Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Evil: divine instrument or enemy?

Over here, Mandy has started a long conversation (mainly involving students from Moore College in Sydney and Oak Hill College in London) about limited atonement.

For me it has again raised the place and role of evil in God's economy.

God wants things that don't happen. This is either because his plans are opposed by evil forces and human rebellion, or because he wants other things more (or both?). Yet God uses human evil to bring about his good plans (Gen 50.20; Acts 2.23). However, I guess one thing I'm wondering is: does all evil fall into this category? Will all evil one day be seen as the dark threads in God's glorious tapestry? Is all evil to be understood as God's instrument? Or is it his enemy? This is a false either-or, I know. But as a matter of emphasis: is it his instrument, which he will eventually throw away (or keep locked in the cupboard, or 'outside' in outer darkness), or is it his enemy, which in his powerful grace he sometimes judo flips to fall where he wants?
UPDATE: I have since written a six part series that attempts to address some of these issues. It starts here.
Fifteen points if you can name the English cathedral which boasts this lovely sculpture out the front.

Two kinds of evangelical

Rev Sam over at elizaphanian has an interesting post on his observations (as an Anglo-Catholic Anglican) of there being two kinds of evangelicalism. An intelligent outsider with a sharp eye: worth a look. While we're at it, he also has some good thoughts about how The Da Vinci Code challenges a widespread uncritical christological docetism.

Barth on Schleiermacher

"Anyone who has never noticed anything of the splendour this figure radiated and still does - I am almost tempted to say, who has never succumbed to it - may honourably pass on to other and possibly better ways, but let him never raise so much as a finger against Schleiermacher. Anyone who has never loved here, and is not in a position to love again and again may not hate here either."

- Karl Barth, From Rousseau to Ritschl
(trans. by Brian Cozens, H. H. Hartwell et al.; London: SCM, 1959), 308.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Candy: more is never enough

Saw Candy by Neil Armfield tonight. Addiction is always needing just one more, despite the best of intentions. It is no accident that sin is often called an addiction. So sweet, so ephemeral, so now: but rots your teeth.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Faith, hope and love

Heard a sermon tonight from Gen 49-50 on Joseph's faith, love and hope (Barneys evening service sermons are available here). It got me thinking about the objects of these virtues. While we nearly always speak of our faith in God, our hope in God, when it comes to our love, we have a dual focus: God first, then neighbour. Can we think of faith and hope as having analogous double focii, or is love unique? Oliver O'Donovan has an interesting argument claiming that there is no competition between the two loves, that we do not love neighbour less in order to love God more (Resurrection and Moral Order, 232-36). The thrust of his point is that we recognise the difference between God and our neighbour and love each according to the manner apt for each. We love God as God, and neighbour as neighbour, recognising her as one of God's creatures and loved for his sake. Far from being in competition then, the former is the impetus towards the latter.

Could it be that the same is true for faith and hope? Might we trust our neighbour ('as ourselves'?) in a manner appropriate to fallible and fallen (and redeemed) humanity and in a way that is not in competition with our utter dependence upon God, but as its correlate? Is this not indeed the situation in which we find ourselves? At the very least, trusting God means trusting the human messengers who bring us God's gospel. Should our first stance towards the human other be trust (understood as conditioned by co-humanity, certainly, but trust nonetheless)? Is it going too far to say that we ever trust our enemies? Does this ignore Jesus' injunction to be 'shrewd as serpents'? Or is it that a unilateral first step of trust is the only way out of the cycle of betrayal? That a smile to a stranger is the first step to friendship? Risky? Sure, but so is love for neighbour, and if our trust, love and hope in God are all interconnected, the same holds for human relationships. This needn't be blind trust to the stranger or the enemy, but being one step closer to them than they are to me, being open for another step. And of course, just as we are to not 'love' the world (1 John 2.15), yet are nonetheless to love our neighbour, so we are not to put our ultimate trust 'in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help' (Psalm 146.3), and yet trusting God means trusting our neighour.

What about hope? Can we hope in our neighbour, or only for her? Our hope in God, in his resurrected Son, gives us hope for the redeemability of all things. We can never afford to write off a neighbour as 'hopeless'. If death is no barrier to God's transformative new creation, if the Spirit of the risen Christ has been loosed upon the world, then cynicism and despair are passé. Again, will we be disappointed? Sure. But better to be rejected, better to be betrayed, better to be disappointed than retreat to a hostile antipathy towards the world. If God loves the world, entrusts his salvation to frail messengers, and subjected the creation to futility in hope, who are we to do less?
Ten points for naming the location from which this picture was taken.

