Wednesday, September 13, 2006

One God: The Deity Revealed in Jesus


Book Review: Peter Cotterell, One God: The Deity Revealed in Jesus, Spring Harvest, 2006.

Peter Cotterell, says the hard-to-read mauve-on-purple print on the back cover.... ahh I can't read it anyway. The London School of Theology website says his distinguished career includes 19 years lecturing at London School of Theology, where he also served as Principal, and 23 on the mission field in Ethiopia, where he founded the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology. His publications in Linguistics, Missiology, Islam and Communications total 17 books.

The phrase 'mission field' connotes 'conservative evangelical', and yes, Peter is one of those. This little book, comparing and contrasting the 'essential/historic' Christian view of God with the beliefs of other major religions is an easy read, even though the author is discussing some big, and sometimes complex, ideas. He writes irenically, with lots of quotes from here and there, and, on the whole produces an excellent introduction to comparative religions from a Christian perspective. Being 'conservative evangelical' the book is strong on Western classical views of, say, the Atonement, and is also therefore fairly weak on social justice/love; strong on ideas, weak on stories, (though the one about the Ethiopian debt-collector is a beauty, p. 93).

Dr. Cotterell begins with a chapter about the 'meaninglessness of life' and Why we Need God. Life isn't fair, people break the rules and get away with it, and though the UN has a Universal Declaration of Human Rights which most countries signed, it isn't universal: Saudi Arabia isn't a signatory because they believe Islam does not give Muslims the right to change their religion. And in countries which did sign, those rights are trampled on all over the place... In such a world is it surprising that the number of atheists has grown (according to Barrett and Johnson) from 226,000 in 1900 to 107 million in 2004?

Where is God when a Tsunami or Auschwitz happens? Did God plan those things? 'The Muslim answer is "Yes, Allah did." The Christian answer is, "No, Yahweh didn't".' (p. 22). This 'either/or / yes/no' polemic is common: 'Either Jesus did die on the cross (and the Bible is right) or else he did not die on the cross (and the Qur'an is right).' (p. 35). Cotterell says he prefers 'credible answers' (p. 53) to, presumably, living with unanswered questions. Which is why it's important for him when discussing the Qur'an to underline the Islamic notion of 'abrogation': 'Allah can abrogate, cancel out a verse of the Qur'an already given, and replace it with something else'... [thus]Muslims 'can show from the Qur'an both that it teaches peace and that it teaches war' (p. 61). All this is clear enough for a beginner, but a more mature thinker will want to know if/whether the Christian Bible doesn't do the same thing - with a warrior-God in the Old Testament (and the Book of Revelation) contrasted with a peace-loving Jesus. And whether the paradigm-shift of accepting Gentiles into the Christian Church without their having to submit to Jewish laws isn't also an example of 'abrogation'...

Cotterell quotes John-Paul II (1994) with approval: 'There is no room [in Islam] for the Cross and the resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet... not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity' (p. 70).

The author's conservative evangelical credentials are everywhere. For example: 'In Jesus we had God incarnate, God in human flesh' (p. 71); 'Jesus was not just a prophet, not just a remarkable teacher, in fact not just a man, but God come to us as a man, come to die for the sins of the world' (p. 86). What does the death of Christ mean? For Cotterell, there are eight dimensions: ransom, redemption, expiation, propitiation, atonement, sacrifice, reconciliation, and substitution. My response: all of these are 'classical Western' theories, but it can be argued that in the New Testament there are two other dimensions which are equally, if not more important: the death of Christ as a demonstration of the love of God, and of the victory of God (see http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9638.htm ).

After examining all of the 'great religions' - Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Traditional Religions - Cotterell offers (after Eric Sharpe) four dimensions of religious belief and practice - existential, institutional, intellectual and ethical. He then suggests three approaches to them from a Christian viewpoint (after Lesslie Newbiggin and others) - pluralist ('all religions can save'), inclusivist (all religions do save), and exclusivist (his own, of course - 'religions other than Christianity are human constructions... and cannot lead their followers to salvation') (p. 107).

The book ends with a discussion of the best way to 'do dialogue', and makes this important point: 'We have been quick to apologize to the Muslim world for what so-called Christians did in the Crusades, although we have been less ready to own up to our mistreatment of the Jews' (p. 115). He re-tells the best story for Muslim-Christian dialogue - that of St Francis visiting Egypt during the Fifth Crusade in 1219, 'not to fight but to talk about Jesus'... 'Just after his meeting with St Francis, the Sultan ordered the release of some 30,000 Christian prisoners, and commanded that they should be treated with respect...' (p. 117).

Which suggests that if we too treat others with deep respect, despite our ideological/theological differences, we're more likely to celebrate an outcome like this one.

In the 'Did You Know?' category:

* 'If David Barrett and Tod Johnson are right there were 167,000 Christian martyrs in 2004' (p. 13).

* [According to John Polkinghorne, previously Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge, now retired and an Anglican minister]: 'If I took a target an inch wide and placed it on the other side of the observable universe, eighteen thousand million light years away, and took aim and hit the target, then I would have attained an accuracy of one in 10 [with superscript/to the power of 60]'. Cotterill notes: 'But this incredible balance is necessary if on the one hand stars are to form and on the other hand the entire universe is not simply to collapse back in on itself before anything interesting could emerge from it' (p. 28).

* 'We can date [the modern worldwide reawakening of Islam] from Gamal Abdul Nasser and his resistance in 1957 to France, Britain and Israel when they attempted to take over the Suez Canal. He became a hero to the Muslim world' (p. 65).

* [After Constantine's conversion to Christianity] 'Christians were not merely allowed in the Roman army: *only* Christians were allowed in the army' (p. 71).

It's a good read, and especially recommended for new/young Christians and others who want a clear outline of the differences between Christianity and other faiths. See http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17938.htm for a review of a similar book, by Dr. Mark Durie, and http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17630.htm for an important article 'Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?'

Copies of Dr Peter Cotterell's book are available at http://bookshop.ridley.unimelb.edu.au/bookweb/ (AUD $17-50).

