Monday 29 June 2015

Theological Feudalism

Let them read Barth!
Ex-fundamentalists (a tribe to which I belong) often get a lot of stick from the theoristocrats, those who have attained a tenured place at the top table in Christian discourse without acquiring the deep scars that come from living through a biblicist nightmare.

These theoristocrats (a term that isn't entirely new, though the usage I'm putting it to may be) are invariably decent, much studied, perceptive sorts. They rightly appreciate that 'truth' is a nuanced concept, and that one person's truth may not be another's. They also tend to dialogue among their peers rather than bothering over-much with the common herd. Indeed, many eschew entirely the 'popular' contributions to their field even when those attempting this feat are as qualified as themselves. 'Popular' is a term of disdain.

And hey, all power to them. But I have a problem when these privileged few summarily discount the experiences of those not so fortunate.

The 'common herd' obviously make up the overwhelming majority of Christian believers. So those ex-fundamentalists or ex-evangelicals are not reacting to a straw man or a caricature of Christian faith, as is often implied. They're reacting to what is increasingly the most common, most virulent form. And reacting is not only their right, it's their responsibility.

If you doubt that, kindly take a hike - down to your local Christian book store. Browse the shelves looking for titles by Bultmann, Tillich or even (shudder) Barth. Good luck with that. What you will find is 'prophecy', creationism, below-the-belt moralism, biblicism and lashings of prosperity-gospel merchandise.

Or tune in, if you dare, to a Christian radio station or TV channel. Chances are you'll find the anti-intellectualism setting ratcheted up all the way to 'lethal'.

This is a world the ivory-towered theoristocrats seem in denial about. They're highly reasonable individuals, all too often willing to smile down benignly, paternalistically, on the eccentricities of the hoi polloi. Occasionally one of these Titans might suggest "let them read Barth," which is about as useful as Marie Antoinette's apocryphal advice to "let them eat cake."

(Not that I'm recommending anyone should read Barth. God forbid! Stay well clear of that one.)

I appreciate the need for rigorous scholarship, and that a lot of academic writing in this field (as any other) will of necessity be couched in terms not entirely accessible to those outside the discipline. That's life. The problem arises when there is no concomitant responsibility to communicate effectively in plain English (or German, French or Swahili for that matter) to the stakeholders who underwrite the whole enterprise; the people who - knowing no better - go out and buy books and downloads by Franklin Graham, Creflo Dollar, David Jeremiah and Joyce Meyer.

So when those who have survived the abusive, intellectual ghettoes speak out, they deserve much more than snootiness in return. They certainly don't need to hear a chorus of "let them read Barth." Bugger Barth!

Back to those Christian book stores and broadcasters plying sub-standard goods. The real question is, what are the theoristocrats doing about it? What? All too often the only response seems to be a softly whispered apologetic (in both senses) disclaimer.

And that's not good enough.

If those at the top table were doing their job rather than enjoying their sinecures there would be less need for the ex-fundamentalist voice to be heard. Until that occurs (sometime the other side of the Second Coming I expect) that voice will - and must - continue to be raised.

Sunday 28 June 2015

The NIV - how accurate is it?

The New International Version of the Bible (NIV) is a favourite among evangelically-minded Christians. It has been around since 1978 in the 66 book version that is standard in many churches (the New Testament was first released in 1973). There have been a number of updates and spin-offs since, but it has retained broad appeal despite a plethora of competing English translations. There have reportedly been 450 million copies sold, a nice solid earner for Rupert Murdoch's Zondervan and HarperCollins.

But is it any good? Well, that depends on your criteria for "good". Perhaps a better question might be, is it accurate?

Paul Davidson has been documenting the dodgy bits of the NIV for a long time, and he keeps digging up dubious translation choices. He's just added three new mistranslations to an impressively documented online article. It's a great resource.

It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to find that agenda-driven translators think it's okay to paper over the bits that they think are problematic. (How many of these issues have persisted through to the 2011 revision, the TNIV and NIVr - love those acronyms! - would be interesting to know.)

So back to the question. How accurate is the NIV?

Short answer: not very.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Is the Flurry Sect 'Non-denominational'?

I thought I knew what "non-denominational" meant, but then I read:
The Philadelphia Church of God is non-denominational... (source)

The PCG is one of the most rigorous Christian sects around. Shattered families, control-freak ministers. It's not in vogue to call groups like these "cults" any more, but that's pretty much what they are.

