Reflection on eschatology in hymns
He will keep me till the river
Rolls its waters at my feet;
Then He'll bear me safely over
Where the loved ones I shall meet.
I realise the Styx is the river of death from way back. But where and when did the image of crossing the river (usually the Jordan) meaning death become popular amongst Christians? Pilgrim's Progress or earlier? It's quite common in hymns (e.g. Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah and I Will Sing the Wondrous Story (final verse above)). Once again though, it seems to conflate death with the Christian hope, such that one enters the promised land at the point of death. One implication is that sometimes it can seem like Christians have a death wish.
However, death is the great enemy, whose final defeat we (and the faithful departed) still await. The Christian hope, according to the Bible is not death as the doorway to a disembodied afterlife, but the resurrection of the dead.
Monday, July 31, 2006
Reflection on eschatology in hymns
Saturday, July 29, 2006
Links on Australian Christians and voting
Here's a site run by the Evangelical Alliance with a wide variety of interesting resources and articles for Christians about Australian politics. The Australian media has all-too-often made the same mistaken assumption as the American media: that to be evangelical means being right-wing. In contrast, this site displays something of the breadth of political thought and allegiance amongst evangelical Christians. My two personal favourites: why Christians should vote for the Greens and why you shouldn't vote for Christians.
Love to hear your thoughts once you've stopped hyperventilating.
UPDATE: As you can see, there have been many comments on this one. By the way, the title of this post is not necessarily my personal advice; it refers to the papers that I suggest you read.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
The One Book Meme
Ben has started a new one book meme. Here is my contribution:
1. One book that changed your life:
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.
2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
Jorge Luis Borges, Labrynths.
3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
How to get off a desert island in three easy steps, or failing that,
Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (finally, I'd have time to read it!).
4. One book that made you laugh:
Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.
5. One book that made you cry:
Antoine de Saint Exupéry, The Little Prince.
6. One book that you wish had been written:
An ebook containing all the lost manuscripts from the library of Alexandria.
7. One book that you wish had never been written:
Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Left Behind.
8. One book you’re currently reading:
9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Eberhardt Jüngel, God's Being Is in Becoming.
10. Now tag five people:
I've picked people from different areas of life/Sydney/the globe (though all of whom I know outside the blogosphere and so can be certain are actual people): Paget, Annette, Drew, Meredith, Rory, Rachel, MPJ, Mr Tim. I know that's eight, but I couldn't help myself. If you were still left off, better luck next time, but I couldn't be bothered adding more links.
Thoughts on books and reading groups
Just started a course today at college on 'Social Ethics' with Andrew Cameron. I'm really looking forward to it. I didn't realise until today (shows how on top of my studies I am) that the textbook is Oliver O'Donovan's The Ways of Judgment. I'll try to include posts on it as I work my way through. Love to hear feedback from others who've read it, and/or who might want to read it with me this semester.
Also, one of my reading groups has decided to embark upon The Hauerwas Reader by Stanley Hauerwas. Not quite sure which bits we should focus on (at 729 pages, we're assuming we'll be taking the highlights tour: recommendations?).
O'Donovan and Hauerwas: it will be fun to read them simultaneously. This particular reading group has a history of great books, starting back in 2000 and meeting fairly continuously every fortnight or so:*
Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright
Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright
Suspicion and Faith by Merold Westphal
The Desire of the Nations by Oliver O'Donovan
God's Politics by Jim Wallis**
Reading groups (especially this one) have been formative in many ways for me over the last five or six years. If you've never been in one, try starting one - it's a great way to read a book and share thoughts. Highlights from other groups have included:
Theology of Hope by Jürgen Moltmann
Church Dogmatics IV/1 by Karl Barth
Adversus Haereses by Irenaeus
Overcoming Onto-theology by Merold Westphal
The Holy Spirit by Basil
The Spirit of Life by Jürgen Moltmann
Confessions by Augustine (current)
* We've probably averaged monthly over the years, but fortnightly has always been the aim.
** I highly recommend all these books, except Wallis. I broadly agree with his politics and basic thesis (the right doesn't 'own' moral or Christian discourse (and neither does the left)), but his theology was very disappointing. I'd include all the links to these books and authors, but I'm sure you're all smart enough to type them into Wikipedia or
Amazon your local book publisher.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
We are all going to die. And we'll be sweating like pigs (and probably underwater) as we do so.
Went and saw a sneak-preview tonight of An Inconvenient Truth (thanks Drew!), a disturbing look at global warming. Despite my earlier comments about Peak Oil potentially being a larger problem, this is certain a movie worth seeing. Al Gore is a great communicator. There are many great visuals to help you 'get it'. Check out the related site, and when it comes out in Oz*, go and see it (if you are in more developed parts of the world, leading the way in causing climate change, please go and see it sooner!).