Christianity for beginners

These made my day, or at least my hour:
An introduction to Christianity.
An introduction to The Da Vinci Code.

In both cases various problematic terms are helpfully defined. For example:

The Protestant Reformation
This is the name historians give to a major labor dispute that erupted in Germany in 1517 when a group of monks hammered a proposed union contract to the door of the pope's house, requesting a 95 percent pay raise. The pope refused to negotiate with the monks union until it agreed to pay to have the door fixed, and the result was the world's longest-running strike. For nearly 500 years, a huge portion of Christians have been on strike from being Catholic, saying they are "justified" in their work stoppage because the pope won't expand the number of indulgences they get per year. Currently, the matter is in arbitration.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Summer Flings

Joshua over at Theologoumenon has a great post on summer flings. He's also got a fascinating series on Moltmann's take on the "Doxological Trinity". It's now up to his fifth post, but the whole lot is worth a read.

Placing oneself: Barneys and grief

As previously mentioned (and here and here), the building in which my church (St Barnabas Anglican, Broadway, or 'Barneys') meets burned down recently.

As promised (and requested), some further thoughts on the matter:
I noticed in the days following the fire that there seemed to be two kinds of reaction, even where they were often mixed in individuals. On the one hand, some wanted to clearly say it was 'business as usual', the building was just a tool that is irrelevant to the 'real' work that Barneys does, that God was not any different, nor was our fellowship. On the other hand, some people wanted to grieve and acknowledge the grief of others at having lost something analogous to a 'family home'. So which is it to be? Or both?

How can we affirm the goodness and power of God in a world where things fall apart and burn down? We could deny the goodness of the falling-apart and flammable things. But that would be to deny that God was their creator, that "The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made" (Ps 145.9). If his compassion extends as far as his creation, how can he be good when the things he has made are subject to frustration and decay (Rom 8.23)?

We could include death inside his goodness, such that closure is a blessing that makes for beauty and poignancy, a way of multiplying good things by having one pass away to make room for another, a way of giving temporary things a extra specialness (like how Maccas special deals are special because this might be your one chance to get them. If they were part of the regular meal, then they would lose this glow). Or for the more refined, the apocryphal story of Michaelangelo's snowman: there is an extra beauty for the fact that it was but is no more. There is a melancholia and nostalgia that allows it to grow in the memory and imagination. Or consider the sunset: part of whose beauty is that now, just now, just here, is this particular configuration of cloud and colour; it will never be quite the same again as this moment. (Thought: is a blog an attempt to freeze and preserve what is wonderful about intelligent conversation, to make it always accessible? Just as a photo of a sunset is trying to pin down the butterfly of ephemerality). While there is indeed a bittersweetness to nostalgia based on transience, death remains 'the last enemy' (1 Cor 15.26).

A third alternative is to acknowledge the goodness of created things that leaves the tug in our hearts when they pass away, but to relegate this to 'mere creation': good but going. We are not to set our mind on such passing earthly things, but on the eternal. Earth is good, but heaven trumps earth. This is better than the first option, in that it can leave room for legitimate grief at earthly loss, and needn't imply a closure to creation. Indeed, it can become quite a useful stance when combined with C. S. Lewis' frequently stressed point that the best is not the enemy of the good. It is possible to keep first things first (trust in God, the location of Christian fellowship in Christ not buildings), without needing to deny secondary truths (how many great memories will always be associated with particular environmental contexts, and hence a sense of loss at destruction of that context). But I'm still not convinced that this is where our pilgrimage towards affirming creation ends.

The one who made the world, who dwelt with Israel in wilderness tabernacle and Zion temple even while filling heaven and earth, who abhorred not the virgin's womb, who took on human flesh (and not just temporarily, but who remains human in his present mediation: 1 Tim 2.5), whose ultimate goal is not the disentangling of heaven and earth, but their marriage (Revelation 21-22: notice that the new Jerusalem comes down to earth; God makes his dwelling amongst humans, not vice versa), this one will bring about 'the restoration of all things' (Matt 19.28; Acts 3.21), will make all things new (Rev 21.5), will resurrect the dead. Resurrection comes after death; unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. There will also be discontinuity, the resurrection of Jesus wasn't breathing life into a corpse, but transformation. It was not rewinding the sunset.

