We Told?: A Handbook on 'Progressive' Christianity, made up of a series of odd contributions from writers who have moved to the fringes of orthodox Christian faith. Here God has been comprehensively deconstructed and re-envisioned. I confess that this is the part of the continuum where I currently feel most at home, but it's really hard to deal with the oppressive earnestness that exudes from these progressive (liberal/radical) practitioners. Why is it that most of those who find themselves in this uncomfortable spot on the spectrum exhibit all the joyfulness of prune-fed Methodists? You don't get the impression that you could sit down and enjoy a beer with these folk - if they do imbibe it'll doubtless be a carefully selected still white wine. And neither do they seem the sort who could chortle into their glasses over an episode of Modern Family; in fact I doubt whether many of them watch anything other than an occasional BBC documentary. What you will find here is bad poetry and pointless (though mercifully short) rambles, along with a few (too few) worthwhile pieces. They say Christianity began with a few fishermen, but latter-day fishers would probably head back to sea early just to avoid stuff like this.

Christianity; it's a problem, a love/hate object that more often immobilises its bemused followers rather than motivating them, especially when you move away from the black and white literalism of the fundagelicals. If you reach for the glowing centre (whether real or a mirage) you must first shovel aside copious layers of the "bullgeschichte" Mr Bennett has identified.

It's a conundrum that I for one have no solution to, other than perhaps taking some comfort from the words of "the preacher" of Ecclesiastes, who had some deeper, rawer insights that even Rob Bell can muster.
I have come to realise that nothing is better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. (Eccl. 3:12)
Perhaps that's a bottom line we should all agree on.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Jehovah strikes down ESV

Finally an act of God we can all celebrate.

The ESV (English Standard Version) is a pretentious pseudo-translation of the Bible produced to mollify the hordes of conservative evangelicals who wanted something more literal than the NIV. Indeed, it's the official version now used by the Missouri Synod - need more be said? Unsatisfied by the NRSV, which brought the old 1950s RSV up to speed for present day use, a bunch of grumpy old men of largely Reformed persuasion decided to have a go themselves, producing their own iteration of the RSV, with all the stuff they missed from the good ol' days (like godly misogyny and favourite proof texts long declared dubious by real scholars.)

At least, that's the way I choose to tell it.

And now The Lord Himself has dealt to the ESV, which is neither English (it's American) nor Standard in any meaningful sense of that word. It seems Yahweh has taken particular delight in smiting ESV publishers Crossway with floods from on high. Crossway President Lane Dennis writes:
...a flood recently swept through Crossway's headquarters. About two feet of water poured into our 32 first-floor offices due to unrelenting rains. The damage was extensive and repairs and rebuilding will take five or six months...
More important, however, is the impact this could have on major ministry projects that we have planned. 
As a not-for-profit ministry, Crossway is not only committed to publishing the ESV Bible and gospel-centered content, but also to providing God's Word to hundreds of thousands of people overseas, either free or at a substantially reduced cost. Because of the recent flood, however, some of these international ministry efforts are now at risk. 
That’s why I’m sending this e-mail — first, to ask for your prayers at this critical moment; and, second, to ask (if the Lord should lead you) for a gift of support. Your gift will help us cover three things: (1) the portion of the damage not covered by insurance, and (2) the installation of new safeguards to flood-proof our building. But most importantly (3) your gift will help ensure that crucial Bible ministry projects can continue to advance. 
I would be deeply grateful to you if you are able to help us at this critical time. Specifically, we need your help to raise $360,000 by the end of our fiscal year, May 31st. 
In the usual course of events, smiting from on high isn't something you'd want to smile about. At the risk of sounding churlish, in this case perhaps an exception could be made.

Saturday 4 May 2013

The Deeper Scandal

Peter Enns is a prophetic voice to the Evangelical community.

By that I don't mean he goes around quoting proof texts from Matthew 24 or Revelation out of context and claiming the world will end in three to five years. That's not prophecy, that's stupidity, and best left to the moron fringe.

No, prophetic in the sense of stating unpleasant truths. For example:

The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that degrees, books, papers, and other marks of prestige are valued–provided you come to predetermined conclusions.

Ain't that the truth. In a nutshell... apologetics. A Christian committed to the apologetic enterprise has already prostituted their conscience by surrendering to the fear of truth.

Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one.

Read the whole article here.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Tarting Up Tomorrow's World

Well brethren, are we all excited? The flagship magazine of the Roderick Meredith sect, Tomorrow's World, has had a makeover. The new look is the work of John Robinson, and the Presiding Evangelist is well pleased.

And, as any fair minded person will probably agree, the redesign is effective. Too bad about the content!

Take, for example, these remarks from Rod:
God commands His true servants, “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching God” (Isaiah 58:1–2).
The Creator God commands His true ministers to “cry aloud!” How many actually have the courage and commitment to do this? Very few, indeed!
How about those nice people at Westboro Baptist Church? They seem pretty free with their opinions. Indeed, might Rod's Living Church of God be perhaps described as Westboro Lite? I suppose it's useless pointing out that the quote from Isaiah has to be read in the context of a specific audience at a particular time in history. But then, hey, when has Rod ever preached a Bible passage in context?

Then there's an article cautioning readers to shun obelisks - I kid you not.

But pride of place goes to the cover article which offers profound commentary on the election of Pope Francis. Will he be the last pope before Christ's return? Wouldn't you know it, Rod even uses the old chestnut "Prophecy Marches On!" in his editorial.

Yes, it's a remarkable issue, though not perhaps for the reasons Rod might think. Nice look, but about as useful as putting lipstick on a pig.

You can find a PDF of the May-June Tomorrow's World at their website.

Radio log: Vintage FM

Their motto is "old is good." Wall to wall nostalgia via Vintage 87.6 FM, the ultimate oldies radio station from darkest Penrith which, I think, is an outer burb of Sydney.

Mainly 50s and 60s tracks, guaranteed to drive any teenager today to distraction. Gotta love it!

You could listen in on your laptop of course, but that's a beggardly option, so if you have a dedicated internet radio, or can feed through to a decent Bluetooth device, that's definitely the way to go.