PS Has anyone else been having trouble with Blogger? I haven't had to access my site for the last twelve hours.
UPDATE: Oz release = 14th Sept 2006 (Thanks again, Drew). Be there.
UPDATE #2: Oh, and here's a nice review.
Ten points for naming the country of the pic above.
I've never read any of the Left Behind series. My initial contact was hearing of my sister-in-law being freaked out by a church youth group screening of the first movie when she was visiting relatives in the US a few years ago. I generally avoid passing on comment or criticism of books with which I'm not more familiar, but having grasped the basic assumptions and storyline of this one, I think I can be quite confident in saying that thoughtful reviews like this ought to get more airplay. For those too lazy to read a good review of a scary phenomenon, suffice to say that I'm not a fan. This, good people, is not how to read Revelation.
Christain eschatology is about hope, not fear, because God by his Spirit raised Jesus from the dead.
UPDATE: Kyle has recently posted a good summary of the theological and biblical problems of the Left Behind phenomenon.
Monday, July 24, 2006
Another trailer to another doco about another dire problem facing humanity. I've come to think recently that peak oil is a bigger issue than global warming - at least a bigger issue for humans and a bigger issue sooner.
UPDATE: This film has now been screened at a Barneys gathering and I have started a series about peak oil in response. Series so far: I; II; III, IV.
I will keep saying it until I have no more reason to: Evangelicals are propagating more heresies today than in any other era of the church. These include a Pelagian doctrine of salvation, a unitarian doctrine of God, a docetic christology and Bible, a gnostic doctrine of eschatology, and a Constantinian doctrine of church-state relations—which, by the way, was what led the German church to support Hitler. Do I really need to unpack these in more detail? I am afraid that I will have to, since I doubt most realize how much the American evangelical sector has capitulated to these grave heresies and called it "a personal relationship with Jesus."From The Fire and the Rose. We'll have to see how that series progresses and how specific it is to the American scene, since 'evangelical' can have a range of meanings in different cultural contexts.
This great blog has a series of fascinating film reviews, including two of my favourites: Magnolia and Me and You and Everyone We Know. I highly recommend both the films and the reviews.
Oh, and just added is a collection of links to many many posts on universalism in recent blogging.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
Did you know...?
The US military is able to unilaterally extend the duration of service of their personnel, forcing individuals to continue beyond the contractually agreed period of their employment? I first came across this 'hidden draft' when an in-law from the States was told he had to keep serving for an extra three years, rather than finishing up next year. He's not alone. It's a policy called 'Stop Loss', and it's been implemented in huge numbers (tens of thousands of soldiers) since 2001 (after a Sept 14 executive order from Bush). Some have had their term of employment extended to Dec 24, 2031! Of course, I realise that the US government faces very difficult decisions, but the 'army of volunteers' just moved another step closer to Newspeak.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
...he assumes sinful flesh, human existence in repudiation of and rebellion against its ordering by God to find fulfillment in fellowship with God. The Word assumes the full extent of human alienation, taking the place of humanity, existing under the divine condemnation. But his relation to the human alienation which he assumes is not such that he is swallowed up by it. He does not identify with humanity under the curse of sin in such a way that he is himself sinner. He exists at a certain remove from sinful humanity even as he assumes it. It remains utterly foreign, indeed, utterly hateful to him, because it is disoriented, abased, unrighteous, and under God’s condemnation. He adopts the condemned human situation without reserve, but with a peculiar distance from our own performance of our humanness. By not following our path, by refusing complicity with the monstrousness of sin, he is and does what we are not and do not do: he is human. In his very estrangement from us as the bearer rather than the perpetrator of sin, he takes our place and heals our corruption. That the Word became flesh means that he takes to himself the accursed situation of humanity in sin. But he takes it to himself; he does not evacuate himself into our situation. The flesh which the Word becomes is the flesh which the Word becomes, and the flesh which the Word becomes. In his utter proximity he is utterly distant from the misery of humanity in sin; and only so is he redeemer.
- John Webster, Word and Church, 140-41.
"In sum, God's 'becoming' is God's determination of himself to be God in this way, to take this particular direction which is the fulfilment of his groundless aseity. Self-emptying (kenosis) and self-fulfilment (plerosis) are not antithetical, but identical."
- John Webster, Word and Church, 138.
