On ‘Doubt, Faith & Certainty’ by Prof. Anthony Thiselton

This is a short introduction by Professor Anthony Thiselton to his book ‘Doubt, Faith & Certainty’ taken from EerdWord, the official blog of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

The exquisite word ‘bumptiousness‘ makes a rare but welcome appearance!

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Interpreting Sleeping Beauty

Telling our cultural stories is one thing; interpreting them is quite another.  In the highly acclaimed ‘12 Rules for Life’ by Jordan Peterson, in the chapter (or ‘Rule 5’) entitled ‘Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them’ (ahem – note to self), Peterson offers a compelling hermeneutic for the classic Fairy Tale

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Commending ‘The Ghost of Perfection – The Search for Humanity’

ghost2My friend Joe Haward published his first book last year called ‘The Ghost of Perfection – Searching for Humanity’.  His chapters tackle many issues that are prominent in our Western societies, though certainly not limited to them.  The topics covered are, Mission, Triumphalism, Relationships, Violence, Consumerism, Beauty, Prayer, Trauma and Sex, with a Conclusion entitled Waking Up!  It’s certainly not likely you will fall asleep reading this book!

I particularly enjoyed how he drew on the Catholic tradition in his chapter Beauty, not only referencing the Roman Catholic Pope a couple of times, but having the present day Eastern Orthodox hero and genius David Bentley Hart critique ye olde Catholic hero and genius that is Thomas Aquinas (1224-74) – I suppose that’s a theo-nerdy thing to get excited about, but that’s the kinda thing that puts rum in my ovaltine.

So below is my Amazon review. But don’t get it from them lot, get it from your local Christian bookshop, even though they’ll probably have to order it in.  For some reason, most theology books worth buying don’t seem to be on the shelf!  It won’t cost you too much of your pocket money, thus it is still worth quoting the Reformer Erasmus, a value both Joe and myself hold to, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

Buy The Ghost of Perfection.

“In these times of uncertainty, polarisation and violence, the need to discover what it means to be human has never been more pressing. In The Ghost of Perfection, Joseph Haward tackles those issues that affect us all, from the fragility of relationships in an increasingly digital world and the pervasiveness of consumerism to the violence that has become the normative language of our society. He reveals how these are linked and how self-preservation has become synonymous with security on so many levels.

The chapter on mission makes for often uncomfortable reading – the obsession with numbers and how, all too easily, church programmes become goal-oriented and objectify people by turning them into ‘targets’. The following chapter is just as challenging in revealing the prevalence of triumphalistic ideology and how, by denying the reality of suffering, it can destroy faith and dehumanise us.

I like the way Joseph Haward draws on a diverse range of sources, including the early Church Fathers, Bonhoeffer, Brueggemann and Wink, as well as drawing examples from popular culture, from Black Swan to Hannibal. His writing style is engaging and accessible, and his explanation of Girard’s scapegoat theory, not the easiest concept to grasp, is nothing short of masterful.

He doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions, and neither does he give us easy answers. What he does do is invite us to hear afresh the call of the God of history who, unthinkably and outrageously, became one of us – not to be a self-help guru or a ticket to a better place, but to show us how to become truly human, for only in so doing can we ever hope to transform our broken and divided communities.”

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Pt 6: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 6:  Response to Chapter 10. Heaven.

Turning now to Lewis’s final chapter, on heaven, then I agree with his point that the issue of the existence of heaven precedes any discussion of whether or not belief in heaven’s existence is escapist. If heaven exists, belief in it isn’t escapism, but realism. Since it is far more rational to assert that only God could create a heaven on earth than it is to assert that mere humanity could create a heaven on earth, then it is modernism’s utopian odyssey that is escapist, not Christianity’s eschatological pilgrimage. Moreover, since our heaven will indeed be a new heavenly Edenic earth, then the motivation to bring about reform isn’t lost to escapism either. We don’t get pie in the sky when we die, so much as a reformed earth. Reformation now becomes all the more assured now that we know that our reforming labours are not in vain.

Lewis is also quite right to argue that if heaven is good, then desiring it isn’t mercenary. Mercenaries serve themselves, but heaven is fundamentally about serving others. So, how can it be selfish to desire not to be selfish? As Lewis rightly argues, only the pure in heart want to see God, and so it is safe to assure them that they will.

I believe that Lewis is also quite right to argue that the desire for heaven is universal. And yet this true point, of course, contradicts Lewis’s other arguments that say that the damned don’t want heaven. Here, again, Lewis projects the demonic onto the human in order to make hell seem more palatable.