The Oxford dictionary defines non-denominational as "open or acceptable to people of any Christian denomination..." PCG hardly fits the bill. They openly reject all other denominations and exalt exclusivity.

Perhaps they just can't help indulging in double-speak. Perhaps they don't know what the word means. Perhaps they're just flat out misrepresenting themselves. Regardless, this claim is a sick joke.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Isaac on the Altar

The Akeda is the story of the binding of Isaac. As you remember, God gives Abraham a directive to do something utterly unconscionable, to offer up his son as a sacrifice. You can find the story in Genesis 22. Nothing metaphorical; this involved wood, fire and a sharp knife.

It doesn't seem a particularly apt text for a Father's Day sermon, but that doesn't seem to have occurred to the preachers in the Laestadian Lutheran tradition. Ed Suominen quotes a couple of homiletic attempts to draw blood from this particular stone, and rips into the entire enterprise.
"This is scary stuff. It is the kind of thinking, of non-thinking, that is bringing us beheadings in Syria and floggings and amputations in Saudi Arabia."
Ed is a former Laestadian and author of the only (as far as I know) "go to" text that provides an insider perspective on this non-standard version of Finnish Lutheranism, An Examination of the Pearl.

Ed is a bit more direct than I would choose to be (he writes, for example, at the wryly-named Ed Suominen's Shitty Little Blog, which seems to be taking self-deprecation to its outer limits) but it's hard to ignore the force of his distaste for this tale from millennia past. To find redeeming meaning in Genesis 22 is akin to making the proverbial silk purse from a sow's ear. That hasn't, of course, stopped a mountain of related midrash and apologetic bumf from rising up over the centuries.

To which, one might suggest, Ed is playing the kid in the tale of The Emperor's New Clothes. Is there really anything salutary in this "faith story"? Is Abraham's obedience really something to hold up as an example of righteousness? Have a read through and decide for yourself.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Hope Project Porkies

Tell that to your Jewish neighbours!
[This is the third in a series on the Hope Project booklet which purports to be a voice of mainline Christianity in New Zealand. Part 1 and Part 2 provide context.]
The Hope Project booklet states:

"In all its variety, it [the Bible] tells the unified story of God's plan..." (p.6)

"The Bible teaches that God supervised the contributors in what they wrote." (p.7)

To point one I can only repeat what I wrote in an earlier post about metanarrative, the idea that there is a big, unifying narrative that runs from Genesis through to Revelation.
Metanarrative: big word but simple concept. The idea is that there is a grand narrative, a saga, a big story that gives sense to the world, "an overarching story that defines your reality and who you are within it." There are, according to the theorists, competing metanarratives, but the one we're talking about is the story about sin, death, saviour and salvation (Eden, Satan, the Fall... all leading to Christ - birth, death, resurrection - and ultimately salvation from the sin that began back in the Garden.) Metanarrative is especially significant as a concept, according to Don Cupitt, in Reformed theology.
John Calvin in particular stuck so close to Augustine and was so Grand-Narrative-minded that preachers in his tradition (variously called Reformed, Calvinist, Presbyterian or puritan) long tended to maintain that the entire story, the Plan of Salvation, was implicit in every verse of Scripture...
And so it's deemed okay, even necessary, to go on a treasure hunt through Genesis, trying to find ways to tie it in to a theology that only emerged long after. The problem is not only that the Old Testament is pillaged for dubious proof texts, but that the standard metanarrative has gaping holes in it anyway. Is it worth rescuing? Death and suffering long predate the rise of human beings on this planet. Nature has always been red in tooth and claw. We didn't do it!

Apart from that obvious objection, there is no undisputed metanarrative in the Bible, only in the minds of certain of its interpreters. The popular version owes as much to Milton's puritan classic Paradise Lost as to the Bible. You have to mutilate the scriptures to make them "fit" into a metanarrative.
If there was some inescapably unified story, then what do you do with Jewish exegesis of scripture? You'd have to conclude, along with persecuting anti-Semitic theologians of time past, that they are just being bull-headed about ignoring the obvious. Surely on this side of the Holocaust we know better than that!