On Tuesday night I went to the Opera House (no prizes for this pic!) to hear a variety of organ and choir music featuring Duruflé's Requiem. I've often been attracted to requiem pieces before (heard Mozart's a few years ago, also in the SOH and own a few CDs, including Duruflé's). On Tuesday night I was struck by the most obvious feature of the entire experience: the repeated (and then repeated and repeated again for good measure) supplication: Requiem aeternam dona eis - 'Grant them eternal rest'.
Now leaving aside the whole prayers for the dead thing, it got me thinking about 'rest' as a category of biblical hope. Certainly it has ample scriptural warrant as a prominent OT theme (e.g. Gen 2.1-3; Ex 20.8-11, 33.14; Josh 21.44; 1 Kings 5.4; Ps 95.11) picked up in the NT (Matt 11.28-29; Heb 4.1-11). But when is rest? Are the faithful dead already at rest? Certainly the common gravestone acronym 'R.I.P.' seems to assume those who now sleep in the dust are at rest. But are they not also waiting, like the, er, rest of us, for the resurrection of the dead?
But back to requiems: does anyone know what the Roman Catholic position is on this matter? Are the faithful departed for whom the requiem is said/sung already assumed to have entered their rest, or is the requiem a prayer for the successful navigation of the final judgement such that requiem aeternam is achieved?
Ought we despise the day of small things? When the promises made to those in Christ are so overwhelmingly gracious, does this make 'the things of this world grow strangely dim'? Does Christianity lead away from the everyday and the issues of the moment, trumping them with what is eternal and bigger and more important? Quietism or quotidian quests?
Paul does consider his present sufferings not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in us (Rom 8.17), but this leads him into consideration of this groaning world, bound to decay as it presently is (Rom 8.18ff). The solution for which he hopes is indeed the resurrection of the dead, the defeat of death and thus the liberation of all creation along with the children of God. But where does this leave us now? Ignoring irrelevant 'worldly' concerns and trying to save as many souls from this sinking ship as possible? No, the Spirit groans for this world - and so those who are Spiritual also groan. This hope leads not away from creation, but into suffering solidarity with it. It's cry becomes ours, because it is also God's longing.
So, is the good the enemy of the best? Should Christians abandon their day jobs to throw themselves fully into gospel ministry as the only task that really matters for eternity? No and no. The continuity (despite discontinuity) between Jesus' corpse and resurrection body is for me a key anticipatory vindication of (and promise for) this world. So I don't think that the work we do in the Lord - which is not futile (1 Cor 15.58) - can be limited to evangelism and helping Christians: that way leads to a new clericalism and a retreat from concern for the very world that Christ died to reconcile (Col 1.18-20).
There's obviously a lot more to say here, and one day I might get round to saying some of it (if others don't get there first in comments). I'll conclude for the moment by noting that perhaps here we have the link between recent discussion of futility and posts mentioning global warming and peak oil.
Ten points for naming the location from which this pic was taken.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
There are only two ways possible of encountering Jesus: man must die or he must put Jesus to death.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christology, 35.
Has anyone yet seen this? Love to hear thoughts and reflections. Nice website. Looks like the US got it well before anywhere else. Also interesting to see a group called Restoring Eden offering free tix to 'Bible-believing Christians'. Check out the trailer below. Having recently watched Four Corners on Peak Oil, I'm wondering whether the warming catastrophe is looking relatively small and far off...
UPDATE: there is a good review over at The Fire and the Rose.
Monday, July 17, 2006
Any quotes I include on this website need not imply I support or endorse the position quoted.
Any authors I quote (even approvingly) need not imply that I support or endorse all their thought.
I am worried if this caveat makes you feel relieved.
I am envious if this makes you puzzled at why I would need to say it at all.
I am rueful if you realise the necessity of doing so.
But Christian eschatology has nothing to do with apocalyptic ‘final solutions’ of this kind, for its subject is not ‘the end’ at all. On the contrary, what it is about is the new creation of all things. Christian eschatology is the remembered hope of the raising of the crucified Christ, so it talks about beginning afresh in the deadly end.
Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, Preface.If you'd like the full quote, try here.
PS Ten points for the first to correctly locate this beautiful statue.
UPDATE: This post generated significant comments, and eventually, another post.
We have been taught to think of the world as something that 'progresses' or 'evolves'. Christian apocalyptic offers us no such hope. It does not even foretell (which would be more tolerable to our habits of thought) a gradual decay. It foretells a sudden violent end imposed from without: an extinguisher popped on to the candle, a brick flung at the gramophone, a curtain rung down on the play - 'Halt!'
- C. S. Lewis, 'The World's Last Night' in Fern-seed and Elephants, 72.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Ben Myers has posted an excellent and insightful imaginary conversation between Barth and Bultmann. Worth a read!