Rowland Croucher

September 12, 2006.

http://jmm.aaa.net.au/

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pastors-in-transition



Hi friends,


Here's a summary of my thinking about pastors-in-transition, written mainly from an Australian (Victorian) perspective. It's too long and yet too brief, and off the top of my head. There are many other angles on all this.


~~~


# A Baptist ex-pastor in another state thought his credentials were current, and happened to come across a Baptist Union Yearbook - to discover his name was not there! No contact from anyone, no phone call, no pastoral care...


# An Australian Pentecostal pastor's ministry was terminated by a church meeting and a phone call on Sunday, and on Monday an elder called to his home to arrange for him to hand over the manse keys. No farewell, no thanks, no holiday pay, nothing.


# Reverend Joe served two rural churches, but both pastorates ended badly. He asked to be put on the Baptist Union's 'list' for another pastorate. The meetings of the Union's 'settlement committee' came and went and Joe's name would come up each time. But there wasn't a 'suitable' church. (One of the members of that committee said to me, 'We have to be efficient, because there's always a lot of business each month. But these names... they're people! This is their vocation, their job, we're talking about. We don't pray for them except generally when we 'bless the meeting' in a pious way, or even meet some of them. They're mostly just names. I feel very uneasy about the whole process.'). I'd met Joe when I preached at the Baptist church he attended. We made a time to talk - at the local McDonald's. He got there early and was waiting for me, with a cup of coffee. (I learned later he found a used styrofoam cup, and asked for a 'refill', as he couldn't admit to me that he was penniless). His wife was supporting them both with some 'agency nursing', but her health was not good, and she could only do about two shifts a week. After mortgage payments, and other bills, they had about $50 a week for food. He couldn't find a job - and his old trade wasn't a possibility any more. (More of this story - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2039.htm )




In some of our older church buildings there's an honour roll dedicated to the memory of those who've fallen in battle. But if you're wounded in the pastorate, you're often left to die, sometimes all alone. Occasionally not even your comrades-in-ministry will call you. (About half of all Baptist ex-pastors tell me they had no significant contact from their peers when they left pastoral ministry...). The majority of those who are no longer in parish/pastoral ministry, whether by choice, or because their ministry was prematurely terminated, walk a lonely road...


Pastoral ministry, commenced with high ideals and expectations, had become a source of stress, had caused a lowering of self-confidence, and a sense of powerlessness for over half of the 243 ex-parish pastors who responded to our John Mark Ministries questionnaire. And yet many would identify with the person who said, 'but my "sense of call" remained; [I] felt guilty that I could not fulfil my calling.'


About 20% of ex-pastors in parish settlements left to move into another career (either within their denomination, a para-church organisation or a secular position). One-quarter of these have done so without hurt, conflict, loss of health, or plain boredom, being their underlying motivation. The few can say, 'I had enjoyed a total of 15 years of parish ministry and I felt ready for a new challenge in ministry', or saw the move into another vocation as the natural next step because of the gifts and the expertise that they possessed. Many more would say something like, 'I was "burnt-out". God gave me a way out - I was tired of fighting unproductive battles...'


PASTORS AND CONFLICT


The most significant reason for leaving (for about half of the sample) is conflict. This conflict may be with local lay leaders, colleagues in the parish, members of the congregation, or denominational leaders. Conflict with local church leaders (lay and other pastors) is mentioned as one of the most significant factors in the actual decision to leave by one quarter of all respondents, and difficult relationships with denominational leaders by approx. 20%. When this is combined with the fact that half of the ex-pastors surveyed have felt a lack of support/encouragement in the pastorate, this raises serious questions about the quality of community in many of our churches. The ex-pastor is often left with intense feelings of failure, anger, a sense of betrayal (not only by others, but also by God), resentment, guilt and shame. These can take many years for the pastor, the pastor's spouse and teenage or adult children to work through to a point of healing - if it ever happens.


SPOUSE/FAMILY ISSUES


Spouse/family issues are often significant in the decision to leave the pastorate. Problems in the marriage relationship are mentioned specifically by 13.5% of respondents, 10% of spouses have had problems accepting the lifestyle, and 16% mention family problems. Factor analysis of the various factors operating when pastors leave parish ministry has shown a definite clustering around the questions relating to spouse, family, housing, finance and mobility. When these factors are considered together, the significance of the pastor's personal relationships would appear to be important for about a third of those who decide to leave the pastorate. A regular response in the questonnaires is the felt need 'to spend more time with my wife and family'. Adultery on the part of the pastor is the sole reason for leaving for some of our respondents. Sadly, this often occurs when the pastoral ministry has been progressing effectively. One perceptive ex-pastor for whom adultery and the subsequent break-down of his marriage had been the key issue said: 'The inability of the church to deal with my situation, the closing off from expression/acknowledgement of issues relating to sexuality and lack of opportunity for support/examination or reflection to help me was significant.'


'SELF' AND HEALTH


These two issues recur as very significant reasons in the decision to leave the parish. 'Self', including a loss of self-confidence, inability to continue to cope, and awareness of weaknesses, is the most often given reason for leaving. Health factors (often associated with stress/burnout) is the third reason given (after self and conflict with local church leaders). It would be very wrong to assume that the third of pastors who acknowledge self as a factor in their decision were unsuited to the pastoral ministry. (There are a few for whom this is so.) Many ex-pastors (about 40%) have good self-knowledge, and have learnt through their experience. One ex-pastor said: 'Some of my inter-personal skills needed attention', and many have sought counseling help to look at themselves.


Only 4% of the respondents returned to the pastorate.


WHERE TO FROM HERE?


In an ideal world, the 'marriage' of church and pastor ought to be 'for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer'. But we do not live in an ideal world. Sometimes divorce is the only option when this important relationship breaks down. Today, it's both easier and harder to be a pastor - and indeed any sort of church leader. It is easier for pastors because there are so many resources available to help him/her do a professional job. (See for example, 'The Professional Pastor' in Paul Beasley-Murray's 'A Call to Excellence', Hodder & Stoughton, 1995). But it's harder for both pastors and church leaders primarily because churches are becoming more specific in their performance-expectations of their pastor, and more likely to initiate a termination if the pastor doesn't meet those expectations. In a world of 'performance standards' or even 'downsizing', executives these days are disposable.


No one wins when a church feels forced to terminate the services of a pastoral leader. In many (most?) instances, not all church members favor the action or the process and tempers flare and often times a church split results. If forced terminations become the "norm" for a church, there is negative witness in the community, and sometimes that church gets a 'name' for crucifying its pastors.


My counseling of 'pastors in transition' has led me to believe that a major component of their conflict has to do with unresolved childhood issues. Some bristle at this suggestion, but I can only report what I have learned from the stories of hundreds of these people. When the media asks 'Why are there so many ex-pastors?', I now respond: 'There are 41 discrete answers they give to the question "Why did you leave?" A list of those responses can be found at http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2001.htm . Second, the _occasion_ of leaving was often conflict of some kind - usually with powerful people in the local church. But I think we then have to ask: "What causes those conflicts?" And the broad answer to that question might suggest reasons associated with a mismatch of expectations and reality, but beneath all that is the inability to get along with others because of unfinished business in various people's lives - the pastors' and/or the leaders'...


A significant number of ex-pastors don't 'attend church' for short or long periods - or ever. And many who do attend as 'laypeople' do so for the sake of their children. And they generally can't express their hurt and anger: anger is a most misunderstood emotion, and poorly handled in the vast majority of Christian contexts... (more on that below).


Many cannot easily find another vocation: the one they left to enter pastoral ministry might not exist any more. There are financial problems - particularly if they do not own their own home. The families suffer from geographical dislocation. The spouses and children often become angry with the church - and this causes issues of loss-of-faith for many.


OUTSIDERS


So what can be done? First, let's note the biblical precedent of Barnabas relating to Saul of Tarsus and to John Mark - two 'outsiders' who had very different reactions to their life-situations. Can you hear good Christian folks saying to Barnabas: 'Saul? Don't touch him. He's trouble!' 'John Mark? He's a loser: the mission is more important than one individual...'


The Barnabas option is time-consuming, and emotionally demanding. So the church-as-institution often follows the easy road. When ex-pastors say to me 'The denominational leaders didn't help, I was viewed as a capital-p Problem', my response is sometimes: 'And didn't you have to deal with problem people in your pastorates, and what was your strategy with these?'. This situation is complicated by role-conflicts: the denominational leaders are by default both counsellors-of-pastors and gatekeepers to other possible appointments. So they wisely refer pastors-in-transition to outside counsellors. But then there's the inevitable response: 'They had no time for me; I was shoved off to someone else to get sorted out; and I've not heard from my denomination's leaders again.'


How are pastors-in-transition helped? Depends on their personality, pastoral experiences, unfinished family-of-origin business and a host of other variables.


In all cases there's a need for confidential, caring, listening by a trusted 'other'.


Here we have to note two pastoral dynamics (there are others):


1. Intimacy. Gordon Macdonald writes: 'A preponderant percentage of those of us drawn to pastoral leadership have a higher-than-normal urge to engage with other people. We love to get below the surface of people's exterior lives: to understand their dreams and their burdens, to urge them on to higher possibilities, to sympathize with their feelings and fears, to show them grace and mercy when they fail' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17246.htm ).


And so we might have a higher-than-average expectation others will do that for us if/when we fail.


2. Power. Most ex-pastors, if they're honest, say they miss preaching more than anything else. The pulpit is about the last place in our society where someone can speak to a crowd without being interrupted - or often even questioned, at least directly. We humans love our little occasions of power, and when deprived of them don't know sometimes how to handle the concomitant powerlessness.


