Category Archives: Christianity

Right Ahead

I’m preaching at church on Sunday night. A Christmas talk. On Revelation 12. It’s a weird passage. You should read it.

Here’s the first five verses:

1 A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. 2 She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. 4 His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.

Seriously, how can you not want to write a 25 minute talk on that (and the next bits)? Will you be putting a seven headed dragon in your nativity scene this year?

Revelation is, along with Daniel, one of those books that gets Christians in a bit of a pickle. It has been so poorly understood and spawned crazy theological ideas and eschatology (end time theology). Revelation was written to the early church, in a time when the early church was being ripped to pieces (quite literally) by crazy emperor Nero.

One outcome of the confusion surrounding the book of Revelation is the unbelievably (in the literal suspension of belief sense) popular “Left Behind” series. I haven’t read them. I have no desire to. But the underpinning idea of secret one world governments and the shadowy “Illuminati” is based on a really poor apocalyptic reading of Revelation that defies context.

I caught Louis Theroux and the Survivalists on TV a couple of weeks ago. These are people who take Revelation all the wrong way. Here’s the full length episode on google video.

I plan one day to write a spoof of “Left Behind” called Right Ahead. I’m not sure anyone will buy it. But at least it will be theologically correct.

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Passionate Defense

Mel Gibson is in trouble. The screenwriter from his hit movie gorefest “The Passion of the Christ” is claiming he was underpaid. I haven’t seen the Passion. I have no intention of doing so. I don’t see how Gibson’s interpretation of the events of the crucifixion of Jesus could be any more compelling than the text.

The scriptwriter is seeking $10 million for the work. Pretty good money if you can get it – particularly since the original was pretty much there in the form of one of the world’s best selling and most popular books. Any monkey could have produced a screenplay from that source material. Who does this guy think he is?

On the Religious Right

Frank Schaeffer – son of theologian/evangelist Francis Schaeffer (sometimes regarded as the founder of the Religious Right) – has some interesting thoughts on the movement’s future posted in an article on the Huffington Post today. He has made major moves to distance himself from his father – even converting to the Greek Orthodox church. I read a couple of his novels this year – they’re pretty funny, they deal with some of the frustrations of growing up in the home of a Calvinist Minister – I could relate, but don’t share his sense of disenfranchisement with reformed theology.

He brings up the Old Testament laws – like stoning homosexuals – as a strawman point in his otherwise reasonable piece. There are some theological problems with this point which he doesn’t go over:
1. The Old Testament laws are specific to God’s people – Israel – Israel do not run around imposing the laws on their neighbours – although foreigners can sign up.
2. Israel don’t do a great job of keeping the laws – and the laws were set at a standard that no human could keep – hence the need for Jesus.
Schaeffer’s argument basically focuses on these other points:
1. America is not “God’s people” – even if they are nominally a Christian nation – the presence of just one non Christian in America would debunk that.
2. Nor is America a theocracy.
It’s a good article on how the Religious Right could choose to be a force for good – rather than bleating and trying to repeal laws that are popular with the majority.
EDIT: I think I need to point out that I do think there are some issues that transcend the rights of the majority and the need for protection of minorities – and in fact there are some issues where this point of view is shaped by theology. Issues like abortion – where the question is not a question of freedom for the parents (not just the mother) – but also the question of protecting the innocent unborn child – and their rights. Schaeffer makes an interesting point that’s worth repeating if you haven’t clicked through to the article:

“This knowledge signals not just a loss for the Religious right but a resounding and permanent defeat. It also signals (to anyone sane) that even if you except the Religious right’s view that, for instance, all abortion is murder, gay marriage an affront to God’s natural law and so forth, a change of tactics is in order. Obviously no one is getting convinced, but rather the culture is moving in the other direction. In fact the Religious Right has made its case so badly that with friends like these them causes need no enemies.”

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Tanner’s hide

Finance and Deregulation Minister Lindsay Tanner is Web 2.0 enabled with a blog over at the SMH. Today’s post is all about the government’s new Web 2.0 based thinking – they’re probably going to use blogs in some upcoming community consultation. Ironic really, given that the same government is advocating restrictions to the internet that would put us on par with China. Perhaps comments they don’t agree with in the consultative process will be blocked? Or the IP address taken down and the perpetraitor (sic) silently removed from their homes and literally excommunicated (possibly a removal of Internet privileges).

