Wednesday, April 30, 2008

[THO] Let the Scriptures Live

Jim West pointed out this interesting post at James McGrath's blog. It raises the question of if/when it is appropriate to question the Bible. This is a really important question. If the Bible is just to be accepted carte blanche then there are several problems that rear their ugly heads.

First this turns the scriptures into a tyrrant, or at least it turns them into a powerful tool for tyrrants to dominate the Church of the ignorant. This is part in parcel of any religion/faith that discourages us to think. The problem is who's interpretation is untouchable? And the bigger question of Why?

Second it reduces what should be living scriptures to dead words on a page. The scriptures are meant to live in our community. They are meant to be polysemic, a locus of revelation. But revelation where we are fully readers and fully interpreters. That can only happen if we have the guts to question scripture. When we take that away we rob the church of her greatest physical asset.

Third, and finally, and I think probably the most important: the scriptures are not honoured. Seriously, how is it honouring to the scriptures to never raise questions? When I honour something in my life I don't make it into an idol, never to be touched or questioned. No, I engage with, learn everything I can from and embrace all I can get from the object of my honour. To honour the scriptures is to ask deep questions and even to be open to answers that I didn't expect. To honour the scriptures I don't make them into what I want them to be, but I embrace them for what they are. I don't turn them into a trite love letter, but treat them as the Word of God. I don't use the scriptures to assert power over others, but allow them to shape me into a servant for all.

Something to think about.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

[THO] True Value of Prophecy Books

“This dismal record has inspired the witticism known as “Murphy’s Armageddon Observation: Those who don't learn from the past are condemned to write end-times books. Corollary: God doesn't read prophecy books.” The sad fact remains that an awfullot of evangelicals still do.”
Mark Noll, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 174.

Friday, April 25, 2008

[THO] Should be Expelled.

This is a great little video. It is interesting though that Stein, who is making a case for Intelligent Design (ID) is called a Creationist. I would make that connection, but I'd be more careful with my terms. Creationists, I find, have both bad science and bad theology. ID proponents are marginally better, but could improve if they would move beyond their obvious critique of reductionist mechanistic science. Come on guys, there is a lot better science out there than Dawkins.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

[LIF] Full Moon

Wow it has been an interesting day. I was supposed to be studying, after all I have two exams tomorrow! But a dear friend called and needed me, so off I went. There is always something awkward but precious about being there for someone. So dinner rolls around and it turns out Elyssa is sick, poor girl. So her mom took care of her while I took our friend home. When we got the kids settled another friend called, this time needing my excellent wife's ear. Sharon comes down after a tiring day and says, "full moon." If only it were that easy.

Despite this I do feel ready for tomorrow. I'd like to have prepared a bit more for the study group in the afternoon, but I did a fair bit last night. I actually got quite a surprising amount of work done and still make it to my friend Poulsen's going away party. You will be missed my friend. For those who don't know, Poulsen has a pro-hockey playing brother (CHL I think, I am not a sports person) and told us to youtube his brother's name. Chris Poulsen is way cooler than that!

I begin the morning with my von Balthasar exam. At the party I was chatting with a friend who is swaying from Moltmann to Balthasar? I don't get that switch. There are things about Balthasar I like, but I don't find him near as challenging as Moltmann. I think it is because he doesn't hit me where I live ecclesially. I'm not Barth and apparently if I was that'd make a big difference!

I get a break, probably a nap, and then meet up with my director for her exam. My topic is why theology needs evolution. That is sweet because I actually think that it does. Last time I brought the subject up Kenny threw out Gould's NOMA (non-overlapping magesterial authority), which is a notion that science and religion/theology are two completely seperate spheres of knowledge/inquiry. My big issue with NOMA is that if we are dealing with the same reality, that is reality as it presents itself to us, then this sort of division is false. Various disciplines definitely ask different questions, but they cannot ignore one another. Evolution has serious implications on theology. To ignore it is to not allow science to have a fair voice in the conversation, the same thing we complain science does to religion. It doesn't wash for me.

