Trinity Theological College: One good reason

trinityHere is a very good reason why Trinity Theological College (Perth, Western Australia) is a great option for theological studies.

In the clip below Dr Matthew Malcolm talks about how TTC approaches the study of the New Testament.

His person blog can be located here.

And of course the Trinity Theological College website can be found here.

Rahner and some post-inquiry reflection

karlThe spare time in my last few months has been consumed by Karl Rahner and his not so tidy theology.

What in his theology was I convinced of?  Well, to be frank, very little.  This is not to say that I was not changed by my learning – I certainly was.  One of the things that I admire about the man was his diligence to his individual spirituality.

He sat quietly.  He thought.  He prayed.  He pondered for days on end. The result was a deep and rich spirituality.  Something to be admired, I think.

In terms of his theology, I think his work is overly anthropologically centred, which leads necessarily to, I think,  a number of problems most notably pluralism and universalism.  Supporting these outcomes is Rahner’s Christology, which prefers Jesus as modelling actualised humanity over Jesus as God atoning for humanity’s sin.  What need is there for Jesus?  Well, Jesus is helpful to know, but not essential for salvation.

Muhammad_Jesus_BuddhaOne element of Rahner’s work that interested me was his ‘pre-theological’ use of philosophy.  Philosophy was his means of positioning the human conceptually for the notion of God in history.  Granted, what made the human look to God (the supernatural existential) is certainly not down my alley, but the notion that we engage with philosophical thinking prior to entertaining the option of God in history describes, somewhat, the seeking process.

I think of my friend who became a believer.  He inquired about life and meaning by using categories available to him.  Who am I?  What am I doing here?  What is the purpose of life?  He decided to look for answers in the only place he could – his own created world.  One option available to him (that we had the privilege of presenting) was God in history, Jesus, whom he decided in the end was the answer to his inquiry.

Was this not Paul’s method of operation on the Areopagus in Acts 17?

Areopagus6Paul engaged his audience with discussion about the worship of the gods.  Once he was within their framework he could operate from within it pointing towards the need for an uncreated God, i.e., his God, the one who was not created, but who could be found within history in the form of a man who was validated as such by coming back from the dead.

I like this idea of being able to speak the language of inquiry to those inquiring and using that language to show that the questions point to, or desire to be fulfilled by, God within history.

Can this be done without succumbing to a similarly anthropologically characterised quest for fulfilment, void of God’s prompting and regenerating acts?  The emphasis here is that human reason and inquiry can reveal God in history as the answer, so perhaps the answer to the question is, maybe not.

It is worth a thought though.


Emotional or Forgetful?

Emotional?I found this map the other day that was put together by Mr Gallop here.

Basically, this represents the percentage of people who have answered ‘Yes’ to these questions:

  1. Did you feel well rested yesterday?
  2. Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
  3. Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
  4. Did you do or learn something interesting yesterday?
  5. Did you experience the following feelings yesterday – enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress and anger?

It does make a bit of sense.  The former Soviet Blok leads the way in being considered least emotional, whereas the South Americans are saturated in the purple haze of emotion.

I must say the Democratic Republic of Congo is a bit of an outlier.  In a world of pain they come in flush with emotion.  And is that Oman out there?  What’s in the water out there that makes them so different to any other Arab state?

I did find it interesting that the Balkan states are normally considered as very emotional, but they fared very badly.

And what are we to make of Greenland, Papua New Guinea, Finland(?) and one of the Stans?  They all seem a little grey for no reason at all.

This survey could tell us something very profound about history, politics, religion, family environments, cost of living, etc, but if we look very carefully at the questions they are all asking about yesterday.

It could well be that some countries are just more forgetful than the others.

A Miracle: Jesus Survived Crucifixion

I watched a documentary last night about how the resurrection did not happen.

Whenever I watch these documentaries, I must admit, the content and presenters elicit a wide range of responses in me.  At some point I often doubt my own beliefs.  I often laugh at the stupidity of some of their hypotheses and accompanying statements.  I get angry when some things are deliberately twisted to secure a point.  And finally, I am encouraged as I come out the other end after I have dealt with the points that they have offered.