Here’s Tanner’s rather convoluted description of what he thinks about Web 2.0…

“This new mode of production is known in the academic literature as peer production, but is more commonly referred to as Web 2.0. It is a trend that applies to much more than the creation of cultural goods, although these goods, such as the innumerable YouTube video mashups which poke fun at politicians, are acting as the harbingers of change.”

“Peer production empowers every citizen to be creator and critic, as well as consumer, of information. It is a mode of production that is enabled by two key factors. The first is the collapse of cost barriers to producing information – computers are now widely accessible in western society. The second is the removal of logistical and functional barriers to collaboration through new internet based networks.”

“The glue that binds peer production together is the ethic of collaboration it inculcates among groups. People contribute their time to peer production because they find communities with a passion for making their adopted content niche the best it can be.”

“This environment also creates efficiencies by allowing skilled amateurs to allocate their intellectual capital to the content niche about which they are most passionate. This is significant when you consider the quality and value of work done by people for love and not money.”

All in all, his article is a pretty garbled way of saying the Government is down with the Internets and all that.

“These changes are not easy for government to process. Our Westminster bureaucracy has optimised its policy production processes over centuries. Adaptation to the new information environment will be neither quick nor easy.”

I guess that’s something Obama can relate to.
Here’s his obligatory dig at the Howard Government:

“The Australian Government should be leading the way in adapting our old processes of consultation, policy making and regulation to the connected world. Yet we lag behind other nations in both the scale and pace of reform, a situation largely attributable to the culture of secrecy, spin and apathy of the Howard years.”

“I am taking steps to reinvigorate the Commonwealth’s efforts in this area. For example, early in the new year the Government will run a number of trial online consultations using blogs and other Web 2.0 tools”

You know what would be brilliantly ironic – if all this consultation got blocked by the Government’s proposed clean feed (a very bad idea – putting us on par with China in terms of restrictions) with it’s invisible blacklist of sites. My disdain for the Australian Christian Lobby is growing – I think they miss the point on so many issues when dealing with a secular government and trying to impose Christian values on the general public – who generally aren’t Christians. I acknowledge that as Christians we believe our way of life is better – and more in line with God’s expectations – but it’s not for us to impose our code of conduct on the rest of society. I also acknowledge that increased consumption of pornography has some links to increases in sexual violence and is socially undesirable. But I don’t think this is the way to tackle it – and I don’t think – as Jim Wallace so tactlessly put it that opposing this plan is tantamount to supporting the evils that lurk in the dark corners of the internet. Here’s the quote from the ACL Media Release.

“Obviously the Internet industry is going to continue to fight this important initiative

but the interests of children must be placed first.”

“The need to prevent access to illegal hard-core material and child pornography must

be placed above the industry’s desire for unfettered access.”

Censorship is bad. Particularly for the church. Once you start advocating censorship what happens if a militant anti-Christian or Islamic party gets in and adds all the Christian sites to the black list? Have you thought about that ACL? Have you? Christians who are serious about Christianity’s real agenda – which is the proclamation of the gospel can not be supportive of Government intervention into the minds and beliefs of the general public.
By all means, if you’re a Christian then take part in the political process – but don’t pretend to speak for all of us – and do so to raise your opinion on a matter – not to demand legislation be based on a Christian world view. That is not in the spirit of democracy – that’s a theocracy.
Oh, and if you want to voice your opinion on this matter through the press (or the Government’s upcoming Web 2.0 consultancy process) – the ACL has a handy letters to the editor writing guide.
I’m going to do some work now.

He’s not the Messiah, according to the "religious right"

I promise not to dwell on the US election for much longer. I keep finding new and interesting (to me) material as the pundits continue to dissect the results. There's a serious paucity of real political news to report now that the election is done and dusted. We've got two months left of George W Bush – but diplomatic gaff stories (and associated snubbings of antipodan PMs) will only entertain for so long. There is the ongoing selection of Obama's cabinet to occupy interested observers. But when all is said and done, the most interesting thing for political commentators to do is pull apart the reason for Obama's crushing victory – and in some cases the reasons certain areas bucked the trend. 

