Friday, September 28, 2007

Post-studentdom beckons

I'm done. I'm done! I submitted my Masters thesis today and so am finished, for the time being, as a student. A year ago I very much thought the same thing, but whereas extending my studies was always a viable fallback option then, it's not this time around. I should know whether I get to add more letters after my name by early December, which is quite weird since I never actually imagined I'll be fussed enough to do so.

So what does this mean?

No more movie discounts.
No more travel discounts.
(Likely) No more getting to sleep in the middle of the week if I feel like it.
No more getting away with looking sloppy.
Have to pay tax.

Hmmmm....this thing isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

I'll be hunting for a job, God willing, in London. don't feel quite ready for that yet. But I've got to do it, and it'd probably be good for me. Beyond that, what happens? Only God knows at the moment. Psss, if he tells you, will you tell me?


Thursday, September 27, 2007

Prayer for Burma

I thought people might appreciate these prayer points from Christian Solidarity Worldwide:

The release of all who have been detained, including Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi;

An end to the violent assaults on peaceful demonstrators, and the disbanding of the junta’s civilian proxy organisation the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) which is carrying out many of the attacks;

The release of democracy leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, in her 12th year of house arrest;

An end to the military regime’s attacks on ethnic minorities and the continuing violations of human rights, including the use of rape, forced labour, torture, human minesweepers, the forcible conscription of child soldiers, religious persecution, the destruction of villages, crops and livestock, the displacement of civilians and extra-judicial killings;

Action by the international community, including the British Government. Burma should be addressed as a matter of urgency by the UN Security Council and the European Union, and pressure be put on China, India and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to use their influence with the regime in Burma;

Meaningful dialogue and true national reconciliation between the regime, the democracy movement and the ethnic nationalities.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Heroes: Her Father's Voice

Deb has written a wonderful tribute to our mutual friend Sarah for the Unsung Heroes Cicak Competition. You can read the other shortlisted entries here. If you feel so inclined, vote for Deb's entry, but I think she's already done a wonderful thing regardless of whether it wins or not.

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Humanities vs social sciences

PhD comics - humanities vs social sciences
Making stuff up is hard! :-p

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Riff - salvation present and future

Tim exhausted me with his early morning meanderings, especially since he touched on so many issues in a mere 7 paragraphs! I’m not actually going to be interacting with him here. Frankly, I’m happy to admit to a need to think more on some of the things he brought up. Nope, I’m merely riffing on his post. To use less jazzy parlance, I’m using him as a point of departure for something I’ve wanted to write about for a while now. None of the following is novel, but perhaps often too easily forgotten.

Very briefly, I just want us to think a little more about how we use the word "salvation". Generally, Christians tend to use it very much to denote a state in the present time. "Have you been saved?" "I’m saved." Also, we tend to use it interchangeably with words like "redemption", "justification", "forgiveness" etc. However, this does not do justice to the way the word is used in the New Testament. While I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to talk of salvation or to use it synonymously in the way I described above, depending on the context, if we are regularly careless or reductionistic with our language, this might have potentially distorting effects.

In the New Testament, salvation has both a present and a future dimension. (Strictly speaking, most will also acknowledge a third dimension, the past, as well, but here I will more simplistically lump the past and present together). This is in line with the already-not yet tension we find throughout the New Testament, that is, the recognition that God’s work or mission has already occurred in some significant manner – not least in the person and work of Christ – but is not yet completed. I’ve explored this before briefly in relation to our inheritance in Jesus here.

So in the NT, we obviously do hear about salvation as a present reality. One classic text would be Ephesians 2:1-10, where Paul talks about us being “dead in [our] transgressions and sins” but gloriously, “it is by grace you have been saved” (v.6, 8). We can be certain that as we place our trust in Jesus, salvation becomes our possession. I want to be absolutely clear on this point because I don’t want any possible misunderstandings to cause any consternation. (See also Romans 8:24 for another clear cut example).

But actually, in the NT, salvation is often conceived in future terms as well. “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Mark 13:13). “ Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:28). Another way we can see this is by thinking of the way “redemption” is described. So we already have redemption (Col. 1:14), we enjoy this privilege. Yet in another sense, we recognise that we are still waiting for the “redemption of the body” (Romans 8:23). The end of all sickness will only be positively enjoyed in the new Creation.