Ben has also been posting some comments on the notorious relationship between Barth and his assistant Charlotte von Kirschbaum. Here are some highlights.
Barth himself admitted that the "Lollo situation" (i.e. the relationship between Barth and his assistant Charlotte von Kirschbaum) was also a dark area of his own life, since it caused so much tension and unhappiness within his family.
But I don't think the situation should be exaggerated, either. It's clear that Barth and von Kirschbaum were in love, and that they were deeply devoted to one another. And it's clear that their relationship caused a great deal of personal pain among family and friends. But, on the other hand, there is no evidence that their relationship was a sexual one (even feminist scholars who are deeply hostile to Barth have acknowledged this). And above all, it's clear that Barth could never have written the Church Dogmatics without the devoted help of von Kirschbaum -- she literally sacrificed her entire life in service to Barth's theological project. When the incomplete CD finally ground to a halt, it was because the aging von Kirschbaum was no longer able to carry on with the work.
So although their relationship is full of ambiguities and tensions, I think it also has many redemptive qualities.
It's touching to hear that, in old age, Barth and his wife were finally reconciled after so many years of hardship. And the great symbol of their reconciliation was that she even began to read his books (which, for her, must always have been monuments to the Barth-Kirschbaum relationship).
On the occasion of his 80th birthday, when Barth was being praised and exalted as the century's "greatest theologian", he pointed out that no one had been mentioning the darker sides of his life: "I know myself better than you, or most of you, do. There are those depths, those relations and connections in my life which have not yet been mentioned.... I know my weaknesses.... [I]t seems to have pleased God to have used me at this time, just as I was, in spite of all the things, the disagreeable things, that quite rightly are and will be said about me. Thus I was used." (in Fragments Grave and Gay, pp. 116-17)
So perhaps we can view this difficult relationship along similar lines: as a testament to the "Nevertheless" of God's goodness, and as a witness to the justifying grace with which human life becomes simul peccator et iustus.
Just saw this DVD a couple of days ago. Plot/basic idea: a Jewish neo-Nazi. If anyone else has seen it, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
It is quite in vain, then, that some—indeed very many—yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture—but, yielding to their own human feelings, they soften what seems harsh and give a milder emphasis to statements they believe are meant more to terrify than to express the literal truth. "God will not forget," they say, "to show mercy, nor in his anger will he shut up his mercy." This is, in fact, the text of a holy psalm. (Cf. Ps 77:9). But there is no doubt that it is to be interpreted to refer to those who are called "vessels of mercy," (Rom 9:23) those who are freed from misery not by their own merits but through God's mercy. Even so, if they suppose that the text applies to all men, there is no ground for them further to suppose that there can be an end for those of whom it is said, "Thus these shall go into everlasting punishment." (Matt 25:46). Otherwise, it can as well be thought that there will also be an end to the happiness of those of whom the antithesis was said: "But the righteous into life eternal."
But let them suppose, if it pleases them, that, for certain intervals of time, the punishments of the damned are somewhat mitigated. Even so, the wrath of God must be understood as still resting on them. And this is damnation—for this anger, which is not a violent passion in the divine mind, is called "wrath" in God. Yet even in his wrath—his wrath resting on them—he does not "shut up his mercy." This is not to put an end to their eternal afflictions, but rather to apply or interpose some little respite in their torments. For the psalm does not say, "To put an end to his wrath," or, "After his wrath," but, "In his wrath." Now, if this wrath were all there is [in man's damnation], and even if it were present only in the slightest degree conceivable—still, to be lost out of the Kingdom of God, to be an exile from the City of God, to be estranged from the life of God, to suffer loss of the great abundance of God's blessings which he has hidden for those who fear him and prepared for those who hope in him (Cf. Ps 31:19) —this would be a punishment so great that, if it be eternal, no torments that we know could be compared to it, no matter how many ages they continued.
113. The eternal death of the damned—that is, their estrangement from the life of God—will therefore abide without end, and it will be common to them all, no matter what some people, moved by their human feelings, may wish to think about gradations of punishment, or the relief or intermission of their misery. In the same way, the eternal life of the saints will abide forever, and also be common to all of them no matter how different the grades of rank and honor in which they shine forth in their effulgent harmony.
- Augustine, Enchiridion, §§112-13.