~~~


Should some of them, in their pain, 'act out' their rage? In my view, and in a minority of cases, and in a safe and appropriate context, yes. There's the role-play model, where they 'let fly' at an imaginary person sitting in a chair. Occasionally I've taken people driving along a freeway at night to shout/scream/swear (the only context I know in the city/ suburbs where they can safely do that without someone calling the police!).


Some people have been taught that they shouldn't externalize their strong emotions. I'm wary of that advice, but, yes, I know that 'self-control' is a 'Fruit of the Spirit'! (I was talking to someone recently who said 'I'm from a Greek family. And we say what we think, and we're often "in your face" with each other. Then we get over it. But I'm married to an English spouse, who doesn't understand the Greek way of solving conflicts!')




I reckon also we have to be frank about the strengths and weaknesses of institutions. Walter Wink is helpful here. Where two or three join together to do something there's institutional power at work. When someone inhibits the process of 'getting the institutional thing done' they're usually ostracized. 'Good guys' conform to the institution's aims and norms of behavior. Troublemakers are 'bad guys' and are excluded from the institution's benefits. Some 'troublemakers' then rage at the institution, occasionally sabotaging any good/reform which might result, and suffer the consequences. (Today's news: Melbourne Storm fined $15,000 by the NRL for claiming they are victims of a conspiracy by the northern states to destabilise their club). Biting the hand that feeds you is not generally a constructive strategy!


Oh, that'll do... there's much much more, but some might like to respond to some of this... Like asking:


1. How do we as pastors encourage discipline and maturity in these matters while acknowledging genuine pain and rage in someone?


2. How can we exercise constructive loyalty to our group/denomination without suffering from 'institutional preciousness'?


3. How is someone (like most ex-pastors I talk to every week) encouraged to 'own their own stuff' while debriefing on conflictual situations?


4. Where does the (enlightened) notion of 'restorative justice' fit into all this?


5. How can 'outsiders' become 'insiders' without compromising their convictions or becoming less 'prophetic'?


6. An issue of the GRID leadership letter - 'Do Yourself a Favour: Encourage your Pastor' provoked a record 600 responses to World Vision (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/2019.htm). Why?


