Posts Tagged ‘Christian’


I have always enjoyed reading the practical current events spiritual magazines/newspapers published in Canada. Most are denominationally specific. Among my top 3 were: United Church Observer, Anglican Sower and Presbyterian Record. The last two I also had the privilege to write for and share thoughts, unfortunately they are also no longer publishing (the fact they carried my works has nothing to do with the ceasing of publication I believe). One can also trace in my spiritual journey, denominations or religious traditions have not been high, I have drank and do drink from the many wells the one river feeds, yet it is the one river that I thirst for.

As I wrote a few days ago after a cascade of flashbacks triggered by a denominational prayer cycle (Read post here) it is unique that the latest issue of the United Church Observer in their Question Box column, Spiritual Solidarity, touched upon clerical unionization.

                “Clergy conflict reflect the ongoing turmoil and anxiety within the wider United Church.”

-Christopher White

Workplace and community conflicts are part of existing together. They are to be expected, what is not to be expected in civilized society is such harassment, haranguing and trauma that individuals leave their employment, or wind up with deep rooted scars. This article triggered flashbacks, part of the work of trying to rise above my flashbacks is acknowledging the pain, but also acknowledging the good I have seen and been apart of.

Obviously, the article is centred on the organic transformation within the United Church on this issue, but I can attest it crosses Christianities tradition and denominational lines. Following is a few thoughts on the good and bad I have been apart of.

“I also believe that more and more…is moving from primarily seeing ministry as a covenanted relationship to seeing it as a contractual one.”

-Christopher White

  1. The small congregation that hired me as a youth leader leaving my first experience, and then a minister. Both with contradicting missions. The congregation responding to the pain their abuse had caused catastrophe with previous ministries, allowing those with the money to run rampant. Online abuse existed before social media it was done via cc and bcc on e-mail as my character and personhood were attacked by those in the church that did not like their children/youth thinking. The harassment also continued through the office of clergy towards me, and some youth with mental health concerns. Meetings were held; then it went up to the Presbytery level to meet with the congregation and even though these meetings concerned me I was not allowed to attend. Eventually they beat you down, and I chose to surrender my ministry—yes the majority wanted to bring me on as minister, but even with mechanisms to sanction the vocal minority bullies—they refused. How did the organization reward this community? With more money, bigger space…message sent to those targeted—you do not matter.
  2. Being a Lay Professional Leader in a congregation doing things such as contemplative worship services, pulpit fill in; leading a bible study. Yet the wealthy in the aging congregation got their tempest in a tea pot over kids at play, noise, and the online attack campaign begun. Unwillingness again to call out a spade as a spade from those higher due to—yup you guessed it—money at play as donors.
  3. Stalked on and harassed via social media by a congregation and their pastor—why? As a family, we attempted to advertise our home bible study and potluck on the church Facebook page. My wife encouraged to distance herself from me and my unChrist-like influence. When she refused, and we chose to leave as a family those that said they were our “friends” shunned us like leaving a cult.
  4. My son’s joyful noise at a Santa Clause service being called out in vehement anger by the minister and called to leave service. Shunned by the supposedly “inclusive” spiritual home. In the moment those who preached standing up for injustice became the bystanders while the bully postured and the bullied was left believing he was on Santa’s naughty list.
  5. In Bible College having a professor point blank tell the class when I answered in favour of inclusion “that is why your church must die”…and being taunted in the halls as the “fag church member” still standing strong and up as best I could, leaving the learning environment to be battered in my “church homes” as I tried to build ministries.
  6. Para-church directors head hunting to fire me for my political and/or theological beliefs not aligning with their personal understanding.
  7. Being the family scape goated by an ill-equipped children’s educational ministry, because we had the “special needs kid” and not looking seriously at the bullying issue by the children of the long term generational members, and having the “r word” used to describe my son.
  8. Hearing during service a priest being called out on the rug because he took a stand for inclusion of God’s children, and love for those who are differently abled.

That is the darkness. Some can see through that a need for the mediating voice, but a union is not just there for the darkness, they are there to create a support network for successes. A place where the story can be shared for what has transformed, what has been overcome, and can create a relationship where clergy can easily move between denominations.

  1. I have been apart of wonderful churches that have had no actual building. Where ministries and retreats for youth were sponsored by church family members (with or without kids) in their own homes.
  2. I have been there when seniors have continued to answer the call to serve our children as they closed in on 100 years old, as we created “Elders Time” where a big comfy chair was created and the Elder could share the story, and then have the youth be their hands and legs for the activity.
  3. I have seen the passion of inclusion, where walls were broken down and churches laughed off the “tradition” of church youth/community youth time tables to have open youth group for all where spiritual formation was encouraged, and critical thought.
  4. I have seen youth and young families forego the “contemporary” service to be apart of the old liturgical service because it is where the seniors were, and allowed those without grandparents to find that role in their life in church.
  5. I have broken bread, shared meals, lifted many families and friends within my own home around simple things as movie discussion nights, bible studies…where life was done for those shunned by churches they did not fit the mold for due to life circumstance, simple acts of kindness and love allowed the journey to continue… and yes, the noise of children is apart of that.
  6. A Children’s Ministry coordinator coming and speaking directly to my son about coming and being part of the group, not asking us, asking him and listening close for his body language and spastic voice if he wanted to come.
  7. Having a priest during High Mass while blessing the host pause, as my son cheers loudly, and state to the congregation overflowing, “May we all have that excitement to be one with Jesus!”
  8. A minister that contacts my son about if he wants to be in the Christmas pageant, and then the congregation learns about inclusionary communication tools.
  9. Simple things, like a free half day Vacation Bible School that I was blessed to be apart of growing up, and then my teacher asking if my daughter would attend as they are re-launching (and yes, this past summer she learned some French!).
  10. Offering scholarships for VBS’s that have a cost so no child is turned away.
  11. Celebrating the diversity in our unity as spiritual beings from who we are to where we are from…whether it is being Affirming or Dancing our Offering to the Altar to everything in between and not even dreamed of yet.
  12. A Priest taking the flack for replacing offering over two weeks of masses to ensure the food cupboard is overflowing with blessing.
  13. A nun that gathers toys to deliver with food hampers to families in need, and when families without homes sleep in the church ensure that even the volunteers have what they need.
  14. A priest that is troubled by persons with mobility issues not being able to get to the dining hall with dignity for church meals, installs and elevator.
  15. A priest that volunteers with homeless families and realizes they do not have the opportunity to shower in the parish before going out for their day. Installs showers, and announces offering from that weekend needs to be generous to pay for it.

For every horror story there is good stories, even great ones. Yet we cannot say the good outweighs the bad. We cannot say “this is church” to allow for the bullying. People are essentially good. We need to be generous in our ability to do what we can to build a better world, one simple act of kindness at a time.

A union for church employees on the surface may be something to be scoffed at, but it creates a mediating body, removes the ability of congregations or higher church authorities to cover up for PR reasons. It creates an environment with standardized codes of care and conduct that cannot be shouted down due to the “wealthy donor” paradigm. It levels the playing field, much like the gospels pointed to.

This is my story, my experience, my opinion. My act of reconciliation as the story stands, the truth told…now it is time to move forward…into a new day, and a hopeful healthier relationship in the congregation we have settled in.


The version of the flaming chalice currently u...

The version of the flaming chalice currently used as the logo of the Unitarian Universalist Association. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You tell us fine stories, and there is nothing in what you say that may not be true; but that is good for you who came across the seas. Do you not see that as we inhabit a world so different from yours; there may be another heave for us?