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The Priest of Ypres

“In World War I Pierre Teilhard de Chardin had survived thirty months at the front; he rescued the wounded  – it was his job – under heavy bombardment.  A witness remembered his “rough hewn face that Greco had prefigured” and his “total lack of ecclesiasticism.”  One of the officers serving with him wrote, “Two features of his personality struck you immediately:  courage and humility.”  His regiment’s Tunisian sharpshooters, who were Muslims, used to say rather cryptically that a “spiritual structure” protected him when he plucked bodies from the ground in crossfire.  In battle, he rejoiced in his anonymity and in the front’s exhilaration.  Prescious few men left the Battle of Ypres with a beating heart, let alone a full stomach, let alone exhilaration:

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“Nobody except those who were there will ever have the wonder-laden memory that a man can retain of the plain of Ypres in April 1915, when the air of Flanders stank of chlorine and the shells were tearing down the poplars along by l’Yperle Canal – or, again, of the charred hillsides of Souville, in July 1916, when they held the odour of death. . . . . Those more than human hours impregnate life with a clinging, ineradicable flavour of exaltation and initiation, as though they had been transferred into the absolute.”  The “clinging ineradicable flavour” was perhaps mud – the mud of Ypres in which two hundred thousand British and Commonwealth men died, ninety thousand of them lost in the actual mud.

Action he loved.  His ever increasing belief that God calls people to build and divinize the world, to aid God in redemption, charged every living moment with meaning – precisely why the battlefield gripped him.  “The man at the front is. . . . only secondary his own self.  First and foremost, he is part of a prow of cleaving the waves.”  He dared title an essay “Nostalgia for the Front”:  “All the enchantments of the East, all the spiritual warmth of Paris, are not worth the mud of Douaumont. . . . . How heart-rending it is to find oneself so seldom with a task to be accomplished, one to which the soul feels that it can commit itself unreservedly!”

When he entered the war, he was already a priest.  One dawn in 1918, camped in a forest in the Oise with his Zouave regiment, he had neither bread nor wine to offer at Mass.  He had an idea, however, and he wrote it down.

Five years later, he sat on a camp stool inside a tent by the Ordos desert cliffs west of Peking.  He reworked his old wartime idea on paper.  What God’s priests, if empty-handed, might consecrate at sunrise each day is that one day’s development:  all that the evolving world will gain and produce, and all it will lose in exhaustion and suffering.  These the priest could raise and offer.

In China again, four years later yet, he rode a pony north in the Mongolaian grasslands and traced Quaternary strata.  Everyday still he said to himself what he now called his Mass upon the altar of the world, “to divinize the new day”:  since once more, my Lord, not now in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia, I have neither bread nor wine, nor altar, I shall rise beyond symbols to the pure majesty of the real, and I shall offer you, I your priest, on the altar of the whole earth, the toil and sorrow of the world.”

By Annie Dillard in For The Time Being, (1999), pg. 126-128

 

Pt 5. Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 5:   Chapter 9. Animal Pain.

Lewis’s chapter on animal pain is very interesting. Since Lewis acknowledges that he is just speculating when it comes to this matter, then we should be gracious in our responses to what he says. To begin with, Lewis argues that vegetables and non-sentient lower animals (e.g. earth-worms) do not feel pain. To me, this assertion seems reasonable since, as Lewis points out, such life-forms have no developed nervous systems.

I am less certain about Lewis’s argument that “merely-sentient” animals do not feel pain and that they react to stimuli a bit like sleeping humans do. That is, in Lewis’s view, in the case of merely-sentient animals, the body reacts to stimuli, but there is no conscious awareness of anything. Lewis defines consciousness as a selfhood or soulhood that recognizes itself as the same beneath the stream of sensations, a bit like a constant river bed beneath the river-water that passes by overhead. Given the distinction, in consciousness, between the river-bed and the river-water (to continue the analogy), consciousness is able to objectify – to an extent – sensory experiences as being “other” than itself, and so is able to “organise” them into a perception of succession, an “experience”, and not just into a succession of perceptions. Since, in Lewis’s view, merely-sentient animals can have a succession of perceptions, and not a perception of succession or “experience” (i.e. they have no consciousness), then they cannot consciously reflect that they are in pain, and so they don’t suffer pain.

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Pt 4: Response to C.S. Lewis’s “The Problem of Pain”

Guest post by theologian Dr Rob Knowles on The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis:

Part 4:  Chapter 8 – Hell

In his chapter on hell, Lewis takes the three notions of “destruction”, “eternal torment”, and “privation” and then works them into a systematic unity. This leads to two difficulties. First, Thiselton points out: (a) that the Bible has three traditions in it about hell that seem to contradict one-another: (i) hell is eternal torment; (ii) hell is eternal destruction, or annihilation; (iii) all are saved; (b) that all three traditions have been considered to be “orthodox” in the history of the church, even though “eternal torment” has been the dominant view in orthodoxy; (c) that it would be hermeneutically-premature, given where scholarship has reached, to press these three contradictory traditions into a unity in favour of any one of the traditions, which seems to militate against Lewis’s conclusions.

Second, if Thiselton is correct, then Lewis entirely dismisses one biblical tradition – that of universal salvation. Even if it were right to press all the traditions into a unity then Lewis would still have to press (i) “hell is eternal torment”; (ii) “hell is eternal destruction, or annihilation”; and (iii) “all are saved”, into a unity – along with his emphasis on “privation”.

Some, for example D.A. Carson, are adamant that eternal torment is the nature of hell, and that all who do not believe in Christ go there. Lewis, on balance, seems to favour a kind of qualified annihilationism whilst still holding onto a perspective-dependent notion of eternal torment. Others, such as G. MacDonald (alias R. Parry), reconcile the biblical traditions in favour of “all are saved, but in some cases only after prolonged periods of punishment in hell”.

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