As to the second point, the various writers of the books that ended up in the Bible clearly had no idea that their words would meet this fate. Did Paul have any inkling that his letters would end up bound together with the Hebrew scriptures? The evidence for that just doesn't exist. They didn't see themselves as "contributors" to some larger epic literary project. The Bible is a collection of books each with its own identity. The decision as to what was included in the final cut was not unanimous (which is why Jewish Bibles, Catholic Bibles and Protestant Bibles have different canons) and the result of very fallible human processes long after most of these documents were composed. I've blogged at some length about this before, so won't repeat it here.

None of which clouds the naivete of Hope For All

Reading Josh McDowell will do that to you.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Hope Project - Epic Fail

Last time I introduced the booklet Hope For All: The Hidden Power, published by "a diverse group of Christian Churches throughout New Zealand". Let's take a deeper look.

The occasion for the publication is 200 years of Christianity in Aotearoa. The first Anglican sermon was delivered in 1814 to Maori in the Bay of Islands by Samuel Marsden. The booklet understandably emphasises these historical and bi-cultural themes in its design, but behind the thin politically correct veneer is good, old fashioned fundamentalism.

Some quotes:

"In all its variety, it [the Bible] tells the unified story of God's plan..." (p.6)

"The Bible teaches that God supervised the contributors in what they wrote." (p.7)

"Did you know that both the Old and New Testaments (of the Bible) are among the most reliable ancient documents on our planet? This book is more accurately preserved than Shakespeare's plays - which are only 300 years old!" (p.17)

"...the Bible today is the same as when it was written." (p.17)

"Many people in the 20th century tried to disprove the Bible's historical claims through archaeology, but the evidence ended up supporting the Bible's accounts of history." (p.19)

"What archaeology has shown is that this is a book of history - not mythology." (p.19)

Getting the idea yet? But wait, there's more!

"Even a cautious evaluation has the Bible containing 737 verifiable predicted matters. The Old Testament predicts over 60 specific things that a special God-sent man would do, all of which Jesus fulfilled.

"Professor Peter Stoner did some calculations on this in his book, Science Speaks. Having selected just eight specific prophecies, the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight of them was... 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000." (p.21)

This is worthy of a Seventh-day Adventist tract. But Anglicans? Presbyterians? Main-line Christians?

There are huge problems with each of the quoted sections. The Bible is not "the same as when it was written." Archaeology has not shown that "this is a book of history". Where have the anonymous writers of this drivel been? Have any of them actually studied the Bible in any kind of rigorous way?*

And if you're intrigued by the clap-trap statistics delivered by "Professor Peter Stoner" (professor of what and where they don't explain), you'll find - if you bother to delve down into the footnotes - that this information was simply culled from New Evidence that Demands a Verdict by fundamentalist apologist Josh McDowell. 

This would be pretty bad even if it was published by The Watchtower or Pacific Press. Dim-witted apologetics are not uncommon from the fringes of the Faith. But this was marketed as something else; a voice from the centre.

Given time I'll go through each quote in turn (in subsequent posts) and spell out some of the problems. But I'm guessing that most people who bother to follow Otagosh won't really need to be led through the issues; they'll be quite self evident.

Hope For All: Hidden Power. Epic fail.

*Apparently not. From what I can gather the work was outsourced to something called Shining Light Trust led by David Mann and Tony Collis, neither of whom (judging from their website) seems to have - apart from enthusiasm - much in the way of insight into the complexities of the subject. 

Hope Project

December 2014 marked 200 years of Christianity in New Zealand and the various churches got together to buy television advertising and launch print resources - specifically two booklets delivered a few months apart - into every letterbox in the country. The endeavour was called Hope Project.

These religious bodies included most of the major "Protestant" groups: Anglican, Wesleyan Methodist (not regular Methodist), Lutheran, Salvation Army, Vineyard, Elim, AOG, Congregational, New Life, Nazarene, Presbyterian and Baptist. The PR described these as a "broad based, main-stream organisations", though I'd raise an eyebrow at the suggestion that Elim, Vineyard, and the Assemblies of God are anything North of the nut-house. But hey, times are a changing.

Missing - apparently - are the Catholics, Orthodox and normal (i.e. relatively sane) Methodists.

Today I dug up booklet two, Hope For All: the Hidden Power, which has languished forgotten for a goodly time. On skimming through it my jaw dropped.