And another road to reach it?

-A Huron to a Jesuit Missionary, circa 1635

 

Church & Buehrens use the expression of One Light, Many windows; Matthew Fox (defrocked Dominican Priest) used the phraseology one river, many wells. But the quintessential answer is the same, there are many ways to access the One Source, the Sacred, the Creator, The Divine, The Love…

What needs to be answered for each of us in this new Global Village is which way do we access it? A traditional religion, a non-religion, a new age, new wave, science, philosophy, politics, just being… this is the core of Universalism, there is nothing wrong in the many manifestations that we see in this world the thrust being as the Dalai Lama has recently phrased his religion to be kindness, compassion, or Desmond Tutu in God is Not a Christian, it being love the foundation.

This is the journey I have been on, a journey that has been many years (decades) in the making. Where I have worn many labels of religiousity, yet each label is only one piece of the story. Much like the Huron to the Jesuit, what makes you think that your Western European Empiricism speaks to my experience of the sacred in daily life?

This is the thrust of the journey that during my sabbatical has taken me away from institutionalized Christianities and into a journey of discovery…at one juncture it actually had me labelled a heretic by a fundamentalist school, but what else can you say…for when one does not believe in Hell, or does not believe in a manmade God of misogyny, bloodlust, hatred and exclusion. Rather a belief shaped in the imminence of paradise here, our role in building it as co-creators with the Divine, much like Jesus of Nazareth. One where every aspect of life is Sacred, and within that is where Creator exists in us, and us in the Creator.

This journey of exploration that has led me to the Unitarian-Universalist Association…more colloquially into the Calgary Unitarian Church as an exploration with the family, to read many works of thought and recently to history works Hewett’s Unitarians in Canada (1975 & 1995) and Wilbur’s A History of Unitarianism Vol. 2 (1945 & 1965) which revealed a church that has organically grown since shortly after the Easter Moment, but became denomiantionalized within Transylvania during the             Reformation. It is a story of a people called out by the Spirit when the church becomes to doctrinally fixate that it divides and excludes, instead of sets the table widely for all of the children of the Holy Mystery. A story of beyond tolerance, to acceptance that individuals and communities experiences of the Holy will be different, and that is okay, in fact it is a wonderful time where these different ways can come together with the grounding focus being transformation. Could this be why UU is the fastest growing liberal church in North America? All the liberal theologians being tired of the doctrinal asinine that no longer or never should have separated us in the first place.

Read no further until you have checked out the short journey at: http://tyragan.blogspot.com

This brings us to the reflection today, on Brock and Parker’s (2008) Saving Paradise which is an alternative history to the church we never knew. It is a challenging work that forces the reader to stare fully into the vacuum of darkness that the “church” has mired on this world.

What exactly are the Hebrew Bible prophecy books? Are they futuristic soothsayers? No, these are a people during a time of crisis simply attempting to process (p. 22). No great infallibility, just a story of survival and faith.  Texts that for the First Century CE believers then showed them ways to allegorically process the Roman Empire (for us today Materialism? Corporate rule?), especially when the rule of the Empire is then reflected back upon the same institutions that we hold “sacred”. For the whore of Babylon in Revelations is not an allegory to the Empire, but to those complicit in the oppressors and degradation of a people…the religious leaders of Israel (p.75), which upon reflection of main stream religion as stories of abuse, wars, genocides, scandals, thefts, lies, etc. in the “name of God” flood the media lines is it not an allegory we can use today?

One that was extended even within the Gospel writers metaphor, John Mark wrote of Jesus’ casting out of the demons of Legion (an Empire Allusion) to the pigs or the defiled depths (p.45) the fact that the Empire Gospel was being interpreted to destroy people, it was time for a new Gospel, one that empowered those without power. That was the Gospel of the peasant out of Nazareth that shook the world. For it is true that Gospels do not kill people (they are merely proclamations), but interpreters do (p.49). If one takes up the Gospel, they must accept that it is a sacred text and with that we must exercise our discernment and wisdom in accepting the power and responsibility that come with wielding words that we say come from the Sacred (p.49). Let us be honest, we have not done well, think of how many have been cast out of this world, destroyed emotionally, spiritually, physically, psychologically by the predators that have enlisted within “God’s Army”.

How far we have gone from the house that Jesus built, for his father’s house had many rooms. Did you know that the fixation on the Crucifixion did not happen until the 1000’s when the Great Schism ripped the Western church out of the Eastern Mysticism and it became more concerned with power, land, and money instead of mysticism, rebirth, and L-O-V-E. Why? The ancient church had us in one existence with many dimensions (one house, many rooms sound familiar), essentially multiple dimensions all united within The Spirit (p.88).

So if there was no Crucifixion fixation then what were earlier believers “converted into”? It really isn’t that hard to figure out, it was a counterculture movement. Baptism was more than simply a personal choice about one’s beliefs. It was a ritual that incorporated initiates into a community and its source of power. As such, it was inseparable from social and political degrees. (p.41). When one took the step of entering into the waters of baptism, it wasn’t a “out of hell free ticket”, it was entering into solidarity with those Jesus spoke of in the Beatitudes, the ones that society has cast out, and choosing to walk alongside and build a healthy community. This is what Jesus’ feeding of the masses was about, as the Emperor would feed the poor and lull them into thinking the only source of sustenance was destroyed when Jesus fed the masses and showed them the true source of all things necessary was not the Emperor, but truly ethical grace within the Holy Mystery (p.30).

Which leads John Crossan to say, “it is in food and drink, offered equally to everyone that the presence of God and Jesus is found” (p.31).

The meal shared (Eucharist) and the Baptism is truly the renunciation of Empire within one’s life, and joins a movement that drew on different well springs: wisdom, word, Torah and Spirit (p.41).  It is to be in the Spirit, to know how to distinguish good and evil required acute attunement to the present and reflection about ethical behaviours discerned through wisdom, live joyfully, enact justice, nonviolence and love (p.88).  If we seize on these values of the ancient tradition we are birthed into through water and Spirit, what comes evident for us is that we must tell the truth of crucifixion, an act of horror designed to shame, humiliate and destroy humanity.

This is the act of violence the Empire brought to bear on the peasant Messiah. It is up to us to tell the truth of this violence. To quit hiding behind theological treatise that make it okay for G-O-D to be a vengeful prick who must have seen his son beaten, bloodied, humiliated, killed for us to be loved (which spirals into its own theology of acceptance of violence and abuse). Brock and Parker on page 53 write:

To break silence whenever violence is used to shame, instill fear,

fragment human community, or suppress those who advocate for

justice is life-giving.

It is the foundation of ethical grace, to live into and out of the worst a community can experience, and speak truth. It is the power of Healing Circles, Truth and Reconciliation commissions, simple healthy community. It is the pragmatic/practical end of Panentheism. For the church is the Holy Mystery’s renewed paradise (p.89).

This is Theosis (communities that embody divine love) was a term used by both men and women, regardless of orientation, ability, gender, or societal labours were equals in all aspects of life to build the church (p.191). A church that experience Eucharist as a training of the whole person (body/soul/mind/strength) to know the world and spirit in it (p.145), “A Feast of Life” for the whole, and would/should include all the foods of the harvest (p.142).

Which is the source of offering that represented the community’s shared resources, its common wealth in the Holy Mystery (p.142).  It was not just a money thing, it was not just an anything, it was sharing of the blessedness of the whole person as a piece of the whole.