Last night they made two points that appear on the surface quite reasonable and even convincing.

Jesus the faker…

Firstly, they claimed that Jesus did not die on the cross.  One university professor cited events in chapter 15 in Mark’s Gospel to question the validity of the resurrection claim in chapter 16.  We read in 15:44 that, ‘Pilate was surprised to hear that he (Jesus) was already dead.’  After all it was only 3 hours after the crucifixion, which was half the time it normally took for someone to die by this ancient execution method, especially since he did not have his legs broken!

That Pilate was surprised that he was dead hints at the fact that Jesus was not in fact dead, but was alive.  This gives rise to a further defence.

For Jesus to get off the cross alive there needed to be some kind of collaboration between the disciples who knew that Jesus was still alive and the centurion in charge of the operation.  Indeed this is what we are told that we find.  In 15:43 we see that a wealthy man called Joseph of Arimathea who, at the request of the disciples one assumes, approaches Pilate.  Of course the disciples were mere fisherman, etc., who did not have the standing to carry out such a request.  After the request by Joseph for Jesus’ ‘dead’ body we read about Pilate’s surprise.  Pilate, in verse 44, then follows due process: ‘Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died’.  Is it a surprise to find out that the centurion in verse 45 takes the perspective of the disciples and Joseph by confirming that Jesus was indeed dead?

But how can we prove that the centurion was in cahoots with the disciples and therefore with Jesus?  It just so happens that this same centurion in 15:39 betrayed his allegiance when he proclaimed that ‘Surely this man (Jesus) was the Son of God!’

So there we have it.  The independent inquirer is Pilate who is surprised that Jesus is dead so soon.  We have the disciples who are working through a rich man to secure the not yet dead body of Jesus with the help of the converted centurion.

The film makers’ conclusion was that Jesus was taken down from the cross while he was unconscious but alive.

But why did the film makers not engage with the story that preceded Jesus’ crucifixion?  Why, even though they admit that the gospels are the greatest source of information about Jesus, do they not engage with the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ death?  Maybe because there is much information in those books that run contrary to their plotline?

Why does the fact that Jesus was brutally whipped and beaten (repeatedly on the head we read in Matthew) not come into play?

Why is the fact left out that the centurion was not alone but was with others who also agreed that he was dead?

They conveniently leave out John’s report that the legs of those crucified that day were due to be broken to speed up their deaths, but when they arrived at Jesus he was already dead.  His legs did not need to be broken.  The centurions (plural) do not leave it to chance, and so they speared Jesus’ side producing a flow of ‘water and blood’, which we are told is what happens after death.

They are happy to employ the Gospel of John to inform us that the legs of Jesus were not broken which supports their view that Jesus could not of had a quick death, but they are not so forthcoming with the surrounding information that speaks of the numerous centurions present to validate the that Jesus was dead, not to mention the spearing of Jesus’ side.

Why is much of this information left our of the picture?  Maybe, Jesus was dead on the cross.  Maybe the centurion did see Jesus die and the supernatural events that happened in that moment.  Maybe Joseph was rich and had Pilate’s ear.  Maybe they took the dead body away and put it in a tomb.  These maybes are not an elaborate scheme, but rather simple.  They don’t reek of a master plan, nor a covert operation.  That a man died is much more feasible.

Jesus did his job.  Pilate and the centurions did their job.  Jesus’ friends did their job.  That was how the first century worked.

Jesus on the run…

The fact that Jesus was alive presents a problem.  This was the basis for the second claim, that Jesus disappeared to either the south of France (not a bad idea if you ask me!) or the Central Asia.  They are right in saying that if Jesus did survive the crucifixion then he would have been a wanted man, after all, he was a traitor and blasphemer who had been sentenced to death.

The film makers betray their own ignorance and agenda in this argument.

As I said earlier, they admit that the vast amount of information that we know about Jesus is by virtue of the four gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  If then we take these accounts as explaining why Jesus was in Jerusalem in the first place why would we think that Jesus would flee Jerusalem after he survives the crucifixion?