What I expected was a carefully worded little treatise that would offend no-one. With all these churches having a finger in the chalice I figured it would be a typical committee project, saying very little but with lashings of churchly wordiness. I expected cautious heads would moderate the content to deliver refined ambiguities. After all these two centuries begin with Anglicanism, the broadest of churches with sensibilities to match. Surely the end product would be vetted by the theological luminaries at places like St John's College in Meadowbank?

I was wrong.

It would be great to link to a PDF of the booklet in question, but I can't find it online. To add to the problem the website is about as usefully navigable as a coracle in Cook Strait.

But, why let that get in the way. In next posting we'll have a look at this little gem, the self-proclaimed voice of "broad based, main-stream" Christianity, and consider its credibility.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Deaf Adders

I've always enjoyed the Jeeves and Wooster stories by P G Wodehouse; comic tales of privilege and entitlement in an age gone by and the foibles of the rather dim English upper crust. I was delighted then to discover Wodehouse's Blandings series recently; same general idea but a different set of characters. Highly enjoyable whether you're an Anglophile or not.

It was in this unlikely context that I came across the reference to deaf adders. I like to think my biblical literacy isn't too shoddy, but this expression was completely new to me. To set the scene: Lord Emsworth's prize pig is "pickled" (so to speak) after a close encounter with a flask of the hard stuff, inadvertently dropped in her sty.
"She's like the deaf adder in Holy Scripture. I don't know if you're familiar with the deaf adder. It comes in a bit in the Bible I used to learn at Sunday School. Like the deaf adder, it says, what don't pay a ruddy bit of attention to the charmer till his eyes bubble."
How, I wondered, had I missed that?

In days of old one would have pulled Cruden's Concordance down off the shelf, but these days the first recourse is the all-knowing Google. The passage in question seems to be Psalm 58:4 in the KJV.
Their poison is like the poison of a serpent, they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear.
It's a colourful expression, perhaps deserving of wider use and application. Deaf adder syndrome seems quite prevalent in certain places even unto this day. Too bad the "till his eyes bubble" bit doesn't appear in the original though.


Paul Davidson has turned the spotlight on the hoary head of Melchizedek, the guy to who Abraham gave tithes of all (or perhaps it was the other way around!), king of Salem, and had no beginning or end of days. The post is over at the Is That In The Bible blog.

As usual Paul, as he does in all his articles, covers the topic in some depth, but in a very approachable way, with neither apologetics nor obscurantism. I seem to remember being introduced to "the mystery of Melchizedek" through a predictably shallow reprint article from the Plain Truth way back when. Be reassured that this is nothing at all like that!

Saturday 13 June 2015

Paul to get Hollywood makeover

Paul preparing to write to the Galatians
News that Hollywood is working on a biopic of Paul, (Saint Paul to the traditionalists and the Apostle Paul to the rest of us) "set to be the most high-profile Hollywood Christian production since Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ'", according to The Guardian.

"Hollywood Christian production"? Isn't that an oxymoron?
The move follows the success of several other faith-based films including Son Of God,God’s Not Dead, Heaven Is For Real, to name a few. [Hugh] Jackman [who is slated to take the title role and will co-produce], of course, has a huge fan base due to the X-Men and Wolverine movies so his name and star power is well-established across the globe. The next and probably last Wolverine film hits theaters March 3, 2017. He is also on board to star as PT Barnum for The Greatest Showman On Earth. Same with Affleck and Damon (Bourne Supremacy franchise).
Oh dear lord, the book of Acts meets Marvel Comics? Paul the epistle writer meets P T Barnum? A marriage made in heaven? Quite probably not.

The reality is that we know not an awful lot about Paul. Acts is highly fictionalised and the genuine epistles contain little biographical material. Exactly what he was trying to say in his writings about key issues like God, Judaism, Jesus and grace has been highly contested from the outset.

Not a problem for the movie industry which will doubtless make it up as they go. And what are the chances they throw in a love interest for the bachelor evangelist?

But the real question will be who they'll take on board as "expert advisers" to add a veneer of credibility to this dubious enterprise. Just who in the academic community is willing to prostitute themselves for a generous showering of shekels?