This piece of the whole, in an egalitarian world birthed another source of power. For women in a culture with no power, suddenly they discovered the source of power. That’s right, S-E-X. Just as Mary of Nazareth seized power of being-ness with her Yes to the Holy (for more of my research on this I direct you to: https://tyragan.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/theres-something-about-mary-a-liberation-theology-for-the-21st-century-free-e-book/). Yet it is in women in the ancient church first claiming their right to their virginity (bodies) that they are fully empowered (p.194). How we have abused and bastardized this in the church since, with our virgin/whore dichotomy and using both to strip power from women and make them once more nothing more than pawns of men (such an Empire move).

Another traipsing of us into the Empire’s bed is even our understanding of marriage. Do we realize that until the misogyny of medieval times, a Christian marriage was nothing more than a couple choosing to live together and declaring themselves wed? (p.195). Look at what we have done with something so beautiful in such a short span of time, how many lives we have destroyed, some even driven to the point of suicide over our own destructive use of “marriage” as a means of exclusion.

How do we realize inclusion? That is quite simply as noted earlier, in blessed community, where we are the agents, foster parents, OF LIFE that sustains communities within ethical grace (p.418). This sustaining that is rooted in, as Brock and Parker state of page 419:

The Eros of Beauty calls to us and bids us be fully in the world,

attentive to particularities, emotionally alive, open to grace,

and responsive to justice.

It is not about eroticism, or sex, it is about the actualization of the intimacy we have with the Holy, the beauty of the diversity of what builds creation. It is this love/intimacy that calls us to be within creation as its caretakers, fully active and engaged with our everything for this is how we will engage the Sacred, and the Sacred will dance within us…

This is where Paradise (or whatever term your reference gives) comes alive- –  here and now.

Are you prepared to be within the Eros of Beauty?

 


You've gotta have faith?

You’ve gotta have faith? (Photo credit: Roger Smith)

Hebrew Bible

Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical/pseudopigrapha texts

Christian (New) Testament

The Gita

Other sacred Hindu and Sikh writings

Yogi and Tantric texts

Teachings of Buddha

Zen writings

Writings of Bahalluah

Qu’Ran

Book of Mormon

Watch Tower Society Bible

Classic Mythologies of Greco-Roman world

Celtic Spiritual texts and lore

Norse Mythology

Indigienous Sacred Stories

Sumerian Legends

Epic of Gilgamesh and Beowulf

The Odyessy

The Aenid

Aesop’s Fables

Fairy Tales (historically lore of the people)

Arthurian Legends

Grail Lore

I Ching

Taoist Philosophy

The Good Book (an Atheistic version of the Christian Bible)

Wiccan White Magik

Druidic Lore & rites

Gnostic Bible

Nag Hammadi Library

The AA Big Book

 


Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Introduction

Apologetics at first blush is a misnamed discipline. Why would someone need to apologize for being a Christian? What it is though is a field of study to be able to explain the faith to those who do not have the faith. As Vincent Cheung in Presuppositional Confrontations (2003) defines success in the endeavour “success in apologetics and evangelism should be measured by whether we have presented Christianity faithfully and defended it cogently” (p.77).

From a Reformation Theological background Cheung structures a learned guide for how one is to build an apologetic for the faith. This apologetic however does not exist within a vacuum but is the basis for evangelism. The driving force for this joining of offices is his opening Biblical example of Acts 17 when St. Paul enters the Athenian temple and begins a discourse with the philosophers. For Cheung this is the mirror of how to do apologetics and evangelism as a believer (p.3).  It is a calling not on a few, but on all.

This is the mirror that should reflect in the church to show us as believers how to engage a world that is non-Christian or post-Christian. This short paper will touch on the route of evangelism-apologetics as laid out by Cheung in his work of 2003 Presuppositional Confrontations.

 

 

 

Summary

What is apologetics? It is the discipline of explaining the nature of reality to those who do not believe in the “science” of theology. For Cheung his undergirding is that all arguments can be settled by appealing to the soundness of first (biblical) principles (p.3). This is opened up even further by his touching upon Acts 17 and St. Paul’s discourse with the Philosophers where he points to the unknown God and uses this as an inroad to lay out the Christian apologetic.

The concept for Cheung is then followed up by a “modern” example of viewing a sports game, with no knowledge of the rules we may be able to enjoy watching, but we will be lost to the subtleness of what is truly happening between the players (p.4), one just has to attempt to watch Cricket or Baseball with no background/fore knowledge and you can experience this, yes it is enjoyable, but there is no clue about what is actually happening. For the viewer it is not even safe to use strictly observation to craft understanding of the rules because it can lead to an in correct understanding (p.5), much like as Cheung points out using science out of context to explain the nature (how) of reality (Cheung p. 12).

For Cheung there is a divisible line in the sand for apologetics where within this practice it is the wisdom of God versus the wisdom of man (p.39) and notes that divine revelation will always be superior if not accepted (p. 39). The gate for Cheung continues to narrow as he lays bare that inter-faith dialogue seeking similarities and common ground are ignorant of Christian theology (Cheung p.40) and continues that Christians who reject the Biblical texts are not Christian (p.41).

The emerging Cornerstone for Cheung is that evangelism-apologetics must avoid finding ways to agree with anti-biblical thinking (p.42) as the Biblical framework is the only true intellectual framework (p.53). The understanding of this framework leads to a counter-apologetics where the Christian should demand the presuppositions being used by the non-Christian for them wanting to hold to evolution and anti-biblical worldview (p.53). It is Cheung’s call then that the evangelistic-apologist must be a scholar, as the mirror for his practice is St. Paul who clearly shows in Acts 17 that he is a scholar of the world (Cheung p. 57).

Growing from this the gate of truth is narrowed even more to the ideal that biblical apologetics involves exposing the internal contradictions of non-Christian religions and philosophies because scripture is clear that all non-believers (even Jews) are hell bound (Cheung pp. 59-63). This is why evangelism and apologetics go hand in hand to win (convert) believers to Christ.

Interpretation

Cheung used the mirror of St. Paul’s discourse with the philosophers to lay out how to do evangelism-apologetics. From this discourse Cheung drew down to a very narrow, Reformationist understanding of faith. As such, the interpretation section of this paper will open with an exploration of the mirror chapter as presented in the New Living Translation (please note the scripture passage has been italicized with the author’s thoughts interspersed in normal typeface):

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.

Paul begins his teaching journeys as always, with going to those who had a knowledge of the living God, and as such, had a common language. If we are to use this as our mirror, it would appear that the beginning of our dialogues should be with those of the Abrahamic Traditions (Ba’hai, Jewish, Other Christians, Muslim, Mormon, New Thought and to a lesser, Universalist-Unitarian) and to seek out the similarities and common ground within, contrary to Cheung’s disapproval of this venture. It almost appears here from inductive reading that this was the “safe” place of non-believers where Paul was able to learn and grow through some familiarity before heading out into what would be contextual for today as the modern North America.

18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”

Since the founding of Quebec in the early 1500’s there has been an assumption by Canadians that we have a common story that bursts forth from a common Christian heritage. Which is why most churches speak of missions, evangelism and never apologetics out there in the 2/3 world. It is these short or long term missions that are to aid us in discovering the “unsaved” or the “heathen” because “Canada is a Christian Nation”. Yes our constitution’s first line reads Under God, but it is a non-sectarian, great creator God, not one of Christian descent or understanding.

What is missed for the Canadian church when we hold up this mirror is the stepping outside of our Christian bubble. There is no common belief within the mosaic of our nation. We are one community built through a unity of communities. As such, we must come to realize that there is no understanding of the Biblical God or more specifically the God of the Christianities. God is as much a foreigner in Canada, and the Japanese Yen would be in one of our convenience stores.