More can and must (at some point) be said here, but for now, notice that this God isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, in his freedom to bind himself to a contingent and limited creation, not to salvage what was good out of it into himself, but to dwell in it (and for it to dwell in him). He calls us not out of creation, but into it. His kingdom is indeed not 'from' the world (John 18.36) in its basis, methods and goals, but it is 'of' the world, in the sense that Jesus is the king of the Jews - and the Greeks and the whole world, as Israel's Messiah always was to be. And as we are thrown back into the world, we grow into the world, and it grows into us. As we do, creation is 'humanised'; this is indeed part of the mystery of our thanks-filled 'dominion' and 'filling' (Gen 1.28), which is also a 'serving' (Gen 2.15). Not a replacement of non-human by human, so that we squeeze all other life off the planet and die ourselves in regret, but a growing into, an integration. We become not less bodily as we grow in spirituality, but become more in tune with God's Spirit who breathes life into all things. This present life is not a secondary good that awaits its obsolescence in an apocalyptic inferno, but is a sign and anticipation of life of the aeon to come.

This, despite being by far my longest post, remains a summary and introduction to many more thoughts which I'll continue to explore in other avenues. Nonetheless, I think we can go beyond mere instrumentalism in considering the goodness of a building that we have grown into and which in turn has grown into us. The things of this world grow strangely glorious, not dim, in the light of the presence of God and in the hope of the resurrection. Christian response to loss is not a Stoicism that denies the importance of physical things, but genuine grief - with hope.
More posts on Barneys and the fire: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.
Ten points for being able to name the artist who painted the second image. And fifteen more if you can say where it is presently hung.

Friday, May 26, 2006

New International Version

I normally resist the impulse to swing at easy targets, but...

Still more to come...

So far, I've started series on:
* Barneys and the place of 'places' in the Christian life
* Time and eternity
* Theodicy and eschatology

I am planning on finishing each of these in due course. Any votes on which one I should develop first? At the moment, I'm a little pressed to keep all three in the air simultaneously, while maintaining the facade of being productive in other areas of life.

Oh, and here's another little pic I took from my building a couple of days ago. Any comments on the pics? Do people enjoy the sometimes random associations, or are they just a drag for our slowly connected sisters and brothers?
Five points for linking to the other photo with a similar view.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How can anyone speak of the future?

"But how can anyone speak of the future, which is not yet here, and of coming events in which he has not as yet had any part? Are these not dreams, speculations, longings and fears, which must all remain vague and indefinite because no one can verify them? The term 'eschato-logy' is wrong. There can be no 'doctrine' of the last things, if by 'doctrine' we mean a collection of theses which can be understood on the basis of experiences that constantly recur and are open to anyone. ... But how, then, can Christian eschatology give expression to the future? Christian eschatology does not speak of the future as such. It sets out from a definite reality in history and announces the future of that reality, its future possibilities and its power over the future. Christian eschatology speaks of Jesus Christ and his future. The recognizes the reality of the raising of Jesus and proclaims the future of the risen Lord. ... Death is real death, and decay is petrefying decay. Guilt remains guilt and suffering remains, even for the believer, a cry to which there is no ready-made answer. Faith does not overstep these realities into a heavenly utopia, does not dream itself into a reality of a different kind. It can overstep the bounds of life, with their closed wall of suffering, guilt and death, only at the point where they have in actual fact been broken through. It is only in following the Christ who was raised from suffering, from a god-forsaken death and from the grave that it gains an open prospect in which there is nothing more to oppress us, a view of the realm of freedom and of joy. Where the bounds that mark the end of all human hopes are broken through in the raising of the crucified one, there faith can and must expand into hope."

- Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 2-5.


If the solution to the human problem is a timeless eternity of changelessness,* then is our problem transience? No, because the world, the very good world, had transience built-in. The sun set before the fruit was picked. Transience is a feature of creation, not fall. Yet the fall is what makes transience deadly, what brings bitterness to old age and fear to the open horizon of the future. God created a world with a telos, a goal, a purpose, a project: be fruitful and multiply, extend the garden, serve the soil, enjoy. The world was made good, very good, not one that was utterly complete and with no more perfections to be reached.
*Is this true? Perhaps a subject for a future series...
Eight points for guessing which part of this image has been doctored.

Time for a change? Time & eternity II

My new-found Scandinavian friend Patrik has responded at length to my first post on time and eternity, which in turn was a response to some of his earlier posts (he's already done a good job of cataloging the history).