So there is a paradox here. We are saved and being saved, redeemed and being redeemed. Salvation is both present and future. In fact, we need to beware of dividing these two dimensions into neat separate boxes but recognise that they are both parts of a whole. What is interesting is that what shapes the theology of the NT with regards to the present and future is actually the past, namely the finished work of the cross. We know what will happen in the end because of what happened in history, and therefore, this will characterise our outlook and thus, our lives in the present. The three come together (probably in a more complex fashion than how I’ve just described it!).

Therefore, we need to give due weight to both senses in which salvation is described, without giving preference to one or the other. And we need to recognise that salvation is so big that we need different words to describe its multiple facets, such as redemption, regeneration, justification, reconciliation etc. which all convey slightly different meanings. Quick recommendation: Mark Meynell’s pretty good on this, and supposedly this book is as well. Even sanctification, which we tend to usually take as the process by which God makes us holy (so a future-oriented process), isn’t as straightforward as that, as it is used in some places to simply mean the holiness that is already ours through Christ (so a present reality).

My modest hope is that by now, we’ve begun to understand a little more of the riches of salvation. This should open up better ways to think through some of the usual debates about legalism, cheap grace, individualistic gospels as opposed to a more cosmic version etc. Of course, this is hardly even scratching the surface or offering any quick-fix resolutions to hard questions. Just the opposite: I’m sure it throws up further questions! Like those who are wrestling with the New Perspective on Paul, or on perseverance.

It will be remiss to keep this at a theoretical level. Theology translates to doxology:
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in love, freely giving eternal life through his willing Son, who paid the price as the Divine Substitute, disarming evil and welcoming us into the domain of light as his beloved children, to all who will repent and believe. Praise the Lord, O my soul, praise the Lord!

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The Vanhoozer

Sunday, September 23, 2007

10 thoughts on being "in Christ"

If you're thinking that I've been borrowing a lot of content from other people recently you'll be right. It's just that there's plenty of excellent stuff out there! So why torture you with my inane ramblings? So here I am again, highlighting the insights of another, in this case, a Puritan via J. Stephen Yuille.

Union with Christ is sometimes neglected in our thinking about the Christian life, which it shouldn't be, since being "in Christ" is so fundamental to our identity as followers of Jesus. So I appreciated these ten characteristics of union with Christ that were seen to be at the forefront of John Flavel's thinking. John Flavel was an English Presbyterian preacher in the 17th century, who lived about the same time as John Bunyan, he of Pilgrim's Progress fame. He is perhaps best known for his devotional work Keeping the Heart.
Here are words for you (and me) to linger on:

  1. It is intimate: "Husband and wife are not so near, soul and body are not so near, as Christ and the believing soul are near to each other."
  2. It is supernatural: "We can no more unite ourselves to Christ, than a branch can incorporate itself into another stock."
  3. It is immediate: "Every member, the smallest as well as the greatest, hath an immediate condition with Christ."
  4. It is fundamental: "Destroy this union, and with it you destroy all our fruits, privileges, and eternal hopes."
  5. It is efficacious: "Through this union the divine power flows into our souls, both to quicken us with the life of Christ, and to conserve and secure that life in us after it is so infused."
  6. It is indissoluble: "Death dissolves the dear union betwixt the husband and wife, friend and friend, yea, betwixt soul and body, but not betwixt Christ and the soul, the bands of this union rot not in the grave."
  7. It is honorable: "To be a servant of Christ is a dignity transcendent to the highest advancement among men; but to be a member of Christ, how matchless and singular is the glory thereof."
  8. It is comfortable: "Whatever troubles, wants, or distresses befall such, in this is abundant relief and support, Christ is mine, and I am his; what may not a good soul make out of that!"
  9. It is fruitful: "Christ is a fruitful root, and makes all the branches that live in him so too."
  10. It is enriching: "All that Christ hath becomes ours, either by communication to us, or improvement for us."

(HT: Already Not Yet)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Psalm 121: The Lord my keeper

Living and active. In the end, despite my own struggles, my own doubts, God does still speak through his word. Two months ago I wrote to two friends who were facing important exams with what I hope were encouraging words from Psalm 121. I've been feeling quite low recently, and I had little desire to drag myself to church tonight to go to a mid-week gathering that had been running through this summer to be encouraged by the Psalms. But I did trudge along, and as I heard Psalm 121 being preached, the very same psalm that I hope lifted the spirits of my friends lifted me. This was preaching to the affections. But more than that, I appreciated sitting around with fellow Christians wrestling with the way God's word should change us, with the help of his Spirit. And then, to be able to speak to our Father himself as we bowed our heads together.