After that I have a study group for my last exam. I am hoping it is mostly in English because it is the French that was tripping me up. My next project is to take a two week immersion programme!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

[THO] Meaning Making

First off, my official acceptance letter finally arrived. And as an exciting extra, I think I'm going to do both my core courses in the second semester, both very cool courses with Susan Roll and Ken Melchin (both in my list a favourite profs at St. Paul).

I took an oral exam today for my course on Theological Hermeneutics. We studied through the perspective of Paul Ricoeur, I'm a big fan of Ricoeur especially after his excellent book with Andre LaCoque - Thinking Biblically. I was asked to choose a topic and basically we had a conversation. I chose to look at Ricoeur's contribution to our understanding of meaning making. I made a special appeal to his threefold mimesis.

What was interesting was to begin with a connection to my own moment of crisis - the bursting of the high-tech bubble. It was a moment when I began to reflect on the meaning of my efforts as an IT consultant, especially the failed promises (paperless office is the primary one) that I had worked hard towards. My confidence in IT collapsed. I know others who have come to the same conclusions, but I am also confident that many have discovered meaning within IT that sustains them. I did not. So I began a quest for meaning.

That was eight years ago when I entered St. Paul University. What happened is a series of ever unfolding horizon shifts that have affects not just the meaning I craft out of my occupation, but also how I view community, faith, God and especially myself.

Ricoeur draws our attention to narrative texts, especially those meant to challenge us. The example par excellence are the Biblical narratives. These are texts that continue to unfold possibilities in the life of the believer. Of course this pre-supposes that the believer is open to such experiences. (I've been chatting recently with a Fundamentalist friend who is definitely not open to such a relationship with the Scriptures. That has been quite frustrating.)

The encounter begins with a crisis. The world of the author and the world of the reader clash. We bring ourselves to the text and the text challenges our notions of self, they even unhinge us. This is akin to the encounter of the radical other, but in this case Ricoeur insists the author is dead. No further inquiry is possible, we are left with the text and we stand exposed before it. This is mimesis 1 aka pre-configuration.

Mimesis 2 (Configuration) is a process of action and reflection. Ricoeur uses the term mimesis to tie these moments to the examination of action. Within this moment possibilities (interpretations) open up for the reader. The text which often surprises us, like the alterity of a parable, pushes us to open possibilities.

The tension of mimesis 2 is not sustainable. We must move on to a newely configured reality, an appropriation. This is mimesis 3. At this point we have settled on meaning, that is we have made a claim on truth. What is interesting is that Ricoeur raises the question of how new this truth really is. The reality is that we rarely land far from where we started, so in a best case scenario we continue to enter into this process over and over allowing our horizons to shift, thus the notion of spiritual growth.

I know I've personally grown a lot through this educative adventure. But in an essence I am not that far from the conservative evangelical that began this journey. But I am glad to say that I have discovered, in this journey, meaning that sustains me. Will it be enough to sustain me through a PhD? We'll have to see. I'm really just looking forward to the joy of learning and actually giving something back to the academic community that has given so much to me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

[LIF] Next stop... PhD

I'm really excited, my application for the PhD programme at St. Paul University was accepted. This is the last step in a long process. The good thing is that I can teach with a Masters (at an undergrad level) and PhD students do have opportunities to teach at my school. Also there are not too many of us, which is helpful. I'm also planning on pitching my services to the various satellite schools in Ottawa. I'd love to land a course each semester (except the semester I do my reading course). We'll see what happens.

I'm trying to piece together an academic resume. The problem is I have tonnes of experience that doesn't translate into my new career. That sucks. I think I can work in my teaching experience and some of the articles I've had published. I really need to get something into a peer reviewed journal though. I have an angle to work on for that though. Because I am working on the theology of the Evangelical Emerging Church, I think there is an interest in some academic material on the subject. I miss Robert Webber, the more I read the more I think he was just getting started.