My own grip on patristics being somewhat slim, I nonetheless realise that the idea that God is somehow outside of time has a long and noble history reaching back into the first few centuries of the church. Yet I just don't buy it. Let me fly a kite and see what happens. Happy for it to be shot down...

Can God change? A fascinating question. The early fathers argued that change either means God's getting worse (and so is no longer perfect), or better (and so wasn't perfect before). However, I guess I find problematic the notion of perfection that lies behind the Greek fear of transience. I'm not sure that mathematical perfection is the most fruitful model for conceptualising divine perfections. And there's the key: perfections. God's perfections remain open-ended and so capable of growth and multiplication. For instance, although he was Father (and Son, and Spirit) without the world, he is now Creator, a new perfection. In a similar manner, the Incarnation brings about a new state of affairs for divine identity. There is more that can be said of him now. Not because he was deficient prior to the Incarnation, nor because he was already incarnate and we just didn't know it yet. But his perfections have been multiplied.

Does this threaten divine faithfulness? No, in fact, I sometimes wonder whether temporality is a condition of faithfulness. If God is outside time, then does his ability to stay true to himself constitute a virtue? Do we praise a triangle for its faithfulness - always, no matter what, having three sides?

Paul Ricoeur makes a very useful distinction between ipse and idem identity. Both are Latin words translated 'same', but with a slightly different spin. Am I the same person I was yesterday? Yes, and no. No, many of my atoms have changed, millions of cells have died, I have different memories, a slightly different outlook on life, a little less hair, a little more weight, a little more wisdom (I hope). But yes, it's still me - I'm still the same character in the story of my life. The former kind of identity (mathematically exactly totally the same) is idem identity - the same what-ness (unchanging substance). In this sense, I am not the same as yesterday. But the second, ipse identity, is the same who-ness. Self-same versus same self. I believe that God's faithfulness, his constancy, consists of ispe, rather than idem identity.

Look Both Ways: seeing death everywhere

I recently saw a delightful little Aussie film called ‘Look Both Ways’: a weekend in a serious of intersecting lives, with a redemptive downpour towards the end. Sounds like Magnolia? Bingo – it is. Except, instead of exploring the possibilities and impossibilities of forgiveness and redeeming the past (as Magnolia did so beautifully and profoundly), this time it’s death. I’ve rarely seen a po/mo non-linear film so focussed on a single topic, and can think of few films at all that tackle death so relentlessly without become bogged in angst. Finally, an admission that for many people life means ‘seeing death everywhere’.

Theodicy and eschatology II

That God uses evil to bring about good, that God is bigger than us, that God knows the dark night of the soul, these may or may not be of comfort to the sufferer. But they are not directly attempts to 'justify the ways of God to man' (Milton).

One famous attempt at theodicy is the so-called 'free will defence', which says (more or less, and with variations) that a world in which humans are free to make real decisions (including the real decision to cause suffering for themselves and others) is better than a world without free will. Thus, the possibility of evil is a necessary correlate of the best (or at least a better) kind of world. This is a theodicy.

But it fails.


Because it makes evil necessary. It says that God weaves a tapestry, and to make it beautiful, he needs both light and dark threads. If that is so, then I think God is a nasty old piece of work. Is life - or rather, death and suffering and injustice and pain - to be justified aesthetically? While I don't think this is entirely off the mark (aesthetics goes deeper than our all-too-instrumental western mindset often allows), I do think that it is barking up the wrong tree. And it is not biblical.

What is the biblical answer to the problem of evil? Well, for a start there are the various ones mentioned above as existential answers, that say what it is like to live in a suffering world, and give resources for coping. But if you stop there, you've missed the point. The answer, as any good Sunday school student can tell you, is... Jesus. His suffering brings God into the middle of suffering. And that not only leaves marks on God (Lady Macbeth thought she couldn't get her hands back to how they were before...), but begins to do something to evil.

At this point, some may say that suffering is sanctified. That is becomes the path to glory. That it is God's discipline. Again, there may be something in some of these, and they are notes struck by the biblical authors. But again, let's go back to the narrative. Back to the text. What happens next? Because that's God's answer to this worst of all possible worlds in which his Son would be ruthlessly murdered.(next)
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Time for eternity?

Years ago, a friend of mine said, 'at least we won't have to deal with time once the Last Day comes.'