This particular finding may shock you. Evangelical Christians didn't take a shine to Obama . Funnily enough – where the evangelical population was most concentrated was where McCain did best. Who'd have thunk it? These are the voters who were the core of support for George W Bush. Who'd have thought arch conservatives wouldn't like Obama. I find it odd that I liked him so much given my own typical social conservatism. And evangelical beliefs. But then, I'm not an American and Americans (particularly the Christians) have this odd view that puts America at the heart of God's kingdom – and the President as a pseudo pope – their representative of God's kingdom. I don't understand a system of democracy where an individual's faith comes ahead of their ability to govern when they're leading a secular organisation (ie the government). By all means, appoint church leaders on the basis of their doctrine and teaching – as is biblical – but officials should be elected on merit.  

Perish the thought

My grandfather, who we affectionately call "Fa fa", has written a book called "Preach or Perish". He's an old school church minister with a passion for clear communication – and so that's the subject matter the book tackles. I haven't received my *ahem* free copy yet (I'll send him a link to this post and hopefully get one in the mail). Dad has a chapter in it. So as you can see preaching is in my blood (incidentally I'll be preaching at one of the local Pressy churches this Sunday night).

I'm even included in the bio:

Donald Howard had a varied career before his passion for preaching took him to Moore Theological College. His first parish was St Peter's Burwood East from 1966. Foollowing the death of his first wife Diana, he worked in the Anglican Department of Evangelism. In 1981 he married Nan and they ministered at St Stephen's Lugarno until 1992. They retired to Camden where Donald pastored the congregation of St James' Menangle for eight years. He has four children, eleven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild from his first marriage and he and Nan have two adult daughters.

It turns out that a plague of plagiarism is running rife in the American church (and probably Australian ones too) – the dawn of podcasts and posting full text versions of sermons has created the shoddy practice of lifting texts from the net and delivering them verbatim, without disclaimer. The article linked there makes a somewhat unfair (in my opinion) comparison between plagiarising sermons and pornography…

"Clearly, the internet has contributed to the problem. Sermons in both written and audio form are quickly accessible, and the temptation to plagiarize is easier than ever before to indulge. In this regard the sin differs little from the epidemic of internet pornography. But accessibility alone cannot account for the problem. Just as many believe porn is an unhealthy way of coping with a lack of intimacy, there must be some underlying issue that drives pastors to plagiarize."

While I'm prepared to acknowledge plagiarising is probably an example of laziness – I would have assumed that those of us who subscribe to a belief in the Holy Spirit would see sermons as "open source" able to be shared, and used by others within the broader body of the church royalty free. I certainly don't buy in to this argument, at all. If you want to preach someone else's sermon I think that's fine – provided that in the spirit of the open source movement you give credit to the original author. One of the key strengths of the Open Source movement is that source code is provided and is malleable – you're free to make contextual and appropriate changes to suit you use – this too has applications to preaching.

Reinventing the wheel when someone else has a functional, well planned wheel already working seems somewhat silly. I always thought that's what commentaries and other Christian resources were for – that said, I'm not condoning the wholesale reproduction of other people's work – preachers need to connect with their audiences and no one is better placed to speak to a particular church than their own minister – or in fact the other issue raised by the linked article. That of ministers video-casting their sermons to multiple church campuses ala Mark Driscoll. Which is the subject of a separate article

"Only a preacher with a golden tongue has authority to preach the gospel. It conveys the unspoken belief that no one in the satellite congregation has the authority to speak to their context because preaching requires unique talents that only a few actually possess. Like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz, only the larger-than-life giants, painted by pixelated light, and hovering above the congregation, possess these elusive talents.”

Liber(al)ating

There was a fair bit of conjecture during the Presidential campaign over what Obama actually believes – is he a Christian (one of his senate speeches)? Is he a Muslim (urban legends)? Is he the Messiah (slate.com)? Is he the antichrist (snopes.com)?

Back when Obama was just a senate nominee he conducted a lengthy interview on his beliefs which has just been republished here. Interesting reading – there’s a fair bit of extra-biblical doctrine in his thinking – but he’s certainly no Muslim. He also doesn’t really subscribe to a belief in hell, thinks all roads lead to God etc – and professes a personal faith in Jesus. He’s a classic liberal Christian – a bit wishy washy for my liking, and biblically wrong on a few issues. I don’t have time to go into the whole church v state issues regarding flashpoint topics like abortion and gay marriage – but this seems to be the dominant doctrine for Obama.

“Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion. I am a big believer in the separation of church and state. I am a big believer in our constitutional structure. I mean, I’m a law professor at the University of Chicago teaching constitutional law. I am a great admirer of our founding charter, and its resolve to prevent theocracies from forming, and its resolve to prevent disruptive strains of fundamentalism from taking root ion this country.
As I said before, in my own public policy, I’m very suspicious of religious certainty expressing itself in politics.
Now, that’s different form a belief that values have to inform our public policy. I think it’s perfectly consistent to say that I want my government to be operating for all faiths and all peoples, including atheists and agnostics, while also insisting that there are values tha tinform my politics that are appropriate to talk about.”

So – I’ve had arguments with my Christian friends and non Christian friends over how people of faith should act when in office – and it’s a fundamental question that goes back to your views on what the “representative” means in representative government – is the individual elected to act as a representive of the views of their electorate – ie take all views into account and form a balanced position, or is the individual elected as an individual who best represents what people want (that’s a clumsy definition) – ie the person is elected and then should act in good conscience (which seems to be limited to, and by party lines).

I tend to think government as a whole should fall into the former category – and the best way for it to do that is through the diversity offered in the latter. Your thoughts?

Edit: I think the whole Messianic cult of Obama thing, perpetuated basically by his campaign team and the media is interesingly idolatorous. I think Obama, like many of us, is guilty of trying to craft God in his own image – not the other way around. Particularly these sections from that interview:

On Hell:

I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.
I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity.
That’s just not part of my religious makeup.
Part of the reason I think it’s always difficult for public figures to talk about this is that the nature of politics is that you want to have everybody like you and project the best possible traits onto you. Oftentimes that’s by being as vague as possible, or appealing to the lowest commong denominators. The more specific and detailed you are on issues as personal and fundamental as your faith, the more potentially dangerous it is.

On Heaven:

“What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don’t presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.
When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I’ve been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they’re kind people and that they’re honest people, and they’re curious people, that’s a little piece of heaven.”

On Sin:

FALSANI:
Do you believe in sin?

OBAMA:
Yes.

FALSANI:
What is sin?

OBAMA:Being out of alignment with my values.

I think it’s the same thing as the question about heaven. In the same way that if I’m true to myself and my faith that that is its own reward, when I’m not true to it, it’s its own punishment.

None of those positions are consistent with what God actually says about himself in the Bible – they’re more pictures of how Obama would like God to be. Dangerous stuff really.

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Odds on God’s on

British betting agency Paddy Power are taking bets on the existance of God.

Current odds are 4-1 that God exists – down from 33-1 at the opening of betting.

Unfortunately scientific proof is required prior to a payout being made.

Perhaps Dawkins will pull a Satan from South Park and bet on himself then throw the fight…

From the article:

“Interest in the wager has increased greatly following the recent launch of a campaign to have atheist adverts placed on London buses declaring that “there’s probably no God”.

As a result of a flurry of small bets Paddy Power, which also runs books on who will be the next Pope and the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, has cut the odds on proof being found of God’s existence to just 4-1.”

“The atheists’ planned advertising campaign seems to have renewed the debate in pubs and around office water-coolers as to whether there is a God and we’ve seen some of that being transferred into bets.

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Sign of the times

If there’s one thing I hate more than atheists advertising on buses (actually I don’t hate that – “probably no God” – where’s the commitment…) – it’s so called “Christians” doing nutty things to give the rest of us a bad name.

The Westboro Baptist church systematically protests at the funerals of dead US soldiers becaues they believe the US system’s lax stance on homosexuality. I don’t think they read the bits in the bible where Jesus hangs out with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors… anyway, kudos to this guy for his funny sign campaign. If you can’t beat them – join them.

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The love god

I was listening to ABC radio last night at around 11pm. As you do. And I heard an insightful interview with Australian social commentator Hugh Mackay. Mackay is widely regarded as having his finger on the pulse of Australian culture and society – along with futurist Clive Hamilton he’s one of the media’s most widely quoted sociologists. His views are pretty widely respected. Mackay was speaking on his own personal views on spirituality and religion – his criticisms of the “organised religion” and “the church” were the same we hear trotted out time and time again – too focused on sex etc – which are probably true in some ways. The church is portrayed as being hung up on church – largely because that’s where the greatest distinctions between Christians and the world express themselves. Mackay was anti-church but pro “God”, pro spirituality and anti militant atheism in a refreshing way – he suggested that Dawkins in the God Delusion takes the best of science and compares it with the worst of religion with unsurprising results. 