I thought it was worth digging out that old email I wrote to my friends, and posting an edited version here, modified too to incorporate some of tonight's insights and further reflections:

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Who am I? I am fickle. I am malleable. I am unreliable. And I am limited. I don't possess infinite strength or infinite wisdom. "I" may be a particular person, but regardless of who "I" am, I know this to be universally true, in one respect or the other, of all "I"s. No wonder we need to look beyond ourselves.

The psalmist looks at the hills, is that where his help comes from? After all, when he was writing this, that was where many shrines to various gods and goddesses were built. And so it is today: we look to various places to seek help: the intelligent people that we know. The romantic relationship that we think will save us. Even other Christians whom perhaps, we elevate beyond their position.

The psalmist, however is aware where help ultimately comes from. The first sentence of the Bible establishes whose world we live in, and the psalmist recalls this. It is not the sun or moon who is God, but the LORD, the One who made the sun and moon, who ordered the seas, ordained the beasts of the fields and the creatures of the deep. And that is where the rest of the psalm focuses on: we are told what God is like. Our perspective needs to shift. He is our keeper, our guardian, the repetition of the word "keep" in the ESV emphasising this point.

We trust in a God who is trustworthy and sovereign (v.3), one who is not subject to the same physical tiredness that we experience (v.4). Even the simple act of sleep reminds us of our vulnerability. Even the financial markets have to close at some point. We get exhausted. We could post bodyguards outside our homes, doctors by our bed, but ultimately, when we sleep, the illusion of control over our lives slip. But God doesn't go "Oops" or dozes off. Even when it doesn't seem like it, we know God looks after his children, no matter what circumstance (v.5-8).

This psalm is a realistic look at life. It does not promise that we will not suffer heartache, anxiety, distress or hurt - physical or mental. Rather, it assumes that faith will always run into these troubles. Instead, it encourages us to know that God is watching over us (did you notice the repetition?). God is no longer an impersonal boss but a loving parent.

"To suppose that [the Christian life is a quiet escape or a fantasy trip] is to turn the nut the wrong way. The Christian life is going to God. In going to God, Christians travel the same ground that everyone else walks on, breathe the same air, drink the same water, shop in the same stores, read the same newspapers, are citizens under the same governments, pay the same prices for groceries and gasoline, fear the same dangers, are subject to the same pressures, get the same distresses, are buried in the same ground.

The difference is that each step we walk, each breath we breathe, we know we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God...We believe that life is created and shaped by God and that the life of faith is a daily exploration of the constant and countless ways in which God's grace and love are experienced." (A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson).

And so we can sing
Guide me, O my great Redeemer
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but you are mighty,
hold me with your powerful hand:
Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven,
Feed me now and evermore!
Feed me now and evermore.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Romans flyby

Whoa! I didn't realise it would be so soon! I'm meant to be leading a Bible study on Romans 1-5 for the next couple of months, and I am woefully underprepared for it. I studied Romans nearly 4 years ago now and it would be great to get back into it. The forest of Romans can be so dense, however, that it's easy to lose sight of the vast expanse of the sky. I was reading, or rather listening, to the entire book here, and there's plenty of rabbit holes where you can wander into. So I found Ken Schenck's very, very quick helicopter overview helpful and thought I'll reproduce it wholesale here:

Hi, I'm Paul. You're the Romans. Hello!

I've often wanted to come to you. Now I am.

Key Verses: For I'm not ashamed of the good news. It is the power of God to salvation to everyone who has faith, Jew first then Greek. In it God's righteousness is revealed from His faith to ours, as it is written, the person who is righteous by faith will live.

For God's wrath has been revealed... and the Gentiles are going to get it.

2 But the Jews are going to get it too.

3 In fact all have sinned and are lacking the glory God intended for them.
But God has made a way through the faithfulness of Jesus to death, if we have faith in that way.
God offered Jesus as a sacrifice for sins.
A person is justified by faith in God.

4 Take Abraham, he was justified by his faith in God.

5 So we have peace with God.
For sin and death entered the world through Adam. Justification and life have come through Christ.