The Gospels are very clear that Jesus walked into Jerusalem knowing that his end was nigh.  Firstly, if he knew that his end was fast approaching and that the primary antagonists were in Jerusalem, why would he go to Jerusalem?  If  he wanted to avoid being killed then any sane person would have headed in the opposite direction, or even France!

Secondly, Jesus had an opportunity to say that he was not the king of the Jews and so maybe avoid death, but he chose to engage with what he believed to be the case.  To the question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Jesus answered,  ‘Yes, it is as you say.’  If Jesus was trying to get out of dying then he was doing a really bad job of it.

If Jesus did survive the crucifixion why would he run?  If he didn’t run the first time why would he run a second time?  He had been defying the religious authorities for three odd years.  He was clearly not phased by the idea of standing up to them and the consequences that that would bring.

If the gospels are our best source of information about Jesus then perhaps we should engage them in a more holistic fashion.

The film makers created an amazing plot worthy of, not a religion, but a movie:  Jesus did the impossible.

He survived a flogging and crucifixion and being speared his side, he fooled Pilate and the Roman executioners with a nifty blood and water trick, was retrieved off the cross with the help of the role playing rich man and centurions, was smuggled by friends out of the tomb where he lived for three days, before being rescued (again with help of the Roman guards) and fleeing to France and Central Asia.

Sometimes the Gospels don’t sound that wacky at all:)

Mrs Christ, is that you?

Was Jesus married?

That question is beside the point at the moment.  The big question is, will the Harvard Theological Review publish Prof. Karen King’s article on the recent discovery of a Coptic papyrus fragment that apparently speaks of Jesus’ wife.

The evangelical world rejoiced when a bunch of Coptic gurus brought the ship down.  They deemed it a fake, not least because it demonstrated dependence on the Gospel of Thomas.  The response was swift.  The Harvard Theological Review decided not to publish King’s article.

End of story…

…until Harvard Divinity School spokesman Jonathan Beasley told us that the article has not been rejected.

Check it out for yourself here.  Here is the rationale:

“Dr. King’s `marriage fragment’ paper, which Harvard Theological Review is planning to publish in its January, 2013, edition – if testing of the ink and other aspects of the fragment are completed in time – will include her responses to the vigorous and appropriate academic debate engendered by discovery of the fragment, as well as her report on the ink analysis, and further examination of the fragment.”

End of story…

I think not.

But to be frank, I’m not sure if the story ever started.  We must, however, follow due process and allow the academy to follow the due process of scrutiny and investigation.

45% of people in Bulgaria…

Yemen is an amazing country.

I’ve been there twice to catch up with a good mate who works there.  It is beautiful and the people there were amazingly warm and hospitable.  The smiles of Adeeb and Mohammed stick clearly in my mind.

If you were to do a google search on Yemen you would quickly learn that it is a country that is ravaged by political corruption, sectarian violence, religious extremism, tribal bickering, poverty, and every other ill under the sun.  People live on under $2 dollars a day in this country.  You’re getting the picture, right?  It’s not a nice place to live.

Now, if I was to say that a Gallup poll (here) was taken in an effort to rank countries according to how they are thriving and suffering it would be of no surprise to you to find out that Yemen polled really badly.  It comes in near the very bottom – 2nd last.  I’m surprised that they didn’t come in last!

I was also surprised to find out who had the dubious distinction of coming in last on the suffering scale.  I mean, imagine this country.  It must be hell on earth!  If I was forced to make a guess as to who would take the honours I would have gone with a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, or a Central American country like Mexico or Guatemala (sorry Carrrrrrlos).

What country has the greatest percentage of people suffering on the planet?  And the winner is…. Bulgaria!  Yes, disbelief and shock are appropriate reactions, and it wins by not a small margin too.  In Yemen 38% of its population are suffering, whereas in Bulgaria a staggering 45% of people are suffering.  Wow!  That is nearly one in every two people.

So what does one make of this?  Are people really suffering more in Bulgaria than people in countries like Yemen, Syria, Iran and Southern Sudan?  I mean, c’mon, they’re being bombed, shelled and snipered by their own governments in these places.

For those of us that have the privilege of living in Bulgaria and having an outsider’s perspective on things, this poll comes as no real surprise.  Why?

