By Rev. Dr. Jason Goroncy, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Whitley College, University of Divinity.
By Rev. Dr. Jason Goroncy, Senior Lecturer in Systematic Theology at Whitley College, University of Divinity.
A brief quote from a brilliant piece by Stanley Hauerwas a few years ago here:
…He gave them a new way to deal with offenders – by forgiving them.
He gave them a new way to deal with violence – by suffering.
He gave them a new way to deal with money – by sharing it.
He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership – by drawing on the gift of every member, even the most humble.
He gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society – by building a new order, not making the old.
He gave them a new pattern of relationships between man and woman, between parent and child, between master and slave, in which was made concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a human person.
He gave them a new attitude toward the state and toward the “enemy nation.”
Stanley Hauerwas is among the several great speakers at the 2018 BMS Catalyst Live day events in Bristol and Birmingham:
David Bebbington – Professor of History at Stirling University and Visiting Professor at Baylor University; creator of the ‘Bebbington quadrilateral’, his definition of evangelicalism
Baroness Elizabeth Berridge – Member of the House of Lords, with a wide range of interests including international freedom of religion and belief
Ron Choong – Theologian of science and biblical archaeologist; Founder and Executive Director of the Academy for Christian Thought in New York
Ruth Gledhill – Editor of ‘Christian Today’, author and commentator; previously religious affairs correspondent for The Times
Paula Gooder – Director for Mission Learning and Development in the Diocese of Birmingham; previously Theologian in Residence at the Bible Society
Rosie Harper – Vicar, Chair of the Oxford Nandyal Education Foundation, writer and activist on issues of justice and equality within and beyond the church.
Stanley Hauerwas – Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke Divinity School
Harry & Chris – Harry Baker is a world poetry slam champion, and his childhood friend Chris Read is a jazz musician; together, they are the wonderful Harry & Chris
Rula Khoury Mansour – Lecturer at Nazareth Evangelical College; specialist in conflict resolution
Amy Orr-Ewing – Director of Programmes for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics; Amy will be speaking on her doctoral research on the work of Dorothy L Sayers
Adrian Snell – Musician; Adrian’s music is renowned worldwide, with albums including ‘Alpha and Omega’ and ‘Song of an Exile’. Adrian will be speaking on his amazing work as a music therapist, as well as playing live
Anne Wafula Strike MBE – Anne was the first wheelchair racer to represent Kenya, where she was born; she has since become a Paralympian with Team GB, has been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours and is an author and sporting ambassador
And finally, Catalyst Live 2018 is hosted by Mark Woods – consulting editor of the Methodist recorder, author, commentator and very good friend of BMS!
Jurgen Moltmann (whose hand I once shook), wrote the following about the place and importance of theology being the job for every Christian. We are poorer as a church if we limit theology to the Academy, or marginalise it in the life of a local church, labelling it falsely as a specialism for academics or irrelevant for ordinary people (I’ve never met an “ordinary” person in my life)! Anyway, enjoy this snippet. Did I tell you I once shook his hand…..? (It was the hand in the picture below….)
“Theology is the business of all God’s people. It is not just the affair of the theological faculties, and not just the concern of the church’s colleges and seminaries. The faith of the whole body of Christians on earth seeks to know and understand. If it doesn’t, it isn’t Christian faith. This means that the foundation for every theological specialization is the general theology of all believers, which corresponds to the Reformation’s thesis about the universal ‘priesthood of all believers’. All Christians who believe and who think about what they believe are theologians, whether they are young or old, women or men. . . .
I should not like to let this universalization of the priesthood and of theology stand in such general terms, and so I would prefer to talk about ‘the shared priesthood’ and therefore about the shared theology of all believers too. On this common ground, not everyone has to do and think the same thing. The fellowship of all believers requires that differentiation of assignments and functions which corresponds to the multicoloured diversity of the Spirit’s gifts, or charismata. Even in the shared theology of all believers there are particular commissions and delegations. Academic theology is one of them. But the community of Christians must be able to identify with its delegations. Otherwise alienations arise which have an oppressive rather than a helpful effect.