7. We pastors are supposed to go after lost sheep, but are not good at helping 'lost shepherds'. True? Why?


~~~


Resources


'How many ex-pastors in Australia? Somewhere between 10,000 and 13,000' (More - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/16971.htm )




'Moral failure: Let's require that every man and woman in Christian leadership belong to a peer-oriented group that creates covenants of behavior such as no casual dining with a member of the opposite sex, no travel of any kind with a colleagues of the opposite sex, no team relationships unless three or more people are involved' (More - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17246.htm )




'Churchie behaviour: to be accepted on a Sunday you have to behave a certain way. I am simply not that person that I am supposed to pretend I am whilst in church' (More - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17126.htm )




Motivation? 'I used to pray for everyone individually, phone them up to ask how they were, show an interest in their kids and budgie and labrador... but what was my motive? To be nice and win 'em for my flock. Why don't I do that now that I'm not in a pastorate?' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/16899.htm )




'I found that I was sick of running a small business. More and more of my time seemed to involve administration. I have been involved in such diverse admin duties as: developing an environmental impact study for a new development, creating a registered training authority, running a community development and training programme, developing a men’s refuge from the ground up. All quite worthwhile but miles from where I was trained and from my real interests and love. And the number of meetings really began to take their toll.' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/15764.htm )




'In 2002, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America found that its clergy were far more likely than non-clergy to suffer from clinical depression and financial difficulties. They also experienced higher levels of work-related stress and had an increased likelihood of substance abuse and obesity' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14446.htm )




'Despite what some people say, quitting is not just for losers. It can be the best thing you'll ever do.' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14291.htm )




'People love labels and pat explanations so they won't have to think too hard. But if you have just walked away from bible religion, you are rediscovering the joy of thinking freely.' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14236.htm )




'What are some of the core reasons a pastor doesn't get a call? (much of this material is taken form a previous Baptist Union of Victoria paper "When the call to leadership is not confirmed") 1. The pastor may not have the gifts appropriate to the needs of a given church. This is more so today than ever when there are so many different kinds of churches with different styles and approaches to ministry'. (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14003.htm )




'I think my greatest pain though was the fact that, when I shared the problem with my minister friends, they started keeping their distance. None of them had any sympathy. It's like they couldn't believe that such a bizarre thing could happen, so they just shake their heads and say, "Ummm..." ' (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/12013.htm )




'In one recent year 72,000 pastors/clergy were fired across America. For reasons that were partially their fault, for reasons that were not their fault, some for reasons no one knows but God Himself. Nevertheless, they and their families were fired, force terminated, pushed out into the streets' (http://www.thecents.org/ )




And many more stories/ideas like these - http://jmm.aaa.net.au/catalog/section/xp1.htm


Footnote: This writer has experienced both highs and lows in pastoral ministry. For a story of my 'lowest low' see a recently-posted article on 'The Vancouver "Adventure"' on our website (http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17347.htm )


Rowland Croucher

Thursday, April 27, 2006

JESUS AND POWER

Jesus and Power

(Notes from last Sunday's preaching at a Wesleyan Methodist Church).

Mark 10: 32-45

Four items from this week's news:

1. Last week Italian police arrested Renato Cortese, the Sicilian mafia's
'boss of bosses', after he had been at large for four decades. He was living
in squalid conditions in a decrepit farmhouse. Why was he prepared to live
like this? The Interior UnderSecretary said: 'Because of his dedication to
pure power'.

2. 'Lucy' left the Opus Dei community after 20 years of menial work, 12-hour
days, 6-7 days each week, and being refused permission to attend her
sister's wedding because the ceremony would not be Catholic. (Time, April
24, 2006).

3. Radical commentator John Pilger said an ID card (in Britain) would not be
a good idea. Private businesses will have full access to the national
database if you apply for a job. 'There will be a record of your movements,
your phone calls and shopping habits, even the kind of medication you
take... These databases will be sold to third parties without your
knowing...'

4. Dawn Rowan won a defamation case against two governments and two TV media
chains, but because the Australian Government won on appeal she now has to
pay their costs - to the value of her home. Your taxes at work! (See
http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/4728.htm )...

~~~

Where two or three or more humans are together, there is power... Power for
good, or evil; the abuse of power or the non-use of 'good power' which can
both be evil...

Power encounters are part of every human interaction. I am exercising power
by speaking to you and noting that you're listening. But you have power too:
for example if most of you started talking to one another or dozing off
while I'm preaching! Earlier our worship leader said 'Let us pray' and we
all went quiet. Powerful! And how did you feel when our blind friend sang
about Jesus making the blind to see? She's been the only person so far in
this service powerful.
enough to make me feel emotional!

Power is not evil in itself. We use power over nature, physical objects,
cooking ingredients, words etc. to live. But power is often abused when in
the hands of selfish humans.

Earlier in Mark 10 Jesus suggested to a rich man that the factor inhibiting
his entry into God's kingdom was his wealth. The opposite of rich is not
poor, but free.

Then Mark tells a story about another inhibitor - power. 'What can I do for
you?' Jesus asks James and John (the same question he asks Bartimaeus later
in the chapter). Earlier they'd been arguing about who would be greatest in
Jesus' kingdom. Now these two wanted the 'seats of honour' in the messianic
banquet. Now what's wrong with that? There are 'high tables' in many
institutions: you could tell in the synagogues who had the most
power/authority by noting who sat where.

But where they saw a throne, Jesus saw a cross. 'Can you drink the cup, be
baptized with the baptism...?' 'Yes,' they said (and James was certainly
executed for his faith; we don't know about John). Jesus then goes on to say
that the Son of Man would be mocked, spat upon and scourged... three forms
of abuse not mentioned elsewhere in his predictions about his death. (How
did he know? He'd read the prophets).

The next time Mark talks about 'the right, the left' he's describing the two
crosses either side of Jesus...

At least the disciples were 'up front' about their desire for power. And the
others were angry (because they wanted power too). It all goes back to Eden:
human beings don't like being dependent upon God, but want to run the show
their way. Pagan authorities exercise power-by-force, said Jesus. It's not
to be like that with you.