6 That's no excuse to sin.

7 Why the law then? It showed me my sin problem, but couldn't help.

8. The Spirit can help! It's all going to work out in the end.

9 So God has chosen to harden most of Israel right now. Don't complain, He can do what He wants.

10 Israel has not currently chosen faith.
But if you confess Jesus as Lord, have faith that God raised him from the dead, you'll be saved.

11 And in the end even Israel will be saved.

12 So present your bodies as living sacrifices and have a renewed mind.
Get along with one another.

13 Obey those in authority over you.
Love fulfills the law.

14 Accept others who don't have the same convictions as you.
And as far as your convictions, whatever is not truly done with a heart of faith is sin.

15 I'm hoping to go to pass through on my way to Spain. Right now I'm off to Jerusalem.

16 Letter of commendation for Phoebe

Of course, this doesn't even begin to unravel the complexity - having read Romans 9-11 again for the first time in a long while, I'm conscious of how little I know. (And how does Romans 8 transition to chapter 9 anyway?) But this is as good a starting point as any!

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Review: Little Children

It's not neccessary, but it helps to have watched the film.

Little Children - lucy,sarah,aaron,bradGaping cracks in the midst of perfect suburbia has become one of the most popular themes in both film and literature over the last decade. The title of a recent film, Disturbia, captures this sentiment perfectly. These are the fault lines that emerge when the cultivated appearance of the perfect middle-class life: perfect homes, perfect children, perfect jobs, perfect cars – meet the reality of imperfect human beings, like the rough spots and warts which break out all over smooth porcelain skin . When the stress of these two opposing tectonic plates dragging past each other is too great, the rocks rupture like a coiled spring.

This dark vision of suburbia has become rather clichéd, but Little Children can take pride of place for being one of the best films yet to explore this profoundly modern disaffection. Sarah (Kate Winslet), an English Lit masters graduate in a former life, is now a fulltime stay-at-home mum who feels trapped in a lonely marriage. Her husband (Gregg Edelman) is completely absorbed in his job, and who himself finds fulfilment in looking at porn. Brad (Patrick Wilson) is a househusband, who, having failed his bar exams, feels shame and aimless, while his more successful Type-A personality wife Kathy (Jennifer Connelly) ends up as the pants-wearer in the house. Each morning, Sarah takes her child, Lucy to the park, patiently enduring the catty gossip of the three other mothers that regularly meet there. She ends up meeting Brad (the object of fantasy of the women), and in one impulsive moment, having been challenged to obtain his phone number, goes further than she needs to and end up sharing a kiss. The seeds for the ensuing adulterous affair are planted.

There is another subplot which revolves around a friend of Brad, Larry (Noah Emmerich), a retired cop who’s made a few mistakes of his own. He has chosen to adopt a vigilante role against a recently released paedophile, Ronnie (Jackie Earle Haley), who now lives with his mother (Phyllis Sommerville). In fact, the whole neighbourhood is wary of Ronnie, captured perfectly in one scene where mass hysteria ensues (not entirely without justification) as soon as he enters the community swimming pool teeming with children.

Kate Winslet is truly a top-class actress; I don’t think I’ve ever seen her give a bad performance. What marks her out is her ability to completely disappear into her character. Throughout the whole film, whenever I watched Sarah on screen, that was all I saw, I never once thought to myself: “That’s Kate Winslet doing [insert action here]”. This is in contrast to, for example, Keira Knightley (who is a talented actress in her own right). Whenever I watch the latter, I think, yep, that’s Keira on screen, not, for example, Elizabeth Bennet. The whole cast is excellent, though I think Haley as Ronnie also deserves particular mention. I also wished Connelly had more screen time as I wanted to get to know her character better, but I suspect they didn’t want to make the film excessively long.

This is a courageous film that neither flinches from seeing the ugliness of sin nor descending into a morass of “we can do whatever we want” morality. Although the story is told primarily from the perspectives of the two main leads, Sarah and Brad, and sympathetically enough that there are occasions when you want to root for them, the director Todd Field has resorted to an old-fashioned device, the voiceover of an omniscient narrator, to lend us some much needed distance. Thus, lest we be completely taken by them, we are instead asked to question whether their motivations, their justifications, their actions, are always right. Pragmatically, it provides insight into the interiority of the characters, and also keeps the narrative woven tightly enough. Scenes move along quickly when they have to. That the film is just over 2 hours long and yet never flags is a testament to its perfectly judged pacing.