Friday 12 June 2015


A couple of days ago, inspired by something similar that James McGrath is doing, I reactivated my Twitter account as a place to put links to online stories that have caught my eye, but I may never get around to actually blogging about. One such was a Spectator article about the parlous state of churches - particularly Anglicanism - in Britain. (Given current projections the CoE should effectively vanish by 2033, and Christianity itself, at least in dear old Blighty, by 2067. Holy Saint Trinian's!) I'll also tweet a heads up to all new postings here on Otagosh.

It's a lot easier than trying to operate two blogs. Gully Heights has been inactive for a long time... despite good intentions, not enough hours in a day. You can check it out just by clicking on the "Twitter feed" tab near the top of this page (it may take a second or two to load). If you're a member of the twitterati you can get there directly at hashtag @gavinzmail.

Thursday 11 June 2015

What do we do with the Violence of the Bible?

The second in John Shuck's Religion For Life series on how to read the Bible is now available. The featured scholar is the much published former Catholic priest John Dominic Crossan. Some real insights to be had, even if you have a different take on the historical Jesus (Crossan is no fan of the "apocalyptic prophet" view). Is Jesus the rider on the Palm Sunday peace donkey of the gospels, or the blood-spattered war horse of Revelation? Did Jesus change his mind about violence, or did Christianity change its Jesus? And what does Genesis have to do with the Neolithic Revolution?

Stimulating stuff. Listen online or subscribe on iTunes.

Monday 8 June 2015

Your Source of Understanding?

Last week I mentioned the new PCG radio station, online at At that time the only streaming option seemed to be through their website, with less than satisfactory results. Since then KPCG has turned up on Tune In under the moniker The Voice: Your Source of Understanding. The Tune In app is much better than the website in terms of audio quality, which is essential if you're featuring classical repertoire.

As for "your source of understanding", it's clearly a copycat reference to the old "magazine of understanding" subtitle for The Plain Truth. Unfortunately there was little understanding on offer back then, and even less now under the father and son Flurry franchise. What music lovers - probably thinking they've chanced on an NPR station - make of the sudden transitions to cult rants is hard to say. From Samuel Barber's Adagio to Stephen Flurry rattling on about "the guvver-mint of God" and quoting the 1930s Moffatt Bible translation on his Strumpet Gaily show (I might have that title slightly wrong) has to be a bit of a jolt.

PS. Could somebody please tell the newsreader named Nick how to correctly pronounce the word Britain (it ain't Bri-in).

Tom T. Hall and Garner Ted

Tom T. Hall is a legend in the country music business, the man who wrote Harper Valley PTA. That might not mean a lot to anyone under forty, but the guy was big in his time. There's an interview with Hall on which includes this anecdote.
I have written songs that I didn’t understand until somebody explained them to me. I am riding along one night and there’s a preacher on the radio. It’s a long drive and it’s in the middle of the night, and it’s the only big signal I could get on my a.m. radio. And I’m listening and it finally dawns on me, he’s preaching about [the song] Homecoming, and what a son-of-a-bitch I am. [imitates preacher's voice] “This is the kind of music they are putting out these days – This guy has been in jail. He didn’t come to his mama’s funeral, he hasn’t seen his daddy in 15 years. He’s got a prostitute in the car wearing a miniskirt, and she’s been drunk….” And I’m thinking [exhales, his eyes get big] – that wasn’t what I had in mind when I wrote that song. [laughs]
[Interviewer] That is unbelievable. When was this?
Tom T: The 60′s. But this guy did 25 minutes on Homecoming. He never played it. What do you think of that? He heard that song on the radio someplace and man he decided to do a sermon. His name was Garner Ted Armstrong, and [the show] was called “The World Tomorrow.” He had a phenomenal talent –  I’ve never heard anybody do it quite that well, maybe in Washington or someplace – but this guy could talk for an hour and not say anything. It was all biblical and biblical history and everything, and every once in a while he would take off on some current topic like my song Homecoming [laughs]. I was big in L.A. at the time – you know everything starts in Los Angeles – So the Rolling Stones discovered me first, and then the people in LA and then everything kind of started to gravitate back to Nashville where I was living [laughs].  I wasn’t a celebrity until the Rolling Stones and some other people in LA said I was. I became a celebrity here because they liked me in L.A. Especially the preachers were listening to the radio [out there] – I was astounded. I was absolutely nobody, I am riding along in this 15 year old used car, I’m not even sure where I was going –  and this guy is preaching about Homecoming, and I though “Holy cow – I’ve started something here. I’ve got this guy all riled up.” Then all of the sudden – of course it's biographical – me in the song – I didn’t realize what a rotten son-of-a-bitch I am! [laughs] I thought I was a pretty good guy.