Academic theology is nothing other than the scholarly penetration and illumination by mind and spirit of what Christians in the congregations think when they believe in God and live in the fellowship of Christ. By scholarly I mean that the theology is methodologically verifiable and comprehensible. Good scholarly theology is therefore basically simple, because it is clear. Only cloudy theology is complicated and difficult. Whether it be Athanasius or Augustine, Aquinas or Calvin, Schleiermacher or Barth—the fundamental ideas of every good theological system can be presented on a single page. It is true that Barth needed more than 8,000 pages for his Church Dogmatics, and even then they were still unfinished, so that kindly disposed critics said, ‘surely truth can’t be as long as that’. But as we know, theological praise of the eternally bounteous God is never-ending. So the length of a work does not necessarily detract from the simple truth of what it says.”
“Theological distinctions are fine but not thin. In all the mess of modern thoughtlessness, that still calls itself modern thought, there is perhaps nothing so stupendously stupid as the common saying, “Religion can never depend on minute disputes about doctrine.” It is like saying that life can never depend on minute disputes about medicine. The man who is content to say, “We do not want theologians splitting hairs,” will doubtless be content to go on and say, “We do not want surgeons splitting filaments more delicate than hairs.” It is the fact that many a man would be dead to-day, if his doctors had not debated fine shades about doctoring. It is also the fact that European civilization would be dead to-day, if its doctors of divinity had not debated fine shades about doctrine.”
G. K. Chesterton
[The Resurrection of Rome]
Gregory the Theologian (or Gregory of Nazianzus) 329-389 AD, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, speaking of God and those who would study God (i.e. theology!), in quite astonishing and uncompromising ways. Challenging -yes. But what a read…
“Not to every one, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to every one; the Subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.
Not to all men, because it is permitted only to those who have been examined, and are passed masters in meditation, and who have been previously purified in soul and body, or at the very least are being purified. For the impure to touch the pure is, we may safely say, not safe, just as it is unsafe to fix weak eyes upon the sun’s rays. And what is the permitted occasion? It is when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and when that which rules within us is not confused with vexatious or erring images; like persons mixing up good writing with bad, or filth with the sweet odours of ointments. For it is necessary to be truly at leisure to know God; and when we can get a convenient season, to discern the straight road of the things divine. And who are the permitted persons? They to whom the subject is of real concern, and not they who make it a matter of pleasant gossip, like any other thing, after the races, or the theatre, or a concert, or a dinner, or still lower employments. To such men as these, idle jests and pretty contradictions about these subjects are a part of their amusement.
Next, on what subjects and to what extent may we philosophize? On matters within our reach, and to such an extent as the mental power and grasp of our audience may extend. No further, lest, as excessively loud sounds injure the hearing, or excess of food the body, or, if you will, as excessive burdens beyond the strength injure those who bear them, or excessive rains the earth; so these too, being pressed down and overweighted by the stiffness, if I may use the expression, of the arguments should suffer loss even in respect of the strength they originally possessed.
Now, I am not saying that it is not needful to remember God at all times…I must not be misunderstood, or I shall be having these nimble and quick people down upon me again. For we ought to think of God even more often than we draw our breath; and if the expression is permissible, we ought to do nothing else. Yea, I am one of those who entirely approve that Word which bids us meditate day and night, and tell at eventide and morning and noon day, and praise the Lord at every time; or, to use Moses’ words, whether a man lie down, or rise up, or walk by the way, or whatever else he be doing Deut. 6:7 — and by this recollection we are to be moulded to purity. So that it is not the continual remembrance of God that I would hinder, but only the talking about God; nor even that as in itself wrong, but only when unseasonable; nor all teaching, but only want of moderation.”
(Oration 27. 3-5)
And then, as we were serving tea and scones in the dining room, my brother David, in a heavenly voice, said without recourse to any current or prior conversation:
“I think that the problem with nudity, the reason it seems offensive, is not so much the sight of genitals (which are hardly what you’d call offensive), but because clothes help to designate our place in society.