The film demonstrates how we are all captives to our desires, what the Bible will call our sinfulness. This is captured early on by Sarah’s husband when he sees no reasons not to give in to his wanton wants. For Sarah, her persistent refusal to cast herself in any role other than victim means that for a long time, she is unable to come to terms with her own brokenness. In one scene where she ends up discussing Madame Bovary, whose heroine is involved in affair after affair where she ends up tragically used by various men, her own perspective has become warped enough that she now identifies with the heroine where once she was repelled by her. Similarly, Brad does not want to take responsibility for his failures in work or to work at his marriage, which, at this stage, is nowhere near the terminal stage. Larry, more obviously, needs to atone for his past mistakes, and does so by choosing to obsess over Ronnie’s sin. In doing so, he appears to project his own mistakes onto Ronnie.

But before we rush to judge, the film at every turn reminds that we are all hypocrites, ready to condemn the easy target without looking at our own hearts. All the characters here have secrets. Look not just at Sarah, but watch the gossipy mothers too. The gap between fantasy and reality becomes all too apparent. Sarah accepts this trade-off for a while, but eventually the charade becomes too painful, and she has to make a choice one way or the other.

We are also asked to recognise that the big questions of life are big for a reason. What is the meaning of life, of my life? Where does true satisfaction lie? How do we deal with the obstacles that life brings? How we answer these questions make a huge difference to the way we live and our understanding of the story we live in. Another interesting question implicitly asked by the film is that of gender roles. Where do men and women fit in today’s world without shortchanging one or the other? It’s certainly something I need to think through more, especially as a tentative complementarian.

One person who comes out of this well is Ronnie’s mother. She showers nothing but unconditional love on her son, wanting the very best for him, willing to overlook his past transgressions. Here, I think, there is a misstep, because she does so almost too lightly, saying to Ronnie: “You’ve done a bad thing, but I know you’re not a bad person.” This, admittedly, is the perspective of 99% of the movies out there. Also, the way the narrative subsequently plays out also allows this to be assumption to be questioned. Ronnie, encouraged to go on a blind date, reverts to type. But it is her love that ultimately drives Ronnie to change – in fact, I think in light of Ronnie’s actions at the end of the film, the word repent will not be out of place at all. It is Ronnie’s recognition that he is, in fact, a truly bad person that sets the ball rolling in the right direction. Also, Ronnie’s mother plays out in stark contrast to the rest of the mothers in the film, who all either excessively idolise the role of the parent (as the many mothers do), or fail to acknowledge the value of this role, as Sarah and by implication Kathy, do. Moreover, all of them seem to see their children as mere accessories. (This is perhaps unfair to both Sarah and Brad, who, however imperfectly, do love their children dearly.)

Watching the final 15 minutes of the film, I was wondering if it was all going to end in tragedy. It certainly seemed that way, and uncomfortable as that was, it was all too feasible. But at the last moment, the director pulls back, and allows hope to seep back into the picture. People recognise the destructive consequences of their actions. And I’m glad for that. No, it’s nowhere near happily ever after. But it hints at the possibilities of the existence of a U-Turn, while never losing sight of the many challenges that lie ahead, and the responsibilities that each character in turn has to shoulder.

Is there anything wrong with the film? There is some nudity involved, and it probably did not need to be as graphic as it was. From a storyline viewpoint, I felt like I didn’t get to know the spouses well enough, but I understand that it might have made the film too bloated. Sarah's relationship with her husband never quite feels tangible, and I don't really know what her best friend, Joan, was there for.

Little Children could refer to a few things. It obviously refers to the many children who populate this film, the ones whom everyone is striving to shelter from the big bad world out there. It also refers to the adults, who often behave exactly like little children: spoilt and self-centered. But there is another possibility. To be like a little child is to learn to be dependent, to recognise our profound need for help. To be like a little child is also to enjoy the love a parent would shower on us. There is no mention of Jesus or God or anything remotely "religious" in the film, yet this is a tale congruent with Christian presuppositions. And maybe Jesus is there after all. Here is the tagline of the film: 'Let the little children come unto me'.


With many thanks to Tony Watkins for helping to focus my reflections. [Link is a little spoilerish, but it’s the type of film where knowing the spoilers don’t matter.]