This leads the believer to feel quieted because if they have spent any time within the “safe” zone of the church, then they have come to believe the meta-narrative that we are just a wayward nation in which all know the God of Christ Jesus, when we do not. This is where the practice of apologetics can become useful, unfortunately the way Cheung has put it forth, as noted in the summary, would do more damage to the gospel in a nation where there is a stereo-type of the hateful Christian, not the loving Christ.

19 Then they took him to the high council of the city.[d] “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. 20 “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” 21 (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)

22 So Paul, standing before the council,[e] addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man[f] he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your[g] own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.

30 “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

The discourse St. Paul takes the Athenians through is one of scholarship. It is within the context of a space of learning, dialogue and sometimes, debate. It is within a space where questions were asked and answered, in the give and take fashion that Socrates made famous upon street corners. As a mirror this event reflects the current inter-faith and inter-religious practices of the 20-21st centuries in which similarities are founded (noted above in which St. Paul opens by pointing to the unknown God Acts 17: 23).  For Cheung to then dispute the use of similarities cracks his own mirror.

To continue this disparity Cheung counters that one cannot say Allah & God are the same because to do so would be to state Allah is a Trinity which is contrary to Islamic belief (p. 40). Unfortunately this shows that perhaps Cheung has not truly used the mirror of Acts 17 as usefully as one should. For it is not simply being able to say they are the same, it is coming to this conclusion through discourse with our Islamic brothers and sisters in God. Into a faith where there is already an opening of similarities for discourse on faith, shared history through Abraham, veneration of Mary, Jesus, & John the Baptist.

Are they the same beliefs as held by the Conservative Christian? No. Are they the same held by the Liberal Christian? No. Yet there are kernels that can be used to build discourse upon as St. Paul did with the philosophers here by noting the unknown God and illuminating identity.

32 When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.” 33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them, 34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council,[h] a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

(Acts 17:16-34).

Funny, that for Cheung it is about pushing people to name their suppositions so then divine revelation can be used almost as a weapon to attach and discredit (p.59). Yet what Paul shows with this conclusion is a more open and collaborative approach, almost reminiscent of Brother Jesus with the Sermon on the Mount. This is counter to the many assertions Cheung would put forward about science’s inability to explain anything properly (p. 45) or that those that reject a narrow reading of the Bible are non-Christians (p.41). For it is not that science cannot explain things, science when used with proper prayerful reason can illuminate the how of the Creation, while divine revelation from God is there to illuminate the why of the creation. The big questions, and God has equipped His creation with the ability to draw closer to understanding. The challenge is to move beyond this fragmented, dualistic thinking to a more holistic whole. Away from Jacob’s ladder of ascent as Matthew Fox stipulates, to as a creation dancing Sarah’s circle of joy and praise.

For the nuances of the above passage is not one of not taking the bible seriously, it is realizing that as Bishop Spong in his Born of a Woman discourses stipulates that fundamentalists distort the scripture by taking it literally, while liberals do the same by not taking scripture seriously. What we have presented here with St. Paul is the way to come into a story and be present. Within that presence the mirror is removed and it becomes more like a live action role play where we see how to find similarities, and from those similarities build a discourse that then will move from the public meta-narrative, to the smaller discipleship of the few that feel the moving of the Holy Spirit within them igniting that thirst for Christ.

 

Conclusion

Cheung is right in asserting the evangelism and apologetics need to go together. Unfortunately Cheung falls into his Reformation Church bias, and draws the gate too narrow for God to be revealed within the glory that is God’s creation. St. Paul illuminated to the hearer of the story a multi-pronged approach to being able to create the sacred space where God can be felt. It was through scholarship, which is what apologetics should be.

Unfortunately it is too easily missed that these discourses were not just a brain thing, but rather it was through the traditions of others that led to discovering similarities that then led to open dialogue and speech about the heart of the matter for St. Paul. How would this reflect in today’s Canada that is a mosaic of the world? A true United Nations outside one’s front door, how can one take this narrow “ideal” that Cheung postulate, when Paul did not even see the narrow ideal? Paul sought knowledge, and from knowledge applied Godly wisdom to the discussion.

It is not about not taking the bible seriously, it is about entering into the story. Taking one’s personal/professional learning’s, the same experiences, and prayerfully coming to the scriptures to allow the Holy Spirit to shine meaning through. Then it is taking this personal understanding into a discussion with friends about how your faith is and what their faith is. From that finding the common ground then opens up the ability to share and explain one’s faith within fertile soil, as opposed to a hardened rock wall.

 

Reference

Cheung, V. (2003) Presuppositional Confrontations. Boston, MA, USA: Reformation       Ministries International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ancient Wisdom, Modern World

Ancient Wisdom, Modern World (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Introduction

A treatise on Christian ethics, Living in the World: Christ and Culture, and Living by God’s Grace: Spiritual Maturity (hereafter referenced as Treatise) is a unique primer by an unknown author on how a Christian (by their definition) should come to ethical conclusions in life. The work has a strong beginning as the author attempts to present his Treatise as bias free.

The first step is as any good Reformed Theologian will do, they tie it to a Pauline (in this case Pseudo-Pauline) epistle in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (New International Version):

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,                                   correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a]                              may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

This writing to young Bishop Timothy is used by Treatise to stipulate that all is God breathed so we may live righteously (p.8) due to the fact that “theology is the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life” (Treatise, p. 8). This is one of the foundation stones for the moving forward of this treatise, but the essence is that this is an ethicist from the Reformed tradition that is using the Reformists works (and catechisms) before them as a cornerstone in postulating their own primer (p.22).

This treatise takes until page 125 to create a clear thesis statement that one can then reflect on the past 124 pages and the rest of the work. This thesis is simple: “The light of God we are to walk in is our ethical guide… God is ethically pure and reveals moral purity to humanity and calls us to live in it” (p.125). As with any treatise, or more manifesto the question is does the author(s) accomplish the task of proving their thesis? From summary to interpretation this is the question that hopefully will be answered by the end of this article.

Summary

The unknown author(s) of Treatise is quite thorough in their presentation of how to form a Christian ethic. Within the second chapter they thoroughly lay out a glossary of terms so the reader understands the definitions and terminology they are crafting the ethic under. The work continues throughout the treatise as they take the reader through a history of Christian and secular philosophers and ethics. It is a classic back and forth point, counterpoint exploration.

Where some religious writers may avoid the conversation of bias, the writer of Treatise opens up that they come from a Christian Reformed background, and believes that this form of Christianity is closest to the Biblical (p.35) and that he wants his work to show a correlation between ethics and God’s lordship (p.22). This is the Treatise’s answer for the Christian tendency to break ethics into two camps of conservative or liberal (p.10) as this should not be the dichotomy but one should seek the Biblical ethic (p.10).

This is how Treatise lays the groundwork then to work through the history of ethics, and lay out theorems of the triads to discover if something is ethical, which the genesis within the treatise is good works…the outcome of God’s Lordship for the believer.

Treatise (p.30) stipulates that good works has three parts:

  1. A heart purified by faith.
  2. Obedience to God’s Word.
  3. Work to the right end which is to God’s glory.

This theory as presented of good works then flows into Treatise’s three types of Christian Ethics (p.33):

  1. Command – the authority of God’s moral law.
  2. Narrative – the history of redemption in which ethics are shaped through the story of salvation.
  3. Virtue – this is the inner character of the regenerated person from virtues listed in passages such as Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5:22-23; and Colossians 3:12-17.