Until that point, I'm not sure I'd ever really thought about time and eternity, or at least not in terms of time versus eternity. I'd always assumed there would still be time for time after the Last Day, after 'the end'. But apparently not. Apparently, "It is a firm belief of the Church that time will not be a part that existence," as a much-loved fellow blogger recently said. And then I looked, and behold, he was (more or less) right: for most of its history, much of the Church has been looking forward (or sideways, or upwards, or inwards, or something), for the dissolution of time, the defeat of transience through sneaking out of the whole equation into the realm of a timelessly eternal God.

Why is that? I've never felt the reason for it. Certainly Moltmann rejects any conception of a 'timeless eternity'. If time is part of God's good, very good creation (rather than part of the fall, as Augustine needs to end up saying, since he is the one who really introduced this time/eternity split), then won't it too be redeemed in the 'restoration of all things'? Moltmann develops the concept of 'the fullness of time' - at the end, every moment will be completed, summed up, gathered together, purified and transformed into redeemed time. God will have time for us, because he takes his time with us. Let's have a good time with God.
See also here for more.

Was Jesus innocent?

A unclean officer of the occupying oppressor (the coalition of the wanting),
the dreamy (or at least dreaming) wife of his superior (a brutal and dishonest man),
and, (perhaps until the twentieth century) the most reviled and maligned name in history:
what do they have in common?

They all thought Jesus was innocent (Matt 27.4, 19; Luke 23.47); two of them even tried to do something about it. Such an impressive list of witnesses; anyone who'd read Luther's Heidelburg Disputation could wax eloquent (or at least verbose) about the divine verdict hidden sub contrario. With witnesses like these, perhaps we're meant to be all the more struck by how historical or how true their verdict must be, just like having [gasp] women as the first apostles of the resurrection.

But were they right?

Jesus' official charge notice read 'the king of the Jews'. While loony anti-Semites might think that the latter bit is enough, obviously it's the 'king' bit that's the problem. You don't go around trying to undermine the forces of democracy, er, imperialism. The two crucified with him were called lestes, which has traditionally been rendered 'thieves', 'robbers', or more blandly 'criminals'. But much more likely, they were specifically 'bandits' or even 'revolutionaries', violent men who didn't recognise the authority of Rome. Perhaps even men who hoped that God would be king rather than Caesar, or at least God's man, rather than some gentile from a distant land. Jesus was not charged with being a thief; he was a political rival, 'another king', as Paul later paraphrased his message. The secret of his 'kingdom of God', the one he kept stopping people from blabbing, was that he was king.

Jesus, charged for sedition against Rome, of being 'king of the Jews', of undermining Caesar's authority: guilty as charged?
Eight points for guessing which special day of the year this shot was taken.

Theodicy & the need for eschatology I

Patrik has a post on 'The need for eschatology'. It is worth a read. He explores the necessity of some kind personal eschatology in the face of death. I agree, but would like to take his thought further. I believe that any biblical theodicy (defence of God in the face of manifest evil and suffering) must at some point be eschatological, that is, it must refer to the future for which Christians hope. Let me clarify. I begin with three biblical characters who each acutely faced the problem of evil in their experience, not simply as an intellectual puzzle.

Joseph, for being an arrogant prat to his brothers, is sold into slavery. Twenty years later, he ends up being in the position to take revenge and humiliate, enslave or kill them. Apart from a little test to see whether they'd learnt anything from their years to reflect on their actions, he rescues them from their peril (and ends up enslaving their descendents in the long run - poetic justice? or not...). As he reflects on his suffering caused by their overreaction to his youthful boasting, he says 'You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.' There was no mention of God's activity in the narrative during this account, but Joseph could see above or behind or through the seemingly random nastiness of his brothers (and others later in the narrative), that God was at work to create the conditions under which his family of promise would be rescued from famine. Paul says 'We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.' One of the most quoted (and misunderstood) verses in the Bible. This, though a response to suffering, is not a theodicy.

Job faces the question of suffering. He wants to take God to court and argue his case, to accuse God of injustice for the evil he experiences. God's response takes the form of a counter-offensive against Job, silencing his questions with more of his own. Job ends up placing his hand over his mouth. This, though a response to suffering, is not a theodicy.

Jesus' suffering and death pose the problem of evil in an acute form. Pilate's wife, a Roman centurion, and Judas all testify that he was innocent (Matt 27.4, 19; Luke 23.47), yet he was betrayed, condemned on the testimony of 'false witnesses' (Matt 26.60), and brutally tortured and executed. If, as Christians claim, his identity was included in that of the one true God, then suffering is not unknown to God. He's been there and experienced it from the inside. As we groan about a world where things fall apart painfully, God's Spirit is groaning too (Rom 8.18-25). God is with the one who suffers. No one suffers alone: even where we cry 'my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?', Jesus is there too. This, though a response to suffering, is not a theodicy.(next)
Series: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.