In the meantime I'm almost through exams and I have a tight schedule to get my research paper out by the end of June!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

[THO] Oh Hell

We finished off my Hans Urs von Balthasar course with a discussion of hell and Christian hope. It was fascinating. Balthasar, as some of you know, faced Rome over his views on hell. Nothing stuck, but the reason he ended up there is because he dared wrestle with the same issues that come up for me when you talk about hell. I know that some of my brothers and sisters take hell very seriously, for them the bad news of Tertulian and Augustine has won the day. But does it need to be so?

My big concern with contemporary views on hell is that it gets interpreted as a dualistic opposite to heaven. God is depicted as creating two options and arbitrarily tossing folks in one or the other. Theologically this is the problem of double-predestination. Personally I think this is a bigger heresay than apokatastasis, but lets drill in before we get to my own views. Suffice it to say that I think the whole issue of hell is too quickly simplified. When we do that we often violate the character of God as revealed through the Scriptures.

Apokatastasis is also a victim of easy reduction. The best way to understand it is as an insistance that all of creation will participate in the grace of God. But more often it is reduced to a simple universalism. I would insist it is much bigger than everyone is saved. But I'm not going argue for a condemned heresay, I don't believe you need to resort to apokatastasis to deal with the issue of hell in a way that refuses to violate the character of God.

Where we need to begin is with the character of hell. Moltmann tells us that anything we say about death is for the living, not the dead. Indeed this holds true for the classic passages in the Bible that speak of the afterlife. Job reminds us that the dead do not praise God. And if you have read here for any length of time you will know that my hope is in the resurrection, not some otherworld. But when I go down that road people assume that I don't believe in heaven or hell. The fact is that we really know nothing for certain of the afterlife. Even when a mystic has a vision of hell, who is that vision for? What is the purpose of that vision? The danger is that we become necrophobic and paint these comforting pictures around the whole idea of what comes after death. Death is a natural part of life. My hope is not that I won't die (Jesus is clear on this), but that God will have the last word, even over death.

When we try to describe hell it is most often in spatial and temporal terms. You might have heard the tapes of hell deep beneath Siberia. Oblate missionaries regularily used Dantian images of hell to try and convert the native North Americans - that worked well didn't it? And of course there are the Ray Comforts of this world who have a hell obsession and assault anyone not smart enough to just walk away. Hell as a physicality has to do with human perceptions of judgement. When salvation is reduced to a simple matter of justice then it becomes necessary to have two options - right and wrong. My contention is that justice is only a part of salvation and such a view overlooks the notion of freedom.

Is hell a place of devils and pitchforks? Or is hell the rejection of God's salvation?

There isn't a consistent picture of hell in scripture. Jesus draws on several images, enough that there is a reality He is trying to describe, but also enough to be certain this is more complicated than say an everburning hotel at the center of the Earth. Hell has to be a choice. If we make a strong causal connection between God and hell, then what sort of God do we have? Hell has to do with preserving our freedom. Hell has to be a real possibility if we are able to really reject God. To understand God in these terms we have to reflect on the gift that God offers. (Likewise, my argument for not using hell in evangelism rests here. The good news is what God offers.)

If hell is a choice, then it is a choice to alienate ourselves from God. God does not punish sinners in hell. Rather it is our rejection of the mercy of God. This is important because if we imagine a God who is punishing sinners for eternity, then is that consistent with the God revealed in scripture? I have a hard time supporting a petty God eternally prodding toasty sinners with the Crucified God. That kind of God does not inspire obedience (Romans 12:1-2) but rather apathy and fear.

Just to finish up, Balathasar insists on something that I think is beautiful. Balthasar insists that as Christians it is our obligation to hope for the Salvation of All. What an interesting take. I really believe that anything we say about hell must consider God's desire for all to be saved. Personally I think rejecting God is a freedom we have in Christ. It is consistent with God's expression of solidarity with humanity. It is consistent with the pains by which God wrought salvation. But another consistency is that, as Christians especially, we believe God has the last word.