It is this revelation of God that forms an organism (p.124) and becomes the light that we walk in as our ethical guide (p.125). This leads to the Word of God as the believer’s norm that is in, you guessed it, three parts:

  1. Revealed in nature and history (p.126)
  2. Revelation through persons (p.128)
  3. The word as spoken and written (scripture) language (p.130/132).

It is the third point that is then broken out into Sola Scriptura (p.147) and gives us two separate triads within scripture (p.135):

  1. Clarity, power, authority.
  2. Sufficiency, necessity, comprehensiveness.

These triads and the reliance on the sufficiency of scripture is then built upon to give one the three creation ordinances: (a) God (worship, Sabbath); (b) natural world (replenish, subdue, dominate); and (c) man (marriage, procreation, labour) are the basic forms of human existence (p.191).

The treatise wraps up with revealing the three forms of law found within scripture: moral, ceremonial, and civil (p.201-202). From these the Treatise grows a point counterpoint exploration of the history of Christian ethics, that then explores “hot” button ethical issues as it builds back to the conclusion of the foci being the lordship of God in life.

At first blush all seem rather good, yet is the writer as non-biased a reporter as first intended?

Interpretation

When one first enters the Treatise it appears to be something different from the norm of Christian ethical documents with the commentary that it is not about liberal or conservative ethics, rather it is about biblical ethics (p.10). Unfortunately, as the old adage goes when something seems too good to be true it probably is. The Treatise contradicts itself when the author ousts all liberal theologians/ethicists as heretics (p.65). This creates a miscue for the reader of this primer because the unrevealed bias is put firmly on display.

By this declaration, one begins to understand that what begins to form is not seeing scripture and understanding of scripture as something that is changing rather revelation from scripture becomes static and tied to the literal word on the page understanding. It causes the reader to renew what a Reformed Christian is, and what this means for the ethics being put forward, but also for the material that is to follow opening up the history of ethics and philosophy to the reader. The work would have been better to spend time going point counter point on the liberal-conservative answer to questions, then putting forward the Biblical answer and holding to his original statement from page 10 in regards to this foundation.

This contradiction brings the reader back to the statement of God’s revelation being an organism (p.124) as we know through personal revelation, also known as science, that all organisms adapt, grow and change…are we then to be led to believe that there is no changing within the revelations of how to continue to live in our ever evolving world? How do we become salt and light to a world that is vastly different from the one Christ was used to speak into creation, to the one He walked with his disciples on, to the one now where humans have walked on the moon and in space?

The idea of God’s revelation as an organism is not wrong, what is wrong is the idea that as a living organism that it cannot be multi-faceted that speaks to many different varieties of believers in a plethora of circumstances. It also calls into question his earlier conclusion that one can be ethical without Christ, yes the Treatise wraps it in the idea of a missing piece but with the illumination of the non-starter on bias then is this truly a held belief or just one more throwaway line for the heretics as viewed?

The Reformation ideal of Sola Scriptura is a stumbling block for many. A major premise of the discourse is that scripture has all the sufficiency necessary for a believer to craft their life. It is what leads to the old chestnut of the acrostic poem of:

B – Basic

I – Instructions

B- Before

L – Leaving

E- Earth

 

This has created an ethical system of abuse as those with the “education” are then able to create a system of indulgences. The examples are alive from pseudo-Christian movements (Jehovah Witness, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints); to cults (Koresh, Jones) to the prosperity gospel movement. When the scripture becomes the final word, what actually sadly happens within the communities is that the interpreter of the scripture becomes the final authority.

While the Treatise attempts to cushion this with the 3 ways that the Word of God is norm:

  1. Revealed in nature and history (p.126)
  2. Revelation through persons (p.128)
  3. The word as spoken and written (scripture) language (p.130/132).

It is unfortunately all tied back to the scriptural understanding of these norms, which is not just a “Biblical” norm as the Treatise postulates, but rather a Conservative-biblical norm as those that do not fall in line with the narrow understanding are heretics.  This is the problem with anonymous treatise being published is that it becomes harder for the reader to compare with previous writings or teachings to be able to see if there is a central theme in the texts or a growth/change of ethos.

Having walked through all this it comes down though to whether or not the thesis of the work: “The light of God we are to walk in is our ethical guide… God is ethically pure and reveals moral purity to humanity and calls us to live in it” (p.125) still holds up in spite of the unrevealed bias of the presentation?

Yes or No to the Thesis?

It is not lost on the reader the symbolism inherent within the Treatise. The core symbolism presented for the arguments that unknown wanted forward was a triad or “Trinity” as this is what comes to mind’s eye of the believer while reading and looking at the diagrams: the Tri-unity of the Godhead. This synergy created to support this thesis, the writing around the sufficiency of scripture, the creation ordinances, the three types of law that grow out of scripture, the insufficiency of secular philosophy and the inherent heresy of any non-conservative (Reformed) ethics creates a long winding road to an agreeable outcome.

However, this writer does not believe that the road taken is the only way to get to the right end, which is God. For the Anglo-Catholic methodology for coming to ethical-theological decisions is the four pronged stool (the 2.0 version of the three legged stool): scripture, tradition, reason and experience (experience being the newly added leg).            The essence being the true living out of the three point revelations of God that the Treatise shared, while Treatise worked towards this understanding of Sola Scritpura, there is wisdom in the revelations.

For scripture is the beauty of revelation through God’s living word, which is not just the 66 books of the Protestant Bible (more in other Christianities), no the scripture, the Word of God is the living Word that became flesh and walked with us—Christ Jesus. Tradition is not just the 21 ecumenical councils, but the early church fathers and mothers, the monastic’s, the mystics, the exorcists, the lay readers, the whole people of God and how faith has been lived out over the past 2016 years since the birth of our Lord. This is a wealth of living revelation of God in creation. Reason is just what it sounds like, the art of discourse, the ability to think, to problem solve and to be able to understand good and evil (the knowledge tree of which Adam and Eve ate from). As one Father once said to me, the grey matter in our heads is there for more than just keeping our ears apart and our heads from caving in. It is within the mind that revelations happen whether it is reason as we understand logic, dream revelation, prophecy, for it is through the mind/brain that these messages are then communicated inwardly and outwardly. The final piece of the stool is experience. Each and every individual believer is a piece of the Living Body of Christ here on earth, yet each and every one of us is an individual with our own collective (communal) and individual (personal) experience of coming to know God’s love and living within and without it.

Each leg holds up the seat which is how we understand the ethic of God. How we understand the light of God in which we live. The thesis of the Treatise is correct, and the Treatise gets there in one way, while the Anglo-Catholic tradition shows yet another way to arrive at the same blessing. One needs only to ponder what may happen within an Orthodox or Coptic methodology to arrive at a Christian ethic.

Conclusion

One goal, many methods or perhaps one well, many rivers as our aboriginal brothers and sisters may phrase it. The thesis we worked through the Conservative Reformed Christian perspective and methodology was: “The light of God we are to walk in is our ethical guide… God is ethically pure and reveals moral purity to humanity and calls us to live in it” (p.125). Through answering whether or not this thesis was correct it was noted that another biased methodology will aid someone in arriving at the same conclusion. The challenge along the path is a rambling path, but the speed bumps and detours that are created happen when non helpful language is employed in the discourse to reach the heart of God.