Mackay is a smart man. He forms a compelling argument based on his unique knowledge of culture. However, he misses the boat when it comes to the following statement:

“love is God”

This conclusion was the result of much thinking and reflection – and some interaction with the church in the past. While it’s almost exciting to hear the “intellectual left” moving away from the aforementioned secular humanism – this represents a more insidious misconstruing of any theological or logical understanding of a creative force – people keep turning abstract nouns like “science” and “love” into God.

This new intellectual position on “god” takes humanity’s most powerful emotion and deifies it essentially reinventing God in an airy fairy palatable package. While it sounds nice it doesn’t really make sense. It’s really essentially a bastardisation of the biblical position of “God is love” so it sounds right – but it really only considers one element of “God”. What does this love centric theology do with issues like the existence of suffering and bad stuff? I don’t know – I didn’t hear the rest of the interview. But if you’re so inclined you can hear it here.

 

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It’s the end of the world as we know it…

So the large Hadron Collider has been turned on. While I may have spent yesterday running around yelling “Panic Panic!!!” and singing Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole… they’re not actually colliding any serious particles until later this year.  

The idea, for the unconcerned among you, is to recreate the conditions of the big bang by colliding particles travelling at close to the speed of light. The intention is to find the Higgs Boson or the “God Particle” – how Mr Peter Higgs name became synonymous with God is beyond me.

When you perform a task of this magnitude a lot of nut cases come out of the wood works – there’s a group convinced the experiment will create black holes which will destroy the world. They made a youtube video – which I haven’t seen so won’t link to. There are crazy Christians who seem a little concerned this will somehow “disprove God” or help atheists in their thinking. And then there are the stupid, ignorant atheists – perhaps my favourite group in this situation who provide comments like this on the news.com.au forum:

“I love how 99% of the negative comments about the LHC are all from Christians. I’ll Believe Physics, thats been proven, over christianity, which hasnt been proven, anyday…Christians: Look at it from a ignorant christian perspective. They are spending 11billion to prove that God created the earth. Meanwhile i dont see Christians spending money to prove that Science didnt create the earth..” – Alex from Adelaide.

Thanks Alex for your valuable insight.

Christians do not argue that science didn’t create the earth because to do so would elevate science from a study of observable phenomena to a sentient being able to perform the act of “creation”.

My other favourite was this one:

“The church must be soiling itself waiting for the day that scientists proove there is no god and that we were created from the big bang and they have the hard and fast proof. The biggest business in the world “the church” will be bankrupted. Unless of course religion can actually proove god exists. Science will have the hard and fast proof very soon. Posted by: Andrew of Australia

Andrew is obviously pretty angry at the church – angry enough to make a claim about science’s ability to prove or disprove the metaphysical.

Atheists, in the main, are a fairly ignorant lot, often influenced by militant atheists to “believe in science” as some form of religion. Here’s the thing Alex, and other atheists out there, us Christians also believe in science. Some Christians even engage science as a weapon (think Creation Science Ministries or whatever those guys call themselves). Scientific outcomes are driven by starting hypotheses – and these are driven by the organisations funding the research. Science is not an objective entity. Science is a broad church. The reality is that science is now driven by ideology and commercial imperatives more than any church I know. Throw money into the mix and see what sort of “scientific findings” we can come up with. Most churches are driven by a goal to spread the gospel – for free. Most churches I know are “not for profits” and their “wealth” is tied up in physical assets used for the cause. Would you have churches meet in our “public” school buildings Andrew?

Not if the Sydney Morning Herald has its way. I’m no Hillsong apologist – in fact I have massive problems with their “prosperity” theology and their music, and and endless list of other gripes that I won’t go into. But this article on public schools as secular institutions being no place for any form of religion is dangerous and stupid. It’s also the worst piece of ideologically driven journalism I’ve seen for a long time, and it belongs in the opinion pages – not the news.

Quotes from the article below:

“A teacher at one public school said students had returned to class after an Exo day concert complaining about attempts to convert them, while the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Associations says it is an attempt to sneak evangelism into schools and reveals the need for new laws.”

“The NSW Education Act says that “instruction” at public schools must be non-sectarian and secular except in designated religious education classes.”

“A spokeswoman for the Federation of Parents and Citizens’ Association said religious recruitment in schools was inappropriate. “We need to ensure that children when they go to school aren’t exposed to discreet evangelism,” she said.”

I would think that an opt in program clearly run by a church group openly trying to promote the bible is hardly “discreet evangelism” or “instruction” or an attempt to “sneak” evangelize.