What kind of power does Jesus exhibit? Servant leadership: the badge of
office for him is not a throne but a towel (John 13). So with Jesus' church.
For example, the pastor is a servant of the church (though the church is not
his/her master).

Robert Greenleaf in his book Servant Leadership re-tells Herman Hesse's
story about a band of pilgrims en route to life in a contemplative order.
Brother Leo is their servant, who with his happy demeanour cheers them up
along the way. But then Leo disappears, and the group disintegrates. Later
the narrator finds him - and he's head of the Order.

Power for good or evil can be wielded by individuals or institutions. An
institution is two or more people who combine to do something. A family is
an institution. Have you noticed that in Matthew's parallel account of this
story it's James and John's mother who asks for seats of privilege for her
sons! Happens all the time! (Another item from this week's news: two
football-fathers bashed a referee who they felt was biassed because his son
was in the winning team, and he'd made a controversial decision which
decided the outcome of the match).

Within families everyone - even little people - exercise power. When either
of our granddaughters wants our attention, they yell, and they get it! In
marriages she may use her tongue (or withholding sex) to exercise power; he
may 'give her the silent treatment'. I'll let you into a secret about our
marriage: my wife has absolute power in determining what I wear - especially
to preaching occasions. Our choices are often in conflict: I wear what's
comfortable; she suggests I wear what looks nice, colours that match etc.
But when she's not there, the power belongs to me - so today (look!) I'm
wearing sandals, although I know Jan would have preferred shoes. (I tell her
the biblical people wore sandals too, but despite her being a pastor and
Bible-lover, that doesn't cut much ice!)

In creation power-displays happen everywhere all the time. The birds who
visit our feeder have a fairly distinct pecking-order: the crows at the top,
then the magpies, followed down the order by the rainbow lorikeets, the
crimson rosellas, and then the doves (though so-called 'peaceful doves' can
get stroppy with each other!)

According to the radical sociologist Robert Merton, the evil perpetrated by
human institutions is greater than the sum of the evil of the individuals
within them. Walter Wink writes about the 'spirits' of institutions
(referring to Paul's notion of 'principalities and powers'). Walter
Brueggeman's classic The Prophetic Imagination says the key to understanding
the biblical record of institutional behavior is to see a contrast between
Solomonic institutions (whose aim is to accrue power) and the 'prophetic'
approach which is not fooled by this.

Some institutional evil is in-your-face, overt: like the rape of about 1,000
women every day mostly by the military, in the Congo. Or the persecution
waged against Christians in many Muslim-majority countries. The Archbishop
of Nigeria, in this context, made an interesting comment that Christians
should not expect to be passive in the face of such persecution (though he
stopped short of encouraging counter-violence).

How are we to react to institutional evil? Moses confronted the Pharaoh.
Paul shamed the authorities in Philippi. Peter and John flatly refused to
obey the injunction of the Sanhedrin to be quiet and not preach about Jesus.
Karl Barth has famously noted that the civil authority in Romans 13, when
carrying out their order-mandate must be obeyed, but that same authority
(Rome) in Revelation 13 is 'the beast from the abyss' which will be judged
by the very Christians it is persecuting.

All political systems abuse power, even Western democracies. You know
Churchill's comment about Wesminster-style democracy being a terrible
system, but it's probably better than the alternatives! It's just that 'Yes
Minister' style politics is probably more subtle about power-abuse than
other political institutions. In Nepal at the moment, for example, power is
in the hands of the protesters on the street, and the Maoists, and the King,
whose power is probably about to evaporate...

Nations play power-games with each other. Note what is happening between
Australia and Indonesia at the moment. With Papuan asylum-seekers fleeing
from alleged oppression in their country, we Australians have the power to
humiliate/ shame the Indonesians. But with their greater population and
because of economic considerations, we are somewhat cautious about
alienating our powerful neighbour. (The Canadians used to tell me, vis-a-vis
their
relationship with the U.S.: 'If you are going to sleep with an elephant,
you'd better move when it turns over!').

Back to confronting evil powers: Here's a good quote: "If only it were so
simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing
evil deeds and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and
destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of
every human being. And who is willing to destroy
a piece of his own heart?" Who said that? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Here's a summary of the classical Christian wisdom on power, and how to obey
Jesus' warnings about its abuse:

1. Be a servant to others, as Jesus demonstrated in the acted parable in
John 13 and was exhibited in the life of the greatest Christian since Jesus
(Brother Francis). Ask others 'How are you traveling?' with a genuine desire
to know (and pray for them). Do some 'secret kindnesses' every day...

2. Be humble. That is, know who you are: don't have too high or too low a
view of yourself. Expect God to send you at least one 'humiliation' ('loss
of face' for you Chinese) every day so you won't experience too much hubris.
And all the monastic orders encourage our doing some menial jobs regularly,
wherever we are in the pecking-order.

3. Live gratefully. Expect nothing and you won't be disappointed.

4. Be accountable to a mentor and to a group of peers, who will help do the
necessary and regular reality-checking for you, and keep you faithful to
your promises to live a life of faith, hope and love...

5. Empower others: give power away. See
http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/8109.htm which describes how pastors and
churches are supposed to do it...

6. In prayer, forgive your enemies, as the Lord's Prayer encourages us to
do...

7. Sometimes you simply submit to 'the powers' as Jesus and Nelson Mandela
and Gandhi and Martin Luther King have taught us. In Jesus' case there might
seem to be nothing more powerless than a body on a cross; but in God's
purposes the Easter-event became the turning-point in human history. (Pilate
said he had absolute power over Jesus, who responded 'No you don't unless
God gives it to you.')

8. Be committed to a life of justice, which is the right use of power.
(Micah 6:8, Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42).