The non-helpful words? Heretic is the most powerful. Once that is taken off the table, for to be a heretic is simply to make a choice of one or another (liberal or conservative; scriptura sola or four-legged stool; Reformed or Roman Catholic) and can come down to a matter of perspective. As long as Christ is the centre, and then the goal is to build God’s reign the dialogue has the cornerstone to move forward, the next step is to ask the Holy Spirit into the discovery.

This is what truly shines through Pseudo-Paul’s words to Timothy, Evangelist in Ephesus in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (New International Version):

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking,                                   correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a]                              may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

For living in Christ (the living scripture) creates the right environment for believers, when open, to recreate the world into the Reign that Jesus called us to in the Gospels. It makes every believer not just an ethicist, but truly a theologian for “theology is the application of the Word of God by persons to all areas of life” (Treatise, p. 8). To truly live into the love of God is to truly live one’s life out of that transformational love. A treatise on Christian ethics, Living in the World: Christ and Culture, and Living by God’s Grace: Spiritual Maturity may be from one tradition’s perspective, but when one enters into reading it and allowing the Spirit to move, what is revealed is that truly our ways of knowing God and the spirit behind it may not be that different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference

Unknown. A treatise on Christian ethics, Living in the World: Christ and Culture, and Living by God’s Grace: Spiritual Maturity.  Retrieved from https://ntsmoodle.com/mod/resource/view.php?inpopup=true&id=122 on 13 October 2012.


Introduction

            The living Body of Christ is at a unique time in history. Thanks to technology, internet, social/new media, mass production, smart phones, translation ministries, dramas, voice recordings the Holy Bible has never been more available to the church, and we have never been at a higher time of literacy either. Yet it raises the quandary then why at this time in history is the average Christian the most biblically illiterate?

Could it possibly be because of familiarity? A belief that the children of God have already understood all the revelations available or is it more of the ideal of specialization in which the church employs a pastor/minister/preacher/priest/clergy to read/teach/interpret the scriptures for us so that we do not have to? All raise a challenge, which is why for this student who has built a clerical career on disciple making to discover Elmer L. Towns’ Bible Study Methods (1998) that clearly states the point behind being a teacher, “teaching is the preparation and guidance of learning activities” (p.4). Simply put, the goal of a bible study facilitator, a preacher, or another spiritual director within the Body of Christ is to inspire other body parts to turn not only to the sacred scriptures, but also to God.

This excellent work by Towns’ was crafted while he was teaching, and dissecting the methods needed to truly equip, empower, illuminate, and enlighten the student to the working of God through the living texts. This short paper will not contain enough space in summary and interpretation to do justice to the book, but it is a clear guideline to aid in equipping teachers within the church to truly make disciples.

 

Summary

            Growing out of the definition of teaching referenced in the introduction Towns grows it by clearly stipulating that the study of the Bible is foundational for growth as a Christian (p. 12). The rest of the work is comprised on methodologies on how to do this. For Towns the best study of scripture begins when the reader/hearers/studier are first primed through foundation and continual prayer (p.21).

Equipping with prayer allows for the ability to create an experience for the student (for personal study the student will be you, for groups those that one may be teaching): (a) a sense of bible discovery, (b) self-activity, (c) interested and involved, (d) the lessons solve their problems, (e) work harder than before, (f) cooperate with others, (g) learning needs are met, (h) student enters into the leaders experience, (i) something new is learned, (j) they enjoy the learning and have fun (p.6-7). Out of this type of experience the student enters into what Towns’ states as the five finger approach to scripture within their own lives: (a) hearing in church/study group, (b) read on their own, (c) study, (d) memorize passages, and (e) meditate upon the scriptures (p.16). Towns encourage the engagement of a wider array of senses while doing study by encouraging participants to writer (p.17) and to come to the text with four questions:

  1. What is the point of the passage?
  2. Where is the thought found in the parallel passage?
  3. What are the problems in this passage?
  4. What are some practical applications for this passage?

(p.19)

These four questions are the geneses for a broader teach ability of a passage. From these questions one can arrive at a deeper understanding of the passage than before, which then leads into making the bible a living text:

  1. Observe its facts accurately
  2. Write its meaning correctly
  3. Prize its lessons continually
  4. Apply its principles daily
  5. Obey its commands implicitly

(p.36).

From these first two structures Towns next brings the reader into a systematic read through for planning out lessons to be able to inspire further reflection and learning from the congregation. This is founded on a five reading system:

  1. Read through first to discern the central theme
  2. Read a second time circling key words for further study.
  3. Read a third time and highlight key verses to further explore.
  4. On the fourth reading make notes as to how the Biblical writer developed their central theme.
  5. On the fifth reading begin to develop a book outline.

(p.100).

These methodologies are what the reading and teaching are based around the central genres found within scripture whether it is biography, parable or other. These methods are also used in building doctrines out of the scriptures, but not to invert and use the bible to proof text the doctrine that one wants to use (p. 47-50). Towns’ notes that biblical doctrines are the foundation of life and ministry (p.47).

Interpretation

             What does this all mean for one attempting to understand scripture on their own or within the context of a group as either a leader or participant? Towns’ work has created a trajectory of engagement for the Christian. The act of Biblical reading is not a passive reading as one would do with a dime-store mystery novel on the beach on vacation. No, coming to the Bible is an activity of full engagement for the person in unity with God through the Holy Spirit.

Interpretation is to be an active and thoughtful critique of the material presented within the summary section as to whether or not the writer is on the right track. How does one critique that which is on the right track, is accessible and usable? The answer is by looking at two teaching examples Towns’ laid out within his text.

The work brings the learner to the idea of biographical preaching (p.31), but the reader can also see the use of biographical teaching. Biography is not necessarily a cohesive or continual set of verses, or a small set of verses. It is taking up a certain character within the scriptures to draft ones lessons/messages about (p.31). Think of the auspices of lifting up heroes such as Esther, Abraham, Jesus’ earthly Dad – Joseph, Mary of Nazareth, the boy at the arrest, David or even James brother of the Lord? The power is the same when believers share their own stories or through the study of the Saints within the Roman Catholic tradition. The story of how God has transformed (perhaps Transfigured?) an individual to answer the vocation of their soul.

A useful tool learned while being trained as a spiritual director to enter into the scriptural story. That is to re-write the story from the perspective of all the main characters (as sympathetic characters regardless of their role) to experience the scripture anew. This is quite useful when preparing biography lessons/messages and even to encourage members to use this form of devotional study in their own lives.

The next piece to touch on is the example of doctrine. Within Christianity Towns’ states that the English word doctrine is derived from the Latin meaning teaching (p.49). The word itself can also be found within the scriptural texts when a writer refers to “the faith” (p.49). The attempt is to bridge the idea of doctrines that one may not agree with, with the concept that they are biblically rooted.

The challenge though is how the scriptures of the Holy Mystery have been abused to uphold doctrines and beliefs of oppression. Historically biblically rooted doctrines have kept women subjugated; labelled Aboriginals as savages; stipulated that slavery was Godly; and that at least in Roman Catholicism, clerics are to be celibate. There was extra-biblical, actually political mores, for each of these doctrines when they were part of catechism at their time of inception.

Towns’ challenges this with his point that doctrine is: the study of the Bible to learn about God, His work, and His World (p.50). Does more need to be said about those that proof text to support their invalid doctrines of suppression, oppression and power/control? No, as long as the members of the Body of Christ hold their teachers up to the standards to constantly be seeking the clearest interpretation possible, holding the scriptures in their context and letting the Holy Spirit breathe out how they are relevant today then the only doctrines that should be surviving and being taught are truly rooted in the Heart of the Sacred.