 Yup, Ted could explain a lot of stuff, in fact he had an opinion about nearly everything, and as Hall so succinctly puts it, "could talk for an hour and not say anything." (I'm guessing this incident happened well before Ted's appearance with Buck Owens on Hee Haw.) And in case you're wondering exactly what GTA was having conniptions over...

Sunday 7 June 2015

Paul, Who Art Thou?

Richard Carrier
Jesus Mythicism is an advanced state of doubt regarding the possibility of an Historical Jesus. It's not a popular position, but stubbornly endures in the peripheral vision of those engaged in the relevant fields. Among its most powerful advocates are Robert M. Price (with doctorates in theology and New Testament) and Richard Carrier (with a doctorate in ancient history). It's popular scholarly critics include Bart Ehrman and James McGrath.

If Jesus Mythicicism is still regarded as "fringe", then a corresponding rejection of an historical Paul is on the far fringe of the fringe. It is a position advocated by Hermann Detering, a German pastor whose doctoral thesis was on Dutch Radical Criticism, and is bounced around by a very few others.

Now Richard Carrier has waded in on the Pauline question with a firm "Nein!" to Detering's "Paul Mythicism".
The best formal attempt to argue for the non-historicity of Paul is that of Hermann Detering (see The Fabricated Paul). I cannot ascertain his qualifications in the field. But his writings are well-informed. They just trip over logic a lot. His case is not sound. Nor is anyone else’s I've examined. They falter on basic methodology (like ignoring the effect prior probability must have on a conclusion, or conflating possibility with probability) and sometimes even facts (e.g., Detering seems to think self-referencing signatures commonly appear only in forgery; in fact, they are commonly found on real letters—I've seen several examples in papyrological journals).
 So what's the difference between doubting an Historical Jesus and an historical Paul?
Jesus belongs to several myth-heavy reference classes. He is a worshipped savior deity. He is a legendary culture hero. He is a Rank-Raglan hero. And he is a revelatory archangel (already as early as the earliest writings we have, granting the letters of Paul are such). All of those classes of person already start with a high prior probability of being mythical, because most members of them are mythical (or for culture heroes, about even). And these are beings all of whom are claimed to be historical, yet are usually in fact mythical. Just like Jesus.
Paul does not belong to any such class. Paul thus falls into the class of ordinary persons who wrote letters and had effects on history. In ratio, most of such people claimed to exist, actually existed. By far. The mistake being made then is that people assume the starting prior for anyone claimed to exist is “50/50″ (agnosticism) but we know for a fact that that is not true. Examine thousands of cases, and you will find persons claimed to exist, overwhelmingly actually existed.
Along the way Carrier takes a intemperate ballistic swipe at James McGrath ("that renowned fool") before addressing in more irenic fashion a variety of issues raised by Bob Price, author of The Amazing Colossal Apostle, who regards little if any of the Pauline writings as genuine. I'd feel aggrieved on James' behalf if I didn't know he was more than capable of baring his own gnashers.

My own brief and clumsy comments on Detering's The Fabricated Paul were posted here in 2012. Not surprising then that I find Carrier's critique quite convincing.

If you're one of those sad individuals who, like myself, finds these issues utterly fascinating, you're unlikely to be disappointed.

That link again: Richard Carrier. The Historicity of Paul the Apostle.

Saturday 6 June 2015

Journal - 173rd Issue

The latest issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God has just been released. On the front page - who'd have thunked it - news of a Sabbatarian Biker group, XII Legions.
The bikers are “looking for other bikers who have an interest in motorcycles, riding and the Word of God, including God’s holy Sabbath day,” Mr. Paparella said...
The founders are longtime Church of God members, with past and current fellowships with the former Worldwide Church of God, United Church of God, Church of God (Seventh Day), Beth Israel Messianic Congregation and Church of God Flemington (an affiliate of Church of God Ministries International), as well as several private-residence-based church groups.
Just when you thought there was nothing new under the sun.

