Sunday, 27 April 2008

Horton Hears a Who


Last week I watched "Horton Hears a Who" with my kids. It is a fun movie which captures the spirit of the Dr Seuss book on which it is based. What intrigued me were the philosophical themes in it. Horton (an elephant) hears the noise of a microscopic civilisation of Whos. The planet of Whoville exists on a speck of dust in Horton's world. This leads to a debates about the existence of things which can not be seen or heard or felt. The "Sour Kangaroo" is the antagonist who is determined to rid her jungle of the kind of nonsense Horton is spouting. She sounds like a logical positivist, but also like the accusers of Socrates, saying that Horton is poisoning the minds of the children with his fantastic claims. The same debate takes place in Whoville, where only the mayor hears Horton and has to convince others to believe him.

The epistemological message is not anti-realist, since both debates are resolved by evidence. In Whoville it is a scientist who first believes the mayor because she starts to see some evidence. The point seems to be that a closed mind which refuses to consider evidence for realities which are not already obvious to us is a recipe for missing much of reality. That is a point that Christians could make something of.

The book was written in the 1950's during the McCarthy era and seems to comment on the danger of "thought-police".

The other intriguing line is the narrator's repeated comments that "a person's a person no matter how small". This is said about the Whos, who are microscopic, so the parallel with the abortion debate seems obvious. The line comes from the original book and has been used by pro-life groups, against the wishes of Harry Geisel (Dr Seuss). Whatever his own views, the line has an obvious resonance in the debate.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

ANZAC Day

I was traveling yesterday, so did not attend any ANZAC commemorations. However it meant that I heard quite a bit on the radio and also read some interesting articles in the paper. The most interesting analysis I heard was the suggestion that up until the 1980's ANZAC Day was a glorification of war, specially when the ex-servicemen who did not see much action got together with their mates. The argument was that since then the day has involved the  wider community far more and has become a day of reflection on war rather than a celebration. I can remember as a teenager in the 1980's being critical of what ANZAC Day stood for, and playing  Midnight Oil "US Forces" in  protest. I have moved on from then, and I think much of the rest of Australia has as well. One of the interesting interviews I heard last night was with Karen Throssell the granddaughter of Hugo Throssell , the Gallipoli veteran with a VC who returned home a pacifist. His antiwar views had been carried on by his family and they refused to be part of ANZAC Day. However Karen now sees the Day as "a day to remember what happened not just to our own loved ones and to remind us of what should never happen again."

Christians have a mixed response to ANZAC Day. There can be some sentimental religiosity which has nothing to do with the gospel and war can be accepted too readily (even if not glorified). On the other hand ANZAC Day remembers something important and in a properly sombre way. Those who fought did so with a sense that they were serving their nation, and most of the wars in which Australia has fought have had some justification. Australia is a better country for remembering than if we didn't. I think Ian has a different view, and he may want to put that.

There was an interesting article on the church contribution to the ANZAC ceremonies in Pacifica last year. John Moses argues that the Brisbane clergyman who most contributed to the form of the ceremony was aiming "to commemorate the fallen, console the bereaved and call the nation to penitence for the sin of war.You can see the abstract online.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

A Lament for Aramaic

When is a language officially dead? An article in today’s New York Times is virtually an obituary for Aramaic, a language until very recently spoken as aa first language in a few villages in Syria. More disturbing than the virtual loss of the language of Jesus (Mel Gibson's efforts notwithstanding) is the reason for its demise – the collapse of the Christian culture of the region. Marana tha! (1 Cor 16:22)

Friday, 18 April 2008

Reformed Theological Review

The April issue of the Reformed Theological Review has arrived. This Australian journal deserves to be better known than it is, especially overseas. There are three issues per year, each typically with three articles, plus book reviews and shorter notices. This issue has the following articles:
“On the third day, according to the Scriptures” (Michael Russell),
“The wars of Judges as Christian Scripture” (Barry Webb), and
“Man about town: Robert Murray M’Cheyne in London (1839)” (John Ross).

Contact RTR: admin@rtr.org.au

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Exploring all sorts of things

I write this the night before heading off to the Blue Mountains for a 3 day trek with a son and some friends. The 'six foot track' may not take us through the most pristine wilderness in Oz, but it will be fun to be stuck out in the bush with just packs attached!
Another sort of exploring happened today at PTC as we hosted Exploring Presbyterian Ministry day - our annual exploration of ministry opportunities in the PCNSW. It was great to meet with a group of enthusiastic young men and women with a passion to see how they can use their gifts so that gospel ministry may go forward in NSW and beyond. May it please God that their hopes will be realised - and that we might be part of helping that happen. Pray for John Irvin as he mentors men and women who are working through the processes involved in candidating and training.
It was also good to hear reports on PTC missions which were concluded last week. I really feel committed to our PTC approach to missions - encouraging student families to join the exploratory parties (aka Mission teams), and working hard to produce ministry of a high standard in churches and communities where our students will learn lots of new things. I was really proud of the quality of the ministry provided by our Southern Highlands (Moss Vale, Bowral, Mittagong) team.

Their preaching, praying and leading on the Sundays, and children's ministry during the week, was of a very high standard. The students spoke very positively of how much they learned during the week. A 'Week of Mission' contributes to preparation for a life of mission in fellowship with God himself.

Here are some shots of the team at 'Funhouse' and dressed in full explorers garb: Southern Highlands 'native dress'.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

More on Jesusanity

I did add a comment on the Jesusanity post below, but decided the issues raised in the other comments were worth a fuller treatment.