Conclusion

            In the current age of the Christianities there is more wisdom, knowledge, literature and teachings available around the scriptural texts. Thanks to human innovation, social sciences, technologies, etc. the scriptures have never been more available to believers within their homes and personal lives as well as corporate worship. Yet there appears to be a drought, or better yet, an inability of the believer to drink even shallowly from the river that is the scriptures.

What Towns’ Bible Study Methods allows is for an effective, easily accessible source for a believer who is called to the vocation of teaching, preaching or congregant be able to enter into the eternal dialogue between humanity and God through the Holy Bible. This dialogue is not a shallow drink, but rather a deep thirst quenching gulp for the believer who takes cup in hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference

Towns, Elmer C. (1997) How to Study and Teach the Bible retrieved from   http://ntsmoodle.com 28 September 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Introduction

            What is systematic theology? It is the study of the nature of God, yet we have to keep it in proper context. The early church (pre-Empire involvement) was a beautiful mosaic of many understandings of the Cosmic Christ, and his life here on earth. There is a renaissance of this type of diversity thanking to the independent/free church movements; emergent; missional; progressive; and fundamentalist that appear to be crossing denominational lines and bringing together diverse bodies under theological instead of geographical auspices. Historically this diversity was co-existing mostly due to distance from one another, but as a more refined church emerged that became bonded together over time (a hybrid of Paul/James’ church) that became known as the Apostolic Church needed to craft an understanding of the basics of the faith. The earliest form that is known of this collective is the Apostle’s Creed, yet overtime and as many of the older or divergent forms of the faith attempted to take a foothold there needed to be an ability to respond.

This response became a way to build logical arguments/apologetics around belief that followed a rather Greek philosophical system. It is interesting that as an introductory to this method Stanford E. Murrell, Th.D. chose to partner his written journey with a smaller denominations confession/statement of faith. Regardless of how progressive or conservative a church body is the simple fact they acknowledge certain beliefs/truths shows evidence of a system of theology in place.

Murrell’s A Foundation of Faith: an introductory study of systematic theology with references to the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689 (1998) is a journey that outlines four types of methodology, kinds of theology (both pro/anti-Christianities) and how the social sciences interplay throughout a building of a rudimentary understanding of the Holy Mystery. This short paper will touch upon a summary of Murrell’s work, followed by the writer’s own interpretation, with a summation of the usefulness of the work for a theologian.

Summary

            Murrell opens up with two distinct statements for the reader: (a) scriptures are authoritative, and (b) the fundamental question for a disciple of Christ is “what has God said?” (p.19). This is what leads into a journey of a textbook to not only outline how systematic theology works, but the practical application through partnering it with a confession of faith to show how it works out within a certain Body of Christ.

The journey continues by the outlining of four methodologies:

  1. Speculative Method – everything most conform to what is already known (Murrell p. 21).
  2. Mystical Method – Individual or corporate bodies that subscribe to special revelations from God that supersede the scriptures (Murrell p. 21).
  3. Inductive Method – the gathering of information for examination and with all the pieces gathered the attempt to make a harmonious whole (Murrell p. 22).
  4. Deductive Method – one has a starting inference and gathers information to support the theory (Murrell p.22).

This is the ground work to begin looking at what can be called “orthodox” or “creedal” belief. From these methods he moves into the five types of theology:

  1. Natural – the search for understanding God is found in the works of God (Murrell p. 23).
  2. Revealed (Biblical) – the search for knowing God is exclusively within the scriptures (Murrell p. 24).
  3. Dogmatic – the search for God is in the doctrines of the church over the centuries (Murrell p. 24).
  4. Practical – the outworking of divine truth within the everyday lives of believers (Murrell p. 24).
  5. Theology Proper – which is focused on the person of God to find truth (Murrell p. 24).

Out of these types of theology couple with methodologies Murrell takes the reader through a short history of where key doctrines came from in response to what are classically known as early and later church heresies, but also in response to anti-Christian theories: (a) atheism, (b) polytheism, (c) materialism, (d) pantheism, (e) deism, (f) rationalism, (g) pessimism, and (h) doctrine of a finite God (Murrell p. 32-37). While walking through these Murrell relies on a revealed theology to do a point counterpoint debate which can almost be a written catechism for a young Baptist.

Murrell touches on evolution (which he is not a fan of, p.57); and states declaratively that no Christian can abide liberal theology (p. 71).  While exploring the social science of bibliology (p.65) stipulates an argument against Anthropology. Murrell rounds out his text with basics around Original Sin (p.115-116), soteriology (p.157), regeneration (p.188-191), justification (p. 193), and sanctification (p.200).

This summary shows at first blush quite a few useful answers to indoctrinate, yet the study of systematic theology is simply not just memorization. For the practice is part of a lifestyle of always learning, growing and changing as one experience the living Christ within their lives and communities. The next step is interpreting this download of information.

Interpretation

            It would be simple to say that this is a fine introductory text. The reader is given the building blocks for the thesis of the work on systematic. The methodologies presented illuminates whether an individual is open to where the evidence leads (inductive) or simply holds to the evidence that supports their own theory (deductive). This faulty deductive methodology at its worse is seen in Richard Dawkins` atheistic works where he builds circular straw man arguments centered on the impossibility of proving God`s existence. The other two aspects of methodologies are equally twinned with speculative and mystical. Speculative would be the idea that ancient Israel bore in regards to the concept of Christ`s teachings in general. For Jesus did not fit the conventional norms. While mystical methodology is the personal revelation, akin to St. Francis of Assisi within San Damiano and hearing Christ speak from the crucifix to rebuild the church.

None of the four methods are invalid, and one who is truly disciple will be able to see points in time within their faith journey when they adhered to one or another methodology. This type of understanding of the personal can be applied to the five types of theology that Murrell postulates as well.

Each type of theology taken on its own is quite valid and dependent on where someone is in their journey with God. What needs to be noted though is at any time an individual can be operating in piecing together a theology that encapsulates one or more of these stated theologies, or even those theologies and theories that Murrell poses as invalid with the Christian walk that he writes in three statements.

There are three statements that ring false to this reader’s ear. The three involve: evolution, anthropology, and liberal theology. The first reflection is found in regards to evolution being incompatible with the Christian understanding of creation (Murrell p. 57). The challenge with this declarative of a statement is that it brings a superficial reading to the scriptures. A reading that even Murrell says one cannot take all writings within scripture verbatim as the word of God, as they are a collection of human records and personal observations (p. 66). Yet he stands by this idea that evolution and Christianity need to be at odds, this is an exercise in missing the point. There are many things that come together for the understanding of God, as Murrell noted with his typologies of theology and his methodologies. Yet he holds firm that evolution is not compatible with scripture, but what if the point of scripture is not to explain how things are created, but rather why God created (John 3:16-17 or any ending of a day of 1-6 of Genesis where God calls creation good?).

The other weaknesses are in regards to his written attack on the social science of anthropology (pp.89-95). This walk through a social science that originated on the mission field is an attempt to stipulate that anthropology is invalid because it has missing pieces within its theory. That is that it is hard to prove or disprove, the hinge for Murrell rests on the idea of the soul. What is missing is a true understanding of the history of anthropology that began as an inductive method worked out through natural theology to grasp a deeper understanding of God’s world. Does this mean one should accept all that anthropologists have discovered without critical thought? No, what it means is that through fossils, studying of the origins of creation and society we can begin to discern a deeper understanding of the Holy Mystery and our interdependent relationship with Him and one another.