Finally let us hear our Scripture passage from Eugene Peterson's excellent
translation, The Message:

Back on the road, they set out for Jerusalem. Jesus had a head start on
them, and they were following, puzzled and not just a little afraid. He took
the Twelve and began again to go over what to expect next. "Listen to me
carefully. We're on our way up to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of
Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will
sentence him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Romans, who will
mock and spit on him, give him the third degree, and kill him. After three
days he will rise alive."

James and John, Zebedee's sons, came up to him. "Teacher, we have something
we want you to do for us." "What is it? I'll see what I can do." "Arrange
it," they said, "so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in
your glory--one of us at your right, the other at your left." Jesus said,
"You have no idea what you're asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I
drink, of being baptized in the baptism I'm about to be plunged into?"
"Sure," they said. "Why not?" Jesus said, "Come to think of it, you will
drink the cup I drink, and be baptized in my baptism. But as to awarding
places of honor, that's not my business. There are other arrangements for
that."
When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with
James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. "You've
observed how godless rulers throw their weight around," he said, "and when
people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It's not going
to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.
Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son
of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served--and then to give away
his life in exchange for many who are held hostage."


Shalom! Rowland Croucher

April 2006

Thursday, February 23, 2006

PHILEMON: TEN ‘PILLARS OF WISDOM’

PAUL TO PHILEMON: TEN ‘PILLARS OF WISDOM’

Philemon 1-25

Introduction

During the past week the fate of 'The Bali Nine' has featured on news broadcasts around the world. These young people (the youngest is only 19)

are convicted drug smugglers/'mules'. Question: As you look at these 'criminals' what is your Christian response?

I'll leave that up in the air for the moment...

~~

The Story

A young man decided to run away from ‘home’. The main problem: Onesimus was a slave, and if he was found the penalty was usually death by public execution - often by crucifixion. He would have known that. And how would he live in a strange place? He decided to steal some stuff from his master Philemon, and away he went.

Like so many other fugitives, Onesimus made his way to the anonymity of a big city (Rome?) and there, by coincidence – or was it Providence? – he came into contact with an old man, a prisoner, Paul the apostle, and under his influence was genuinely transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ.

They would have talked about many things, including: ‘What do I do about my crime, now that I’m a Christian?’ I can hear the old man say ‘Onesimus, that’s a good question. Why don’t we pray about that tonight; come back in the morning and we’ll decide something together.’

Next day, after their discussion, Paul wrote this letter to Philemon. It’s shortest book in the Bible, and the only private letter to get into the New Testament. And there are at least ten important lessons about Christian wisdom embedded here…

More...

Monday, February 06, 2006

Jack's Life: The Life Story of C. S. Lewis

Jack's Life: The Life Story of C. S. Lewis by Douglas Gresham, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

"Imagination is the only way we have of getting beyond the evidence of our own eyes and reaching for God" - Doug Gresham

First, a declaration of personal interest: I met Doug after his conversion (reconversion?) to Christianity in the late 1980s in Tasmania, and Doug and Merrie and Jan and I are friends. We have stayed in each others’ homes (Ireland, Melbourne), and Doug and I correspond regularly by email. (But he knows all that won’t stop my being constructively critical of his latest book).

Clive Staples Lewis, (or ‘Jack’ as Doug affectionately calls his step-father) was, by general consent, the premier Christian apologist in the 20th century English-speaking world. Until recently he was certainly the most widely-read in that field (and his children’s books are also still best-sellers). I’ll never forget my ‘aha’ experience as a tertiary student in the early 1960s while devouring Mere Christianity. The Problem of Pain is the only book apart from the Bible I’ve read five times! Evangelicals around the world still love and admire C S Lewis (despite his being a chain smoker, who liked his pints, told ribald jokes, and was a liturgical traditionalist!). ‘If you are someone who reads’, writes Doug in the first paragraph of Jack’s Life, ‘then you have read something by C. S. Lewis.’ True.

Douglas Gresham (or ‘Doug’ as we’ll call him) was born in New York City in 1945. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother had struck up a pen-pal correspondence with Lewis. The friendship deepened, and Joy and her sons, Douglas and David, moved to England in 1953. A few years after they married she died of cancer (1960), and Jack took over the guardianship of the boys until his own death in 1963 (on the same day as another famous ‘Jack’ was assassinated; Aldous Huxley also died that day – facts which creep into many preachers’ sermons!). So by the age of eighteen, Douglas was orphaned and on his own.

In the 1993 film Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, Doug is the little boy sitting on the steps with the bereaved and distraught C S Lewis after Joy’s death. (The stage play of Shadowlands depicted only Doug and not David. The brothers are not ‘close’, Doug says. David converted to Judaism and they went their separate ways, but correspond occasionally by email.) So of those still living who knew him best, Doug is the most qualified to inform us about this amazing man (he was much closer to his step-father than David was). The informal address Doug uses to refer to Lewis is indicative of the intimacy they shared for ten years.

Doug has chronicled the story of his childhood and youth with Joy and Jack in his 1988 autobiography Lenten Lands (publisher’s subtitle: ‘My childhood with Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis’). I have a shelf-full of books about Lewis the academician, Lewis the lay-theologian, Lewis the prolific author/poet... but Lenten Lands is the only intimate account of the man ‘around-the-house’. It’s a very good read.

During the past five years Doug Gresham has been co-producing the recently-released film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. So these days he’s a busy man. In the past couple of months his emails have emanated from all over the world as he ‘rides the speaker’s circuit’…

Now, to Jack’s Life. Doug of course is not a dispassionate observer: this memoir is not a ‘warts and all’ biography. It’s almost in the genre ‘hagiography’. He claims several times that ‘Jack’ was the finest man and the best Christian he has ever known. In the foreword Christopher Mitchell writes that ‘some readers will feel that the author has drawn an overly pious picture of Lewis. But one must remember that [he] believes that Lewis, indeed, was a saint, and a saint of the most real kind, not someone without flaws but rather one who aspired to overcome those flaws and in fact did so in many cases.’