The observation about the lack of uniformity in the NT is well made – Acts and Hebrews don’t have exactly the same pattern as Paul or Peter in their use of the name Jesus. There’s no reason why we should expect uniformity by different writers or in different genres and our own practice might well reflect this. I’m not endeavouring to be prescriptive here, just wondering out loud if I should modify a little my practice of 40 years on this one and work through the implications of what I still observe as a marked reticence within the NT to use the name Jesus of the ascended Lord and of our present relationship with him, unless in close combination with some way of reinforcing a perception of his exaltation.

The NT practice might not be quite so diverse as at first appears. Take the book of Acts for example. There are 73 references to Jesus in Acts (besides 75 occurrences of Lord alone — some of which have God as their referent). In 38 of the occurrences of Jesus, the name occurs without either Lord or Christ in the same verse (isn’t Accordance wonderful?). However, on closer inspection, this does not support an even-handed analysis. Some are historic references to his pre-glorified presence on earth, and thus follow the practice of the gospels. Others are in reported speech of pagans or unbelieving Jews, who of course would not be expected to attribute Lordship or Messiahship to him. Others are in constructions where Messiahship is predicated of Jesus in the verse (5:42), so we would not expect to find “Christ” used in apposition as well. Others identify him as the Saviour (13:23) or Son of God (9:20). In 7:55 Jesus is depicted as standing at the right hand of God and sharing his glory, which would make any further title redundant.

Of the remaining nine or ten instances, some have a discernible literary reason for not using a title with Jesus. Take 28:23 which describes Paul testifying to Jews about Jesus from the law and prophets. A title here would have been tautologous – it was the Messiahship of Jesus that was the point of the testimony.

As to Jesus’ self-reference in Acts 9:5, Saul has already addressed him as Lord, so we would not expect Jesus to repeat it. The point is to identify who the Lord is (the converse of the situation we are more likely to face when we may need to identify who the Jesus is we are calling upon people to trust). Unless we doubt that Jesus’ use of the “Son of Man” title in the gospels was self-referential, as do some scholars, this use suggests there is no incompatibility between the friendship he espouses and the use of honorific titles.
The question is (as John and Dave hint with their references to contextualisation in the comments on the earlier post), what is the question behind the question? In one way it matters little what label I use to refer to Jesus, except insofar as this label reinforces in me and in my hearers/readers a particular understanding of who he is. Might my language lead to an over-emphasis on Jesus as he was in his earthly ministry, to the neglect of his present position as Lord of the universe — and it is with the risen and ascended Lord that I have a personal relationship (not having been born in the first century)? The converse question should also be asked, for we could slip back into a de-personalised and de-historicised understanding of a Christ figure. I want to hold to the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith and I want to make clear that he is the “one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor. 8:6).

Monday, 7 April 2008

Biblical Studies Carnival XXVIII

A good way to eavesdrop on, or even participate in, the conversations going on in Biblical Studies is to visit the monthly Biblical Studies Carnival, a roundup of the best biblical blogs, or at least the ones of most interest to the blogger hosting the Carnival. This month, it’s located at the Thoughts on Antiquity blogsite. There’s a good mix of OT and NT issues (including the expected Easter-related posts), Dead Sea Scrolls, Gnosticism and its legacy and translation principles and practice to name but a few areas covered by the links. Well worth a browse.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

"Jesusanity"

Darrell Bock has a recent post about Jesusanity as distinct from Christianity. I would add to his observations that our contemporary tendency to refer regularly to the post-ascension Christ simply as “Jesus” tends to aid and abet some of the tendencies he observes. I’m old enough to remember when we first began to do this (in the ’60s) and why we did it (it broke away from tradition and sounded cool). Prior to this, we generally reflected the Biblical pattern of referring to “Jesus” when speaking of the earthly ministry of the Son of God, but “Christ”, “Jesus Christ”, “Lord”, “Lord Jesus” etc. when addressing him or referring to him in his exaltation.

While I’m not suggesting we need to be absolutist about this (there is a handful of references to the exalted “Jesus” in the epistles – and we ought to consider the literary-theological effect intended by the use of the name alone), the overwhelming usage in post-ascension contexts in the NT is to employ one of the more honorific designations. There may be a difference between calling on someone to “trust Jesus” (which one?) and what we observe Paul doing to the end of his ministry as reported by Luke at the close of the book of Acts, “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”

Given the Biblical concern for names and titles and their significance, perhaps we ought not to treat this as a matter of total indifference.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Chris Wright - from the West to the Rest




This week PTC hosted a visit from Chris Wright, International Director of Langham Paternership. Chris is a leading evangelical thinker in the area of how the world church can grow. He has written two books which I am very excited about Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (IVP, 2004) and The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative  (IVP, 2006). 

It was a great chance to hear Chris live. His theme was missiological rather than OT or Biblical Theology, however those themes showed through at several points. He talked about three obvious gaps which exist in the world church: economic disparity, geographical dispersion and theological difference. Each of these, he observed, were part of the NT church as well. This is yet another way in which our situation is more like the NT era than was the church in so-called Christendom. How did the NT church address these issues? The first was addressed by striving for economic equality (2 Cor 8-9), the second by a constant interchange of personnel and the third by working hard at relationships and hearing from each other. He then looked at some strategic responses we need to make. For me Chris' lecture took me another step from what I'd been thinking about after Easter, when I was seeing more clearly than ever the need for us to be diligent in works of mercy for the marginalised. Chris did not deny that, but he reminded me that many of the poor of the majority world are my brothers and sisters. So we have a special duty to care for them (Gal 6:10) and as we resource the church we can expect to see a maturing church impact societies. He also helped us see how exciting it is to be part of a growing world church.

An MP3 download of the talk should be on the PTC website in the next few days.