Yes, Bulgaria is plagued by corruption on all levels and it has its own fair share of social ills and poverty, but we need to remember what this poll is measuring.  Have a quick read:

Suffering — wellbeing that is at high risk. These respondents have poor ratings of their current life situation (4 and below) AND negative views of the next five years (4 and below). They are more likely to report lacking the basics of food and shelter, more likely to have physical pain, a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger. They have less access to health insurance and care, and more than double the disease burden, in comparison to “thriving” respondents.

We all know that measurement is problematic when there is no standardised measure, and we must understand that this poll has not been carried out according to a standardised measure.  That is, this poll is not a comparative study of life situations by an objective 3rd party, but is rather a subjective personal response to certain questions about one’s present situation.  For the most part this poll is psychoanalysis.  It measure not how do living conditions compare in various countries, but rather, how do individuals within their respective countries respond to their present situation.

Of course, there is a strong correlation between wealth and thriving, and poverty and suffering, but the fact that Bulgaria comes in last on the suffering list is indicative of a national psyche that is struggling to cope with the present conditions, whatever they are.  But what are they?

Let me put it this way.  I haven’t heard of any Bulgarians looking to immigrate to Iran,  although there are plenty of Iranians already in Bulgaria, and I’m sure there are plenty more that are seeking to get here.

So what’s the story?

One of the first conclusions that I drew about the Bulgarian culture after being here a short time was that the average Joe, or Boris as is the case here, is wracked by fear and hopelessness.

It is palpable!

The causes are complex and historically rooted.

In the present, Bulgarians live within a capitalist system that has proven to be impotent and incapable of providing them with a standard of living and way of life that was promised to them.  Then of course there is the not so recent communist rule that shaped a vast proportion of the minds and hearts of the people who live in Bulgaria today.  And then there is the older but still relevant events of the 500 years of oppression by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

Bulgaria is a product of its past.  It reflects on the current situation and thinks of the future in light of the events of the past.  It has good reason to be fearful and hopeless.  While the government is not shelling its citizens, and while elections are for the most part fair and just, the average Bulgarian is trapped within a life that is fearful of the present and hopeless about the future.

I’ve never pretended to be Bulgarian, and I don’t pretend to understand the average Boris’ predicament – all I know is that to be Bulgarian is to suffer.

The Gospel has never been more relevant in Bulgaria.

Science: Do you know your role?

Prove it!

You’ve heard it said time and time again in every sphere of life.

I don’t think that it is necessarily a bad thing.  It would not be unfair to say that historically the church has run a mile from such calls to justify its beliefs.  They have promoted what I like to call ‘leave-your-brain-at-the-door Christianity.  The tide has definitely turned.

In one of my last posts called ‘Sucked In: Bahahahaaaa(forgive my immaturity:)) I looked at how Christians employ what Dr. Stephen Law identifies as a strategy that sucks people into an intellectual back hole.  I offered the idea that perhaps the one who has really been sucked into a black hole is the one who cannot entertain the idea that there might be another form of reality other than the one that science validates through scientific method.  I have taken science to mean the ordering of knowledge through repeatable testable explanations (check out the Uk Science Council definition).

I am grateful for this response that came in.  Not A Scientist quotes me and then goes on:

“but rather highlighting the notion that there may be a reality apart from that which science can prove.”

Certainly there MAY be. There also may be a reality in which poodles are the dominant form of life.

Until or unless we have evidence for either of those claims, why should we believe them?

I appreciate that he grants that there MAY be another reality that I suggest in the post could be God.  I wonder how genuine this scientist really is?  From the last sentence, my hasty conclusion is not very.  Why?

Because the person demands evidence to ground their belief.

What is so wrong with that?  Nothing on the surface, but what evidence will the scientist accept?  If the scientist’s flow of argument is anything to go by then we know what evidence is being demanded, scientific evidence.  It appears that what triggered the comment in the first place was my denial of science as the ultimate authority and arbiter of reality and truth.

…but rather highlighting the notion that there may be a reality apart from that which science can prove.

I’m not sure why this would be the sticking point.