There is no good reason why we should forbid ourselves, or be forbidden, openness to the possibility that in the reality of God and man in Jesus Christ there is contained ... the supremely unexpected withdrawal of the final threat ... If for a moment we accept the unfalsified truth of the reality which even now so forcefully limits the perverted human situation, does it not point plainly in the direction of a truly eternal divine patience and deliverance and therefore of a ... universal reconciliation? If we are forbidden to count on this ... we are surely commanded the more definitely to hope and pray for this. - CD IV/3, 478
This much is certain, that we have no theological right to set any sort of limits to the loving-kindness of God which has appeared in Jesus Christ. Our theological duty is to see and understand it as being still greater than we had seen before. - The Humanity of God (1961), 60.
Man can certainly flee from God ... but he cannot escape him. He can certainly hate God and be hateful to God, but he cannot change into its opposite the eternal love of God which triumphs even in his hate. [Reference?]
Thoughts? Reflections? Hate-mail?
UPDATE: Here are Augustine's thoughts on the matter.
Ten points for the first to name three controversial Sydney landmarks in this picture. Another five for naming the Sydney landmark upon which I'm standing to take this shot.
"The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume and each is thicker than the previous one. As they laugh, they say to one another, 'Look! Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics!' - and they laugh about the men who write so much about Karl Barth instead of writing about the things he is trying to write asbout. Truly, the angels laugh."
- Quoted in G. Casalis, Portrait of Karl Barth (New York: Doubleday, 1963), 3.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Patrik, having successfully steered Moltmann to victory in Finland, has launched a new project: a blog to provide links to any and all blogs on systematic theology. It's only just starting up, but if you have a blog that might qualify or if you're interested to watch a new meta-blog under contruction, mosey on over.
Monday, July 10, 2006
There are so many otherwise great hymns that lose it in the final verse, suggesting a gnostic flight from the world into a 'home' elsewhere, beyond the skies. Revelation speaks of a 'new heavens and a new earth', and pictures the heavenly Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth (not the other way) - I take this (amongst other verses - this probably needs a series of its own) to mean that Christians are hoping for the resurrection of the dead onto a restored/renovated earth, not a flight off onto another world or into a disembodied 'spiritual' existence with God.
Compounding the error, many hymns seem to place this hope at the point of death, such that death becomes a doorway into this 'heavenly bliss'. While death for the believer is indeed accompanied by the promise that we will be 'with' Christ, this seems to be very much a sub-theme of the New Testament. More important is what happens after the 'afterlife' - namely, real life once more in a perfected body upon a liberated earth. Perhaps once again, there is a series of posts waiting to be done here.
For many hymns, perhaps a simple correction is available: simply replacing a locative reference with a temporal one. Instead of our hope being located elsewhere, it might be less confusing to sing of its being located elsewhen. I'd love to start compiling a list of hymns that could be improved on this point. Any suggestions?
BTW ten points for picking this Sydney landmark. Twenty if you're not from Sydney.
Saturday, July 08, 2006
News and links for those who (like me) have been away for a little while.
In world news, Germany looks set to defeat Switzerland in the World Cup. Earlier, Germany took 3rd place over USA in the bronze-medal match. Controversially, Cup favourite Switzerland was disqualified prior to the tournament. In the other World Cup, Germany takes on Greece: don't miss it.
Ben over at Faith and Theology has two posts from Kim offering thought-provoking ten-point advice to preachers and congregations.
Aaron on the loss of grief in our culture. Also here.
Oh, and we can all rest easy now that Noah's ark has finally been found in Tennessee.
Sunday, July 02, 2006
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose from the dead;
he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
***************We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten not made,
of one being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge
the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father (and the Son),
who with the Father and the Son
is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Due to a brief absence from internet access, nothing new under the sun (or NNUTS) will enter a week-long non-ratings period. During this time you might like to enjoy some great re-runs from yesterweek, such as Transience, Faith, hope and love, Palingenesia and futility, or the slightly heretical Was Jesus Innocent?
Enjoy: normal programs will be returning shortly. Stay tuned.
I know it's going to make me sound all emergent and everything, but I was thinking again today about how important it is to occasionally keep claiming good words like 'catholic', 'orthodox', 'liberal', 'pentecostal', 'baptist' (even 'evangelical'!). They are too easily Capitalised and turned from a useful adjective into a proper name of a movement.
Having preached today on Acts 19.1-7* (actually from 18.18-19.10, but 19.1-7 is the juicy bit that everyone wants to talk about), my application was twofold: (a) don't follow John the Baptist; (b) instead: be baptist, pentecostal and catholic. Seemed to generate a few conversations afterwards. Perhaps not so many as my suggestion that we call John the Baptist, 'Jack the dipper'. Oh well, you can't win them all.
* A quick straw poll: does anyone include this passage in their list of top ten Bible favs?