Theologoumenon: a theological interpretation that is suggested as possibility, not a decisive call to belief.
Doctrine (or Dogma)*: a normative teaching of the universal church.
This distinction is quite useful, even where the may be no doctrine on what 'normative' means (nor 'universal church'), only theologoumena. Not every understanding, not every issue, not every interpretation is equally important. There are hills to die on, and hills to admire from a distance, and hills to climb over which looked good from a distance but on closer inspection don't seem to have anywhere to pitch tent, and hills to tear down.
The term 'theologoumenon' needs broader use. Joshua is doing his bit over here.
*As originally used - popular usage has shifted the meaning somewhat. Indeed, as C.S. Lewis often noted, when words shift meaning, it is usually that a useful descriptive word becomes a vague term of approval or disapproval, little better than boo or hurrah. RIP 'dogma' (at least until the resurrection, when I'm hoping we'll get a lot of good words back).

What holds you back?

A double-headed question:
If you follow Jesus as the Christ, what one thing would have to be different for you to give that up?
If you do not follow Jesus as the Christ, what one thing would have to be different for you to take it up?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ruminant Ruminations

Observe the herd which is grazing beside you. It does not know what yesterday or today is. It springs around, eats, rests, digests, jumps up again, and so from morning to night and from day to day, with its likes and dislikes closely tied to the peg of the moment, and thus neither melancholy nor weary. To witness this is hard for man, because he boasts to himself that his human race is better than the beast and yet looks with jealousy at its happiness. For he wishes only to live like the beast, neither weary nor amid pains, and he wants it in vain, because he does not will it as the animal does. One day the man demands of the beast: "Why do you not talk to me about your happiness and only gaze at me?" The beast wants to answer, too, and say: "That comes about because I always immediately forget what I wanted to say." But by then the beast has already forgotten this reply and remains silent, so that the man wonders on once more.

- Nietzsche, On the use and abuse of history, I

Ten points for naming this Sydney location.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Someone has testified somewhere

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.” Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

- Hebrews 2.5-10 (or if we're go to with the spirit of the passage: "Somewhere")

Here's the question: if we don't currently see Psalm 8, is that because our eyes aren't good enough, or because it's not (yet) true? Have the many children already been brought to glory? If there's a 'pioneer' and then 'many children', doesn't this imply a gap between what happened to Jesus and what is yet to happen to us? And if that all seems obvious, then why is Jesus already 'perfect' if he hasn't finished his job?
Twelve points for naming the city that contains this beautiful early medieval mosaic.

Blogging generously

Ever noticed how when bloggers comment on a blog, we make sure we slip in a reference to something on our page, but without explaining it? I guess the goal is to seduce other readers away from reading whatever obviously second-rate production is currently occupying their eyeballs and into one's own house of delights. Pride? Greed? A pastoral concern that continuing to read aforementioned second-rate blog (ASRB) will lead other poor readers astray? A pastoral concern that continuing to read ASRB will not lead others astray as much as one's own edgy and heterodox creation? Why do we do it? Can we blog generously?
PS Sorry to have already resorted to blogging about blogging. I won't do it again. Too much.

'In the end is the beginning'

'And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.'

-C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, 173.

cf. The Preface to Jürgen Moltmann's The Coming of God:
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.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Solving evil again

‘The unavoidable character of the question of theodicy is found precisely in the fact that neither theism nor atheism solves it.’

Jürgen Moltmann, Hope and Planning, 33.

Sorry for the almost exclusive focus on Moltmann. It is simply that I am mid-essay. My diet will be supplemented from the other four food groups in due course)

Barneys: A visual tribute?

After the demise of Barneys, I do still intend on blogging something a little more substantial about place and eschatology (see also here and here) once this Moltmann essay is finished. But here is a picture from JKS to whet your appetite, or get you riled up, or amused, or confused.
More posts on Barneys and the fire: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.
Eight points for linking to another work by the same artist on this blog.

Friday, May 19, 2006

When Christ calls a man [sic], he bids him wake up!