Public nudity is in this sense highly a/anti-social, kind of like a denial of normal social codes because there is no place for it except in the brief intermediary space of the changing room. It isn’t the imagined threat of another’s sexuality that offends, but their taking up of a position outside of considerations of status or social context.
We need to be able to place people, and clothes go a long way to helping with that. Since we rely on social codes all the time to function, someone stepping outside of them is equivalent to having two fingers stuck up at the bulk of humanity. Personally, I don’t care if people want to go around naked, and I actually like swimming nude, but doing it in public seems a pointless and immature thing to insist upon, like growing ridiculously long fingernails or not washing – you’re free to do it, but what kind of freedom is that?
Also, just to add a theological note on this (which, naturally is by far the most offensive thing anyone can possibly do!), the animal skin clothing that God made for Adam and Eve in the bible was not particularly about making sure we covered our naughty bits up to satisfy a strangely schizoid deity’s need for modesty. It was meant to be read allegorically as a sign that our attempts to hide our shame (a consequence of the knowledge of good and evil) are inadequate, and so God replaced our fig leaves with something he provided for us. The twist in the story is that, in Christ, he is himself the lamb-skin that protects us.
But anyway indeed. More tea?
Reduced Laughter by Revd Dr Helen Paynter.
A Review by Richard Matcham
Chapter 1 – Introduction
My title: In Defense of the Comedic
Using Private Eye as a great introductory example, one thing is sure – humanity loves humour, and we love humour that subverts the way things are, the high-and-mighty, etc. The Bible hasn’t had good fare in recent millennia regarding all things funny. The Bible is a serious book, and is found to be read (when it is read at all), to be read by serious people.
Our Western rationalism in general, and 19th century German scholarship (p.5) in particular, riding on the back of Plato’s suspicion that humour is malicious; and Aristotle’s warning that while humour is necessary, it should be ‘kept in check’, is missing the point that humour can be ‘a route to truth’ (p.3).
On the contrary, humour is not the opposite of sadness or seriousness, a useful observation of what de Sousa calls a ‘category error’ (p.4). Thank God! I have come to realise that my own use of humour is directly related to my serious side. They are two sides of the same coin.
All this is carried over into our Bible reading. Our culture may ‘Think Bike – Think Safety’ but we certainly do not train ourselves or our churches to ‘Think Bible – Think Humour,’ and I for one would love to try. Admittedly, this is not easy – the Bible is a very serious book(s), with lots of weighty, eternal, salvific images, multi-genre & theological categories, stories and truth claims. Thus, as a default setting, we ‘are more likely to under diagnose humour than over-diagnose it’ (p.6), and this means we will likely miss it altogether.
A taster-example is offered via the Naboth narrative (1 Kings 21), and how the Hebrew word describing the sulky and vexed Ahab is related to the Deuteronomic stubborn and rebellious son (21:18-19). Here, the son is the one killed, whilst in Kings, it is Ahab who kills. ‘This subtle, darkly humorous, allusion will only be apparent to the attentive reader or listener’ (p.8). I wish I’d been more attentive in my reading!
Helen then offers some ‘ground rules’ for textual interpretation. The text itself assumes a ‘literary or aural competence’ (p.8), and this requires competent hard work. Highlighting wordplays and ‘hidden polemics’, the careful reader is able to see the ‘subversive, and deliberate partial concealment’ (p.10) of the narrative, using the ‘useful guidelines’ for the ‘methodological criteria’ outlined by Yairah Amit on page 9.
Finally, Helen’s hermeneutical approach leans heavily on the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, someone who refers to seriocomic literature as ‘playful, irreverent, multi-voiced, subversive and outrageous’ (p.11). I have already guessed in my own reading that the Bible is all of these things, but what I hadn’t reckoned with, is that it is more deliberately so, and far deeper than I gave credit.