(Byker Bob, are you out there?) 

Steps to Ellen

Local Seventh-day Adventists hit letterboxes in my street this week with a free copy of their nineteenth century prophetess' most distributed book, Steps to Christ.

I have a hard job understanding how the SDAs keep growing with this kind of material. Even the "culturally sensitive cover art that is free of stereotypes and beautifully presented" (as trumpeted on the blurb) is - at least for me - a huge turn-off. But you can judge that for yourself. Free of stereotypes? Uh...

I remember reading Steps to Christ as a teenager, though I preferred The Great Controversy (also by Mrs White) which was a less sickly read. This Pacific Press give-away edition comes in two flavours, Caucasian and African-American. The difference obviously isn't in the text (woe betide anyone even thinking about fiddling with Ellen G. White's sacred words!) but about that all important cover. A Google image search helped locate the alternate artwork (see below).

Adventists have a lot of clout, with an impact way beyond their numbers. They are well connected with New Zealand's ruling conservative National Party (former party president John Slater for example and his blogger son Cameron) and in addition to garnering tithes, they have a license to print money through their tax-free health food company, Sanitarium, producers of such Kiwi favourites as Marmite and Weet Bix. You'd think that, given such advantages, they could at least put out something more relevant and original - not to mention less kitschy - than this.

It's not that the SDAs don't do some good. Their aid agency ADRA, as far as I know, does do some good work. And at least they don't door knock on the scale of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. But what advantage is it to have a plagiarist prophetess, make ridiculous prophetic claims based on a deeply flawed reading of Daniel and Revelation, and stubbornly cling to Young Earth Creationism? Growth probably has little to do with this kind of wooden evangelism - something a sociologist could address with greater insight than a theologian.

So no, I won't be re-reading Steps to Christ. If any convincing was needed it appeared as soon as I saw the slogan plastered across the back cover: "Jesus wants to be your best friend". But I might keep it on the desk for a few days anyway to, as a friend of mine has a habit of saying, keep my disgust fresh.

Monday 1 June 2015


Out there in Edmond, OK, the Flurry fiefdom - a.k.a. the Philadelphia Church of God - has recently launched their very own low power FM radio station. The call letters? KPCG of course.

Just imagine being able to listen to Stephen Flurry on "Trumpet Daily" every day. And Joel Hilliker ("Trumpet Hour") twice a week.

But wait, there's more. The Key of David, for example, lots and lots of repeats of The Key of David; and PCG's answer to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Philadelphia Singers.

Other than that it's loads of classical music and an in-house variety of "Christian contemporary music". I was (un)fortunate enough to catch a example from Ryan Malone called "I am every man." It was pretty awful. I noticed that these recordings all seem to feature the sect's high status family names; Turgeons, Hillikers, Malones, not the common herd. Funny that.

Behold brethren, the programming schedule. I trust you're coming over all faint at the very thought of it.

You can't listen in on 101.3 FM unless you're really close to the carefully manicured Flurry compound that includes the Armstrong Auditorium and Herbert W. Armstrong College. It is, after all, only a low power station. And it doesn't seem to have been picked up yet by any streaming radio services like Tune In. But there is a live feed at Not a very reliable feed - an unacceptable number of skips and blips, and the stream can also be temperamental in loading - but it's enough to give you a taste.

If you have the stomach for it.

Those wicked, wicked progressive Christians

In Fountain Hills, Arizona those extremely dangerous United Methodists are under attack. Not from atheists or the godless, but from other churches in their community.
David Felten, co-creator of Living the Questions, is also pastor of The Fountains in Fountain Hills, Arizona.  He found himself under attack by fellow clergy who do not approve of his brand of Christianity.  These clergy have used the op ed page of the local paper, newspaper advertisements, and expensive banners to campaign against David and progressive Christianity.
John Shuck, himself a progressive Presbyterian pastor, interviews Felten on Religion for Life. You can also read about events in Fountain Hills on John Shore's blog.

Among the critics ("the gang of eight") who have put up banners and turned up the heat on the Methodists, are local Presbyterians, Baptists, Calvary Chapel and Lutherans. The Baptist pastor has referred to his Methodist neighbours so often as "the apostate church" that Felten, demonstrating a sense of humour the other churches must find hugely puzzling, bought the domain name which now redirects to their website.