MPJ over here has suggested a new way of doing evangelism (which he calls 'kata-angelism' = 'contrary news' not 'good news' (eu-angelism)), in which we highlight the cost of coming to Christ, telling would be converts that 'when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die' (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously warned). Simultaneously, a genuine surprise for a generation so used to hearing that 'Coke adds life' and a slap on the wrist for any tendency towards prosperity gospelling (including even spiritualised varieties).

However, rather than appealing so directly to the masochistic self-hating tendencies so close to the surface for many people, I've been wondering whether an invitation to 'waking up' or 'growing up' mightn't capture more closely the dynamic of life in Christ. It's great living in a semi-dream world of childhood, incapable of real decision or consequence. But welcome to the real world, where wounds bleed, mistakes kill and love hurts. Welcome to the world where your decisions matter, where you can throw yourself into life with eyes open, pour yourself out for another, and live without the safety-net of a clouded, self-obsessed field of vision. Goodbye to nighttime fantasies (and illusory nightmares); hello to the world where tragedy is real but the hope of daylight lingers.

'Where the fear of death disappears, the fear of life disappears too.'

The problem of prematurely 'solving' the problem of evil

'Christian faith starts from the assumption that it is impossible to reconcile life and death without the future of God.'(full quote)

-Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 264.

Does any theodicy that attempts to 'justify the ways of God to man' without recourse to the resurrection of the body involve a pact with death and a death-wish? Must we therefore repent of so called 'free-will' defenses that explain the presence of evil and death as a necessary consequence of something better (free choice)?

Life: not a rehearsal

"The notion that this life is no more than a preparation for a life beyond, is the theory of a refusal to live, and a religious fraud. It is inconsistent with the living God, who is 'a lover of life'. In that sense it is religious atheism."

- Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, 50.

I love how Moltmann affirms life: here, now, bodily, social, contextual, finite, frustrating, painful, hopeful. The attempt to untie this knot through recourse to a hidden, perfect, unchanging, transcendent or ideal world (in the light of which this one is an illusion of appearances to be put away like a child's toy) is futile, escapist and deadly. Fantasies kill. Wake up.
Twelve points for guessing the city these poor bones once inhabited.

Resurrection: promise or fulfilment?

N.T. Wright begins a reflection upon the resurrection with this claim:

'Among the first meanings that the resurrection opened up to the surprised disciples was that Israel’s hope had been fulfilled.'

- On the Third Day.

NB Barth's claim below is even stronger that resurrection is the fulfilment of hope.

Compare Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 213-14:
'The revelation of Christ cannot then merely consist in what has already happened in hidden ways being unveiled for us to see, but it must be expected in events which fulfil the promise that is given with the Christ event. This Christ event cannot then itself be understood as fulfilling all promises, so that after this event there remains only the sequel of its being unveiled for all to see. "In Christ all the promises of God are yea and Amen" (II Cor. I.20), i.e. in him they are confirmed and validated, but not yet fulfilled. Therefore the Christian hope expects from the future of Christ not only unveiling, but also final fulfilment.'
Is the resurrection a fulfilment or itself a promise? Or both? In what ways? Why does it matter?

Eight points for naming the city in the image.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Backfiring evangelism?

Some dear friends have recently been horrified by an event that seemed to 'backfire'. A conversation between a Christian and a Buddhist, hosted by and in a church, at which the 'result' was two people signing up for Buddhist meditation (and another one started coming to church). Neither of them were churchgoers prior to the night. So here's my question: from a Christian point of view, is a move from average Australian materialist to commencing Buddhist meditation a backwards, forwards, or sideways step spiritually?
Eight points for naming the country in which this image was taken.

Writing under the influence

An observation. Whereas in a past golden era, you could remain a pure, simple, Bible-believing Christian as long as you avoided subscription to any -ism, I've noticed that these days it's quite possible to write off a sister or brother by merely hinting that they've been influenced by a naughty movement. Is our goal to stay low, present as small a target as possible, avoid any contact that might contaminate? Is there nothing for the church to learn from the world (let alone other branches of the church)? Or, on a more proactive note, where is the Spirit of the Christ who touched lepers?

Eight points for naming the country in the picture.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Barneys Old and New

For those who mightn't be Sydneysiders or SMH readers, the 148 year old building in which my church meets burned down last week.

Earlier, I posed the question about whether buildings mightn't have a place in the eschaton; indeed, what is the place of all human achievement and action when God makes all things new? Can we leave our mark?

When we consider our only source of knowledge about the new world, the risen Jesus, we find that upon him, the actions of humanity had indeed left their mark. His risen body was scarred with human attempts to end him. Interestingly, Mel Gibson's Passion gestured (however briefly) to a risen Christ with holey hands, yet the scourging was gone. Why the nails but not the whip? How could the Emmaus pair have missed a flaggelated man?