In an interesting interview with the magazine Christianity Today Doug was asked ‘What were Jack's flaws, and which ones did he overcome and which ones did he take to his grave?’ Doug’s response: ‘Jack was very conscious of his own conceit. And of course, in humor, my mother would often rub it in too. But I think he overcame that… because he always came across as the most humble of men. And Jack was, at times, impatient and intolerant. But he overcame that also because no one would ever have known if they didn't live with him. He was never impatient or intolerant with me, but I could see he was struggling on occasions not to be… Jack was also enormously conscious of his own almost incredible intellectual gifts. And I think when he was an atheist, he was very proud of those gifts. But when he committed his life to Christ, he realized that our intellect is given to us by God. So I think he overcame that too. I don't really know of any major vice that Jack took to his grave.’ [1]

This book is not a theological/academic memoir: there’s hardly anything here of Lewis’s thinking (Doug recommends the biographies by George Sayer and Walter Hooper – but definitely not that ‘awful’ one by A N Wilson - for all that).

There are at least half a dozen strong indications of Doug’s overt faith, sometimes accompanied by his quaint phrase ‘the Holy Spirit of God’… There is some debate as to whether the Narnia stories (and now of course The Narnia movie) are to be viewed as ‘evangelistic’: Lewis simply interwove various mythical themes into these tales: Norse, Greek and other myths also have a dying-and-resurrected god. (But with Lewis’ Christian commitment so strongly pervading his thinking and writing, I’d personally put that opinion into the category ‘But that I can’t believe!’).

Doug occasionally ‘waxes lyrical’ (eg about springtime at Oxford, p 36), and offers quite a bit of detail about quarries, kilns, the lake (with its ‘grooblies’) and the layout and routines of Lewis' house 'The Kilns’. There are several graphic descriptions of life at the front in the trenches, with young men ‘living up to their necks in mud formed with the earth mixed with the blood of their former comrades, with rats as big as cats and lice everywhere…’.

I enjoyed this book immensely. We learn about a very human C S Lewis in Jack’s Life. The boy was mostly unhappy at school. He yearned for a more overt demonstration of his father’s love. Jack’s relationship with the somewhat neurotic Mrs Moore (the mother of his friend Paddy who was killed in the war) whom he cared for until her death, has produced a lot of speculation. Doug suggests Jack was really her personal slave to some extent. (They were probably not ‘lovers’, Doug has said at various times, though in this book he is more equivocal: ‘The truth is that nobody knows, and nobody ever will’ p 39).

If you wanted to be picky (I’m sure C S Lewis would have been!) bits of the story are repeated here and there, and we sometimes go back and forth chronologically. This was probably deliberate given the target-audience of children-of-all-ages! For this reason also we can forgive Doug for some very ‘English schoolboy’ words and phrases (‘beastly’, ‘horrid’, ‘dashingly dramatic’, ‘the dog… finally up and died’, ‘people are always "rabbiting on" about falling in love’, he ‘flipped out and went utterly bonkers’ etc. ).

Stylistically an editor should have been hired to correct the repetition of identical words or phrases too close to each other (eg. there are four ‘sents’ in 10 lines pp. 50-51). But then again, it’s written – conversationally – primarily for young people.

A more serious criticism is based on my own expectations as a writer of a publisher’s responsibilities. Broadman & Holman should have had it proof-read it thoroughly, to eliminate words which run into each other (‘fresh orwell preserved’ p 4; ‘boys alittle older’ p 27; the 10th line of p35 starts with hyphenated portion of a word ‘ure,for’ etc. etc.), some occasional redundancies (‘[She] made some immediate changes… almost straight away’) and some grammatical quirks (‘If he fit well, he would be invited back’ p 110).

All that said, I happen to like Doug’s non-stuffy conversational writing style.

The book is a gold-mine of interesting – and insightful - information about C S Lewis. This great teacher, as a lad, suffered ‘the worst school in England’ (p 13). He hated boarding school. His mother died when he was young. All the other characters are fascinating: the flawed, but loyal older brother Warnie; the dowdy and somewhat neurotic Mrs. Moore; Joy Davidman the intellectual and linguistic equal (according to Doug) and only love of Jack's life; Paxford, the gardener and handyman, who like Lewis was a World War I veteran, and who slept in his own small dwelling on the property; and of course the band of colleagues and friends known as the Inklings.

Two items in the ‘Did you know?’ category: C S Lewis never forgot anything he read (p 26). And (this I didn’t know): T S Eliot was a friend of Jack’s in spite of Lewis being openly critical of Eliot’s poetry.

The refrain through the whole story is simply that Jack put his Christian duty before any other consideration. I would recommend Lewis' own Surprised by Joy and George Sayer’s Jack: A Life of C S Lewis for more about all that. And for an in-depth book on Lewis's work, you can’t do better than read the magisterial C.S. Lewis : A Complete Guide to His Life & Works by Lewis scholar Walter Hooper.

In an interview somewhere Doug tells this story: ‘A guy approached Jack on the street one day and asked him if he could spare a few shillings. Jack immediately dove into his pocket and brought out all his change and handed it over to this beggar. The chap he was with - I think it was Tolkien - said, "Jack, you shouldn't have given that fellow all that money, he'll just spend it on drink." Jack said, "Well if I had kept it, I would have only spent it on drink".’

The book comes with a ‘Conversation with Douglas Gresham’ on DVD. .



References/Bibliography:

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/interviews/douglasgresham.html

[2] Jack’s Life p 26

Interviews with Doug Gresham:

http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9653.htm,

http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/4681.htm,

http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/4680.htm

~~~

Rowland Croucher

http://jmm.aaa.net.au/

February 2006

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Dr Jensen's Jesus

The Future of Jesus: Boyer Lectures 2005 (Dr Peter Jensen, ABC Books, December 2005).

Everybody liked Jesus
Everybody wanted to hang out with Him
Anything He wanted to do, He did
He turned water into wine
And if He wanted to
He could have turned wheat into marijuana
Or sugar into cocaine
Or vitamin pills into amphetamines



King Missile, Jesus Was Way Cool, 1990


~~~

Jesus is still cool: and was, surprisingly, the subject for Dr Peter Jensen’s 2005 ABC Boyer lectures.