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Drawing an arrow from Bhutan to Barcelona

I read The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home by TIME journalist Pico Iyer around July. It's an absorbing read, as Iyer tells the story of his multicultural upbringing and the globe-trotting that forms part of his profession, while reflecting on what it means to be a global citizen in today's connected world. Occasionally he overreaches - attempting to establish a link between an observation and a more general point he's trying to make when none exist. Still, I guess you could say that about a lot of reportage.

The anecdote he shares about Bhutanese archers is, for some reason, the one that sticks the most in my mind, and when I read this little story, I knew I wanted to share it. Here is Iyer, at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics:
They were archers, from Bhutan, as it transpired, who couldn't quite orient themselves amidst this crush of alienness.

They'd never seen a stadium before, one of the teenagers explained, They'd never seen a high-rise building, or a working television set, and they'd never seen a boat. I remember how, in their landlocked home, I'd watched students practise archery between the willow trees behind the Druk Hotel., their arrows whistling through the silent air.

None of them had ever boarded a plane before, one of them went on (in careful English - the Raj having penetrated even those places that television could not reach), and none of them had ever competed before crowds (besides, Olympic rules are so different from Bhutanese that they were all but guaranteed last place). "I thought Barcelona was going to be peaceful, like Thimbu," one of the young students said. "It's so busy!" The Olympic Village alone was almost the size of their capital.

...what stays with me, many years later, is the image of those guileless, bewildered, excited, souls, one day in a hidden kingdom where everyone has to wear medieval clothes and all the buildings are constructed in fourteenth century style, and the next, in the midst of the greatest planetary show on earth. And then, after two weeks surounded by exploding flashbulbs, to be back in their forgotten home, where the only concrete mementos they'd have of their surreal episode would be their photographs. Whenever she had a free moment, one of the archers told me, she hurried off to take pictures of the habor. She'd never seen an ocean before.

P/S I never saw him, but when I was at Oxford, the Bhutanese prince was studying there too, and had to leave halfway to quell a civil war! Kind of puts my essay crisis into perspective...

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On the England team

Having watched both England games over the past week, I had a lengthy post all lined up on a team reborn, but then Rob Smyth pre-empted me and said everything I was going to say. I agree, and it's time to end the Lampard-Gerrard experiment. Go read him!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Christian publishing and print culture

Al Hsu has a very informative post on whether Christian publishing is a business, a ministry, or both. This is especially relevant to me since, as some of you know, I am writing a thesis on Christian publishing and cultural accomodation in the UK, exploring in particular the roles and spaces Christian publishers carve out for themselves. I think Al's post summarises succintly all the main issues and tensions inherent in Christian publishing.

Actually, my thesis isn't all that impressive, contrary to what some may think! This is partly due to factors such as lack of time and accessibility to sources, as well as the fact that this is the first time I'm engaging in proper research, so I'm still learning to come to terms with methodological issues. And in the end, I don't do that much primary research, so I'm not making some wonderful original contribution. Although having said that, it was pointed out to me that the collation of secondary research is itself a contribution to research! I'll take that...

It's been interesting work, nonetheless, although the constraints of time meant that I've been doing lots and lots of scanning instead of being able to read in-depth! Due to some of the stuff I'm reading, I've taken a more historical perspective than I expected when I first started doing my literature review. I've been particularly interested in just how the seemingly simple notion that a person could learn to read the Bible for himself unleashed a huge chain of socio-political ramifications, and I'll love to read more on that in the future. (I see Alister McGrath's new book arrives at precisely the right time!) Anyway, I thought some of you might be interested in some of the things I've been looking at.

Evangelicals have always had a love affair of sorts with mass media, and this can be traced back to the invention of printing. Since words are now translated from mere sounds to symbols upon a page, there was a fixity about them that made geographical boundaries irrelevant, as people of the faith could now rally around a common set of documents. The Puritans, for example, emphasised the instruction of reading since this was a basic skill needed for knowledge of the Scriptures. At the same time, ironically, this undermines the community since these instruments of literacy could be used for individualistic ends. In other words, you didn't need to depend on an authority figure to tell you what to believe in. What is particularly interesting is that some have found the seeds or impulses for today's consumer culture here. Nathan Hatch, who is a historian of American Christianity, talks about how religious communication became the property of the "sovereign audience". Vincent Miller, commenting on the structure of consumerism today, writes: " [People] encounter religion in a commodified form, where doctrines, symbols, values, and practices are torn from their traditional, communal contexts. In such a setting it is quite easy to construct hybrid religiosities abstracted from particular communities."

