Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Emerging Church - What the heck is it?

Emerging Church is still a hot talking point in many circles. Since it is a movement which has only had a name for about a decade I suspect we are going to keep on talking about it for a bit longer. The big question, specially for Australian Christians is, "What the heck is emerging/emergent church?!" There are no shortage of answers, but here is a resource which helps with an answer. Emerging Village has podcast a discussion from the recent AAR conference. It is in two sections here and here.  The panel consisted of Tony Jones (co-ordinator of Emergent Village); Scot McKnight ('Uber-blogger') and Dianna Butler Bass (an academic interested in flourshing mainline churhces). They are all insiders and don't give any compelling criticism of the movement. However I learnt years ago that in historical theology the first step is to get the thinker or the movement right, and in their own terms. We owe our contemporaries the same respect. I haven't listened to the whole two podcasts yet, but what I've heard so far has helped make sense of a few things for me. McKnight's take is that lots of the questions are post-fundamentalist. In Australia where fundamentalism has not been the same phenomena the emerging issues are not the same.

What is citizenship?

The recent celebration of Australia’s national day (invasion day to some of our indigenous friends) has sparked off a discussion on what it means to be an Australian. The recently introduced citizenship test includes some questions on “Australian values”. Among the questions, for example, are some “sports trivia” questions, like who was Australia’s greatest cricketer from the pre WW2 era. Should such questions, or vague notions of “mateship” and a “fair go” (whatever they mean) be made a test of whether someone has what it takes to be an Australian? There is no doubt that citizenship and nationhood involve more than living within the same geographical boundaries, but what are the shared values we espouse and who gets to dictate what they are? I’m starting to feel that the current discussions in NT circles about the radical nature of the Christian faith and its perceived threat to the imperial cult (Jesus is lord, not Caesar) have some relevance here. There is something “religious” about the notion of “Australian values”, but as Christians, we have a higher allegiance. Our true citizenship is in heaven, the apostle Paul tells us (Phil 3:20). We need to work out the implications of this in the current climate. It may involve us in being “un-Australian”.

Monday, 21 January 2008

My holiday reading

In between Scrabble games, swims and bike rides on the NSW Central Coast, I had time to read Saturday by Ian McEwan, a novel that is an exploration of the problems (and occasional joys) of human society as they unfold in the course the events of a single day in the life of a London neurosurgeon – a sort of theodicy for those who have no God to blame or seek to justify. How do disorders of the mind affect our understanding of evil and the accountability of those who perpetrate it? And how do we evaluate the greater evil (e.g. Saddam’s genocide v. the invasion of Iraq and its consequences)? At the time I was reading it, I also saw the movie Atonement (another “religious” theme!) based on the novel by the same author (which I read a couple years ago). The ending of the movie is one of the rare cases where it is more compelling than the novel.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night explores the confusing and sometimes terrifying world as experienced by an Asperger’s sufferer.
Next was Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, a fictionalised account of the early settlement on the Hawkesbury River to the north of Sydney – based loosely on the life of Samuel Wiseman whose name is perpetuated in one of the few remaining vehicular ferries in the Sydney region. It was good to be able to explore some of the area of which Grenville writes so well and picture it as it was 200 years ago.
Oh yes, and for light reading I enjoyed John Lee’s A History of NT Lexicography, which is as much about the philosophy and principles of defining words as it is about the historical processes which have led to the current state of the discipline (not too good but with better prospects). This book fills a much-needed gap.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

"Christianity is rapidly reverting to its normal and proper place in the world. After some curious centuries in which the faith was largely the preserve of Europeans and their offspring overseas, Christianity is once more returning to its ancient homelands, in Africa and Asia, as well as to Latin America and Oceania." So write Philip Jenkins in a review of Martin Marty's new book The Christian World, A Global History (Modern Library, 2008). Marty offers a global, rather than North Atlantic, view of Christian history. An important book and a good review.

Read the review here