We take many things to be true without the need for science to validate it as real.  Firstly, is it wrong to kill babies?  Yes, of course it is.  Why is it wrong to kill babies?  Prove it!  Of course you cannot produce any evidence that can prove that it is wrong to kill babies.  There may be reasons why we believe this to be categorically true, but these reasons certainly do not involve observable repeatable experiments.

Secondly, do you believe that the Roman Empire existed?  Of course you do.  Prove it using science.  Can you find a way of observing or testing what happened 1800 years ago?  True, there are other means of knowing that the Roman Empire categorically existed, but these means have little to do with scientific method.

Thirdly, how can I be sure that my wife loves me?  What scientific method can possibly show that my wife has that feeling(?) thing for me?  I know she loves me, but I know this through means other than scientific inquiry.

Just because we cannot scientifically prove that babies should not be killed does not make killing babies fair game.

Just because we cannot prove scientifically that the Roman Empire existed does not mean that the Roman Empire did not exist.

Just because my wife cannot scientifically prove to me that she loves me does not mean that she does not love me.

There are other examples but I don’t want to bore you.

There are ways of proving these without needing to engage science.  It seems as though science has an overinflated opinion of itself.

What if a historian decided to use historical method as the means to prove or disprove some aspect of quantum mechanics?  This is simply stupid.  What if I wanted to use philosophical method to prove or disprove some aspect of Tahitian tribal architecture?  Outrageous.

What if someone wanted to use scientific method to prove or disprove something that was non-material and other worldly?  To many this is plausible!

God and the claims of Christianity need to be assessed using the appropriate forms of inquiry that it naturally falls within.  For example, Jesus is the central figure of the Christian faith.  That is, he was a historical figure and so if we want to put this person under any grill, surely it would be the historical grill.

If Christianity claims that supernatural events happened in another time period then we cannot use scientific method to prove or disprove that such an event took place.  Sure, using science we can work out whether or not the event falls within the so-called natural order, but I think we know where resurrection, calming storms, and parting seas falls on the natural-supernatural spectrum.

Granted, I have simplified the argument but I hope you see my point.

If Not A Scientist is genuinely sincere that there MAY be an reality that exists apart from what science can prove, then I encourage you to have a look at the work of the ancient historian Dr John Dickson here who has done a vast amount of work on the historical Jesus.

In terms of Christian philosophy why don’t you look up and read Dr Alvin Plantinga’s online works here.  Dr John Lennox is all over the science and ethics aspects of Christianity here.  Also for ethics Dr Alistair McGrath here is a good option, and he is an easy google search option too.

Let’s not be a bully by pushing and shoving inappropriate forms of inquiry onto Christianity.  That is merely an attempt to get what the scientist might want – proof that there is no proof, which we can see is no proof at all.

Evolution strikes back: Adam, Darwin and Enns

The relationship between God and science has always been an interesting issue.

One of my old students said the other day on facebook that, ‘Humanity’s perennial belief in God or a supernatural realm that transcends 
the physical realm are merely superstitions that are passing away with the 
rise of science.’

It is an interesting perspective, especially when the hottest story on the theological blog press atm is the place of science in understanding creation.

Let me give you a very quick run down.  A theologian called Dr Peter Enns is releasing a book called The Evolution of Adam that develops a thesis supporting an old word creation doctrine.  This old world perspective is an attempt to deal with the apparent vast amount of scientific data pointing to such an age.  For Enns it is a given.

This is where the issue really hits the road.  Let me now use Enns’ own words:

So, once one accepts evolution, the question becomes “what do I do about Adam?” I see two choices: Adam is either historical (in some sense) or he is not.

If one wishes to retain a historical Adam, the two options I am aware of (if you know of others, please let us know) are:

(1) “Adam” was a hominid chosen by God somewhere along the line to be the “first man”;

(2) “Adam” was a group of hominids (a view that accounts best for the genomic data that the current human population stems from a few thousand ancestors, definitely not two ancestors).

In my opinion, these two options fail for the same two reasons:

(1) They are ad hoc, meaning that are invented for the sole purpose of finding some way to align the Bible and science. It is generally a good idea to avoid ad hoc explanations, and we rarely tolerate them when others make use of them.