The thing about publishing, therefore, is that it gives you access to both wisdom and nonsense. It helps delineate certain boundaries which help build a stronger sense of identity while simultaneously allowing for the possibility of the undermining of that community. There is also a tension between a desire to be countercultural whilst wishing to engage it at the same time. One of the interesting things that a publisher I interviewed said to me was that the conditions of postmodernity meant that it was possible at least to get the Christian point of view out into the marketplace of ideas, although another publisher was more circumspect about this; he felt that the "scandal of particularity" of Christianity meant that access to the general market is still hard to come by, although it is possible. As Al Hsu pointed out, the ability to find alternative avenues of distribution and the "long tail" theory means that it is perhaps now more viable to get more special-interest books out there than previously.

It's likely that finding something topical gives a Christian publisher some access to general distribution lines: witness both the God Delusion and the Dawkins Delusion. (Although interestingly, as a Christian response, the lesser-known Dawkins Letters has actually outsold the Dawkins Delusion!) I also find it quite amusing that the same publisher, via different imprints, is able to publish both Christopher Hitchens and Joyce Meyer.

I suppose this discussion is interesting too since it relates to questions in the field of hermeneutics, which is where a lot of the action is this days in Christian scholarship, eg. the role of interpretation in the church and by the church etc. etc.

I do think Christian publishers play a valuable role in the church worldwide, and it looks like there needs to be more thinking done into their role in today's climate, which would require someone with interdisciplinary prowess. That certainly rules me out!

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

quick notes on 2 Madeleines

McCanns case takes a twist as parents are named as suspects, which I find very hard to believe...

Madeleine L'Engle dies. (HT: Justin Taylor) The author of the children's classic A Wrinkle in Time and many books on the Austin family. I really enjoyed A Ring of Endless Light. A Christian, though not of the conservative sort, she has also written Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, which I would like to read at some point.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Prayer as petition

Prayer "'in the first instance, is an asking'. [Karl Barth]...

I have been frustrated by members of my congregation who could not be exhorted to focus on the praise of God or on confession without moving on to petition. It is an attitude of which I now repent. We too easily think of those who move into comtemplative modes of praying or those who make worship or confession the focus of their praying as those who are advanced prayers. It is not so. We must recognize that it is the 'unsophisticated', simple prayers who truly express trust in divine Majesty, who truly acknowledge their own need before God, and who have truly grasped the freedom of the Father-child relationship. Many books on prayer exhort us to search for deeper experiences in prayer or more sophisticated modes of prayer that breed a sense of inadequacy in some and of superiority in others. The Bible invites us to find the model of prayer in the simple petitioning of a child before a father. This leads to freedom and peace."

- 'Praying to the Father', The Message of Prayer, Tim Chester

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

What's your eschatology?

I couldn't resist taking this quiz, especially since i know that my own convictions about the last days/things/new world coming are really vague and not set in stone. If anything, this quiz proved that I'm as confused as ever!

You scored as Amillenialist, Amillenialism believes that the 1000 year reign is not literal but figurative, and that Christ began to reign at his ascension. People take some prophetic scripture far too literally in your view.



Moltmannian Eschatology








Left Behind




What's your eschatology?
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The phrasing of the questions isn't always the greatest (different people might have different definitions for "literal", "figurative" or "reign", for example), and I truly didn't know what my opinion was on some of the things queried. I've always thought I'll either end up amillenial or historic premillenial, and was actually expecting myself to score higher on the premillenial side than I did.

Here's a useful chart comparing the four main eschatological positions.

I don't know much about Moltmann apart from the fact that he's a well-known non-evangelical 20th century theologian. As far as I know, his eschatology is one in which Christians should work to bring the kingdom, or future, into being in this world, in which hope plays a central part. Something like that anyway. Preterism is a minority position that has recently been gaining more currency, which holds that many (or all?) the prophecies concerning the Last Days were actually fulfilled in the 1st century, eg. destruction of Jerusalem in AD.70. R.C Sproul and N.T Wright are preterists.

Left Behind? Too late, we already have! :-p

Vern Poythress' The Returning King, available for free online, is a useful introduction to the book of Revelation.

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