Evolution and anthropology are tied together in Murrell’s estimation as invalid. Yet he reserves his strongest statement for liberal theology: “No Christian can accept liberal Theology” (Murrell p. 71).  Now, first liberal theology like any of the five theologies Murrell lists needs to be taken with a grain of salt. That is the believer (better a body of believers) need to work to discern the divine truth within together. Just because it is uncomfortable does not make it wrong, for Jesus stated many things that were uncomfortable to those in power and it is his life that we are to explore theology through.

How does this work out? Take one example of the extreme liberalism, Gretta Vosper, a United Church Minister who in her work With or Without God (2008) illuminated the challenge to be a true transformative community (good), yet falls short of even progressive orthodoxy by stipulating that God and/or Jesus are not personal. That is God is limited (Murrell p. 37) which in itself does not bear witness to the God of the scriptures found within the diversity of the Abrahamic faiths.

So, like with all theologies, there is good and bad that needs to be approached with a discerning mind. Why as a true disciple of the living Christ we cannot throw out any theology completely? Because each believer is a theologian, we are each individually and collectively attempting to understand the Holy Mystery that breathed life into us. By throwing away any form of theology as completely invalid we are throwing away voices of the Body of Christ.

These arrays of voices hold nuggets that can shine a new light into our understanding, a challenging thought that we may never agree with or feel is divine truth but by opening up to exploring it The Holy Spirit reveals something else about our journey. Do we truly have a firm grasp of understanding God as active within our diverse world if we cannot access the wealth that is evangelical, protestant, Calvinist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Liberation, Social Gospel, Fundamentalist, Monastic, Progressive, Emergent, Missional, Feminine, Queer, Black, Mah Jong, Vietnamese, South African, Anglican, and the list goes on for as many believers as exist within the world (2 billion at last count) there is a diversity of theologies that all aid in informing a piece of the puzzle that is God.

Murrell`s voice is part of this puzzle, it is a piece in the corner that allows a reader to have a quick reference to key points of the basics of systematic theology. Through broad strokes he outlines methodologies, theologies, and challenges to the Christianities. Critically using these aspects provided a much needed baseline for the believer, but preferentially to the preacher or teacher within a local Body of Christ to have a quick reference at their fingertips.

Conclusion

            Systematic Theology can be a complicated process for some to understand. It was birthed out of the need for a rule of order within the Body of Christ. Murrell`s work was well laid out with good information to the reader. The information was tied well into the confession he chose to use as a running example throughout the text. For introductory texts upon the topic the use of the confession of faith as a breathing example throughout aided the reader`s understanding in how arguments of doctrine were built and created. The partnering of methodologies and styles of theologies in the beginning are reflected throughout for the astute reader and critical student.

Where the weakness appears within Murrell`s text is when he attempts to step outside the logical, systematic thought process of the understanding of God to then use systematic as a form of apologetics. Yes both disciplines share rudimentary underpinnings, but one is intended for the non-believer and the other for the believer as a form of discourse and spiritual growth.

Which brings us to the point of this paper, is this a valid text book for the study of systematic theology? Murrell is quite adept at titling his work a foundation, for that is what it provides for the student. If one is able to critically assess the times Murrell goes off the rails of academia and into personal bias it becomes easier to read the book which is twinned with the 1689 Confession of Faith of the Baptist Church.

The foundation is aptly provided through Murrell`s systematic method of laying out the building blocks that moves towards understanding. It is in understanding of where one`s opinions and beliefs come from, then one can move from just theology as our personal study of God to theology as a discourse in the broader community of believers. Finally, this discourse can move into the realm of apologetics to allow for a broader discourse among the believer and his neighbours in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference

Murrell, Stanford E. A Foundation of Faith: An Introductory Study of Systematic     Theology with references to the Baptist Confession of Faith 1869 retrieved from      http://ntsmoodle.com 26 September 2012.

 


Cosmic Christ

Cosmic Christ (Photo credit: eworm)

-ahem- I call bullshit.

This is one of those tried and truism that misses that mark with the institutional Christianities. How so? Simple, because with the buildings, with the offices, with the multi-billionaire dollar industry, with the virtue pledges, with the “these get into heaven, those go to hell” and the litany of rules laid on top of Christ‘s great commandments to Love God, Neighbour and self…well we have done more than fence the Torah, we have fenced in the gospel dug it 85 feet down, covered it over, laid sod, realized the sod wasn’t good enough, paved over top, built a huge monument to how much money our congregation could fundraise and declared the glory of… The Bible (and it better be translation X, y, or Z to be acceptable).

Does this sound like a relationship to you? Honestly contemplate the reality we have created within the church. It is not one of a relationship where the living Cosmic Christ is allowed to actually breathe and continue to blow the roof off what is acceptable to the powerbase, where the voiceless are given voice; the sick are cared for; the poor are beloved…what other fun lessons did Jesus teach?  He so shook the reality of the power elite of his time religious and political that they executed him.

Can we say that we have shook the foundations of our society to transform it in such a Christ way where all are included as equals?

So are we as Christians able to brag that we have this grand relationship over a religious rote of rules and hoop jumping compared to other world beliefs?

No. In fact I would say we have more hoops, rules, and ways that divide communities which is quite contrary to the Gospel of the living Cosmic Christ…

So we fail at the relationship, because we care more about the institution that perpetuates the religious power base that builds empires than the living breathing soul that is to be our Holy Mystery incarnate…

So before you throw out this trite idiom, pause and think…do I truly live this way… or do I live to ensure the perpetuation of institutions that Christ spoke out against?


What are your thoughts on these 8 points? Is anything missing? Needs to be expanded?


Nederlands: bijbeluitgave 1611

Nederlands: bijbeluitgave 1611 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Samaritan's Purse

Samaritan’s Purse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Worldvision Enterprises

Worldvision Enterprises (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matthew 6

Do Good to Please God

6 “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.[a]

What are the boundaries on giving? What is the way we are to do this? This passage in Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount is jarring to our 21st century ear. Where we are used to be rewarded for our good works, or “charity” (and yes I cringe at the word C-H-A-R-I-T-Y for it implies that I know better than those I am trying to build community with, it is a power word and yes we need to acknowledge this).

So this came passage came up in the adult Sunday School class today in our discussion around Hospitality (a lifestyle for Christians is the underlying ethos of this educational series).  But the words of this passage struck me.

For it is so counter to what we are used to.

I remember as a youth pastor terminating my youth groups relationship with WorldVision, not because we did not believe in what they did (we actually still did a 30 hour famine for a non-profit), no the relationship was ended because, simply, the one that reached certain levels of donations were given rewards.

There was two things wrong with this:

1) It rewarded those of higher socio-economics

2) It built a discipleship mechanism that we are too expect to be rewarded or given something tangible for our willingness to give.

These were 2 messages I found counter to the Gospel of building a just world.

But there are so many other ways in the church we perpetuate this you must receive to give, and do to get, here are a few short examples to reflect on:

1) Tax receipts: do we give to our church because we believe int he mission? Feel called? or know that we will receive a kick back at year end tax season? What if the churches lost their tax exempt status?? Would we still financially support our church?

2) Building projects and fundraisers where we do door prizes and other prize draws to “reward” those who give… what is the underlying message here?

3) How do we share our stories when we do good work? Do we celebrate the individuals or the community? Is there a difference?

4) How do we do missions? At one point (I do not know if they still do this) Samaritan’s Purse required the families and children receiving shoe boxes to have to attend church to receive the present. Is this right? Should we expect someone to do something to receive blessing?

Hmmm…

Just points to ponder…with one final quesiton:

Are we called to charity or to justice?