(2) The “Adam” that results from these ad hoc maneuvers is not the Adam that the biblical authors were talking about (a chosen first pair or group of hominids). No biblical teaching is really protected by inventing “Adam” in this way.

This brings us to a non-historical Adam–meaning Adam in the Bible as parabolic, metaphorical, symbolic, or “supra-historical” (a term I learned from Richard Clifford, meaning a truth transcends history but told in historical terms, and therefore not meant to be taken literally).

But before you or I jump to any conclusions as to the biblical validity of such a perspective, Enns at this point does some thinking for us, which is a good thing I think.

He outlines that to bring evolution and Adam into dialogue one must be sensitive of three things, which include: the near literary context, the canonical context, and the cultural context.   He cautions that these are not mutually exclusive but that they overlap.  By short circuiting this hermeneutical ground work Enns thinks that one will arrive at a skewed outcome, which is pretty good advice if you ask me.

I look forward to reading the book.

However, he has already flagged one point which for most of us is the elephant in the room, and that is, how does his model (his word) deal with the federal headship of Adam and the associated passage in Romans 5 with respect to Jesus as the answer to that dilemma?

I have read one response to this conundrum, which states that just because a theological problems arises does not mean that the model is wrong, it just means that work needs to be done.  How could I disagree after I bagged out Mohler in a post a few weeks back for something similar?   What is the difference?

My criticism is not Enns’ answer per se, which was my criticism of Mohler, but the method that he has employed to get his answer.

I think what we are seeing here is not culture driving hermeneutics, which is what I am normally banging on about, but science.  Science (and rational philosophy, I might add) is being used to (re)define what the Bible is saying.  This new view undermines what were some very fundamental biblical doctrines that shaped how we have viewed the gospel.  The issue is hermeneutical and the stakes are high.

The question we are being challenged with is this: can science form or help form theology?

Dionysius: problems in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy

Sorry, but this one is a little highbrow.

Please give feedback if you have any thoughts.

In pseudo-Dionysius’ Ecclesiastical Hierarchy (EH) he does not use any form of apophatic theology.  Why is this an issue?

In the Celestial Hierarchy (CH) it a point of emphasis that symbols must be guarded because their capacity to misrepresent God through inappropriate comparisons is great.  The mechanism that Dionysius uses is the concept of dissimilar similarities.  For example, when God (?) is described as a worm in the Psalms.  The worm is similar to God but it is overwhelmingly dissimilar.  He prefers these symbols over symbols that are similar.  The problem with similar similarities is that God is dragged into the world of being – making him comparable with humans, or less, thus reducing him to the level of being, which Denys would stress he is not.

With this background in mind we move into the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy to find no obvious mechanism in place to protect the symbols there, namely the sacraments.  Why?  It doesn’t make sense that he would go to such great lengths to protect God in the CH, yet leave God exposed in the next work.

Some have said that Deny’s emphasis on the dissimilar similarities in the CH rolls on to the EH.  I don’t think this is very convincing argument because I don’t know of any polemicist that leaves the reader to join the theological dots.   Andrew Louth says that they are protected by the order of secrecy.  I think this is true, but this I think is more of a historical structure, imposed to deal with the theological problem rather than it being an inherent systematic Dionysian theological response to the issue.

So here is my idea, I think.

Throughout the CH we are told how the symbols are deficient.  They cannot represent God and so we need to protect God from them, hence the dissimilar similarities.  When we come to the EH the symbols (sacraments mainly) are presented as symbols that represent God perfectly.  So by participating in them one participates in God, well, his energies at least.  We also learn that the symbols are only participated in as far as the participant is able.

Here it is.

As symbols they point to something beyond themselves.  Symbols are also for participation.  There is a mechanism already in place, which alleviates Denys’ need to worry about protecting God from them.  The symbols are limited by the participants themselves.  The symbols are limited by being, that which God is not – separating them.  There is no way that the symbols could be used to misrepresent God because the symbols are hampered by the human element of being.  The symbols are therefore inefficacious, just like the symbols in the proceeding work.