But I digress - it is quite a gap from Emmaus to the smoking ruin of Barneys. Not only was it marks of human violence which remained on the risen Christ (rather than human achievement considered in any positive sense), but also, well, Barneys was a collection of stone, glass and wood (not to mention lead, if we're to believe the SMH). Do non-human places and structures have any destiny beyond moth and rust?
More posts on Barneys and the fire: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.

AA: ideology in motion

Check out this ad from American Airlines in the immediate aftermath of Sept 11, 2001 (let's not pretend that other important things haven't ever happened on that date). My wife even cried as we were manipulated into consuming in defense of freedom and the American way.

Also check here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

History's happy end

‘Eschatology is not a doctrine about history’s happy end…. No one can assure us that the worst will not happen. According to all the laws of experience: it will. We can only trust that even the end of the world hides a new beginning if we trust the God who calls into being the things that are not, and out of death creates new life.’

- Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God , 234.

Eight points for naming the artist. Twelve if you can say where and why he signed this work.

Kissing it goodbye

Ben Myers has a high quality blog and here is a real highlight: the theology of kissing, or rather, the kissing of theologies.
UPDATE: Cynthia Nielsen also has plenty of kissing action. And more here. And to top it all off, here are all the others collected together with even more added!

Not over yet...: Moltmann

'With the raising of Jesus all has not yet been done.'

- Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 163.

And this has further implications:
'Faith, whenever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.’

- Theology of Hope, 7.

Of course, Barth the anti-Fascist was never aiming at quietism with his earlier quote. Which is truer to the biblical witness and to an otherwise hope-less world, Barth or Moltmann? Jesus resurrection as the end, or as the announcement of the end?
Twelve points for guessing the country in which the picture was taken.

Starting from the end: Barth

‘Nothing which will be has not already taken place on Easter Day – included and anticipated in the person of the one man Jesus … Strictly speaking there are no ‘last things,’ i.e. no abstract and autonomous last things apart from and alongside Him, the last One.’

Barth in CD III/2, 489.

Is Barth saying that there is no more to come, that in the resurrection of Jesus the world has achieved its hope, received its satisfaction, been liberated from its bondage? No, there are still things which will be, though which are not yet. But these things are not alien to Easter, are not something in addition to the resurrection of the dead. What will be is the world’s Easter waking anew, when God’s whispered ‘Behold, I make all things new’ is proclaimed from the rooftops of the world.
Ten points for naming the city in the picture. Five more for naming the location from which it was taken.

The problem of theology

'It is simple, but true, to say that theology has only one, single problem: God. We are theologians for the sake of God; if we are not, then we ought not to call ourselves theologians at all. God is our dignity. God is our agony. God is our hope.'

Jürgen Moltmann, 'Theology in the Project of the Modern World' in A Passion for God's Reign, p. 1.

Barneys barn burns

So, the news is getting cold, the ash washed away, the walls still in doubt, the plans have begun to sprout from every amateur architect in town. But what is the end for Barneys? Or at least the building we knew by that name? Do our buildings have a place in the end? Will the God who makes all things new, do a backyard blitz on this much-loved plain-faced eminantly-combustable collection of memories and dreams? Will bricks and mortar inherit the kingdom?

Sure, sounds a little odd, but just what is the place of human actions, achievements and anticipations of God's coming age? Surely there is more to be said here than 'rain-shelter' or even 'ministry-partner'? Our hope is not for the transcendence of the physical, the passing away of the transient, the eternal trumping the quotidian, but the resurrection of the dead.
More posts on Barneys and the fire: I; II; III; IV; V; VI.
Eight points for each piece of evidence (apart from the people) in this picture that demonstrates which Barneys service it was taken at.
Photo by JKS.

Welcome to the end

I thought I might jump on the proverbial paradewagen and start a blog.
Eschatology is the name of the game, but theological reflection more broadly is the goal.
There may be a particular focus on certain figures: Jesus, the four evangelists, Paul, Peter, & the usual canonical crowd, but also the catholic crew from Irenaeus through to Moltmann, Augustine to Barth, Luther to Rahner. Nietzsche & Wittgenstein, Heraclitus & Levinas, et al. are also welcome, as is anyone with a mind awake & an eye to where we might be going.
If you have thoughts, quotes or reflections of your own, feel free to comment.