The Most Rev. Peter Jensen MA (Hons) (Syd); BD (London); ThL (ACT); D. Phil (Oxford. Dissertation: ‘The Life of Faith in the Teaching of Elizabethan Protestantism’) is Archbishop of the Anglican Church, Diocese of Sydney, and Metropolitan of the Province of New South Wales. My NSW clergy-friends tell me he’s a socially skilled and compassionate man, modest and industrious, an engaging speaker and communicator, a strong leader and a strategic thinker - and he certainly has the ear of political leaders and the media. Dr Jensen sees himself ‘as a man of the people not a prince of the church’. (In the Boyer lectures he says he’s not ‘religious’: he wants us to have a ‘relationship with Jesus’ rather than be ‘churchy’). His calling/role is preacher/ teacher and evangelist: and in these lectures has a warm non-preachy conversational style.

The Jensen Jesus

There were six Boyer lectures: ‘Jesus and his future’, ‘Jesus, religious genius or failed prophet?’, ‘Jesus, was he miraculous?’, ‘Jesus or Caesar, the choice of martyrs’, ‘Jesus and the millennium – will he never come back?’, and ‘Jesus, freedom, and the choices we make.’ The book adds another chapter: ‘Jesus and the question of faith’.

Why Jesus? First, Dr Jensen says, because it is simply a fact that he is one of the two or three most influential people who have ever lived. The name of Jesus, said American sage Ralph Waldo Emerson, is not so much written as ploughed into the history of the world. In an ABC radio interview Dr Jensen gave his core reasons: ‘The French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, said “Jesus is the centre of all, the object of all, whoever knows not him, knows nothing aright, either of the world or of himself”. There is only one who is both God and man. And if it is true that he is God and man, then what Pascal says follows. What we are standing for is… a trust in God’s word in the Bible and in Jesus, the Jesus described in the Bible, what people call conservative, but I don’t know why they say that particularly, it’s Biblical… Jesus was not simply a religious genius: this makes no sense of his pronouncements about the Kingdom of God… I am passionate about Jesus.’ [1] ‘Jesus [is] my great enthusiasm’ is the first sentence of the book…

From the ABC website: ‘I want [people] to see what a surprising man Jesus is; I want to trace something of his impact on the world; I want to see whether there is a trajectory which suggests that more is yet to come; I want to see whether he can speak with something like his old power, to central cultural issues like personal freedom, human relationships and the future of our country.’

A few critics have wondered how Dr Jensen’s theme of Jesus' contemporary relevance fits the objective of the Boyer lectures, ‘to present ideas on major social, scientific or cultural issues’. I’m on Dr Jensen’s side here: I would have thought that the Judeo-Christian faith is foundational to
understanding our cultural heritage.

Dr Jensen wants to provoke a debate about Jesus, and to encourage us to read the Gospels – especially Luke. His theses: While once most people would have read the Bible and Shakespeare as children, today ‘there is less and less knowledge of the New Testament Jesus’. In forgetting Jesus, ‘as Australians, we risk losing our core values.’

Dr Jensen admits that Christian history has some sorry episodes: ‘Sometimes Christians have martyred others in a shocking travesty of the faith they professed’ (p 60). He says quite a bit about Christians being called to love. He also reckons contemporary Christianity has some odd theologies – like premillennial dispensationalism, prominent in the thinking of American evangelicals. Jensen is not a fundamentalist in that sense, with his strong desire to marry faith and reason (‘They are not the same thing, but they need each other’ p 117; we avoid religious superstition ‘by the proper exercise of reason… experience and common sense’ p 121).

Dr Jensen is up-front about the general ineffectiveness of the church-as- institution in commending Jesus to moderns, with its ‘arcane rituals and vaguely left-wing politics. Well may we say, God save the Church!’ (p 66). (But he still can’t avoid some religious clich├ęs, like ‘he utters words full of consolation’, ‘kingdom of God… manifest’, ‘flashing forth of the divine judgment’, ‘the ultimate word over my life’, ‘Jesus sets our face towards others’; ‘if you pin your faith on the wrong object, little good can flow’; plus a few idiosyncratic Jensenisms - ‘I have to say’ half a dozen times - and sexist language, both from the NIV translation, and his own: ‘Jesus… unites God and man in his own person’ (p 108).

Back to the point-of-contact: ‘Myths such as Eureka are not enough to sustain our values in difficult times.’ We Australians have ‘lost our sense of identity through history. In our national life there is now a vacuum where most peoples have a history.’ But it might be argued that in Australians’ legendary suspicion of authority, and in their extolling the ‘mateship’ motif they identify readily with the men on Baker's Hill: ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.’ I’m not sure Jesus has to be in counter-point to this tradition. Surely here’s a key to Jesus’ potential appeal in this country: Australia has had a long love affair with the figure of the institutional rebel, and Jesus was certainly that.

So where should a relevant apologetic begin in talking to our rebellion-flavoured, probably soon-to-be-republican culture? What is Dr Jensen’s antidote to Eureka? ‘God’s kingdom is near; get ready for it!’ He wisely adds a caveat that ‘In the present world talk of the kingdom of Jesus sounds divisive and even dangerous’ (p 73). Frankly, I’d add words like ‘inappropriate’, ‘arcane’ or even ‘non-sensical’. Surely that’s the last metaphor to use with modern Australians. There’s plenty in Luke about Jesus
confronting the religious and political authorities: that would have been a better starting-point (but would an archbishop think of that?).

Which brings me to my major concern: Is Jensen’s Jesus the one I relate to? Yes, and no.

Dr Jensen doesn’t like being called ‘conservative’ and seems to assume that everyone reading the Gospels (even presumably in an age of postmodernist relativism) will come to the same conclusions about Jesus. But a neutral unbiased reading of the Bible (or of anything) is impossible. We bring to the text the totality of our experience. Until a couple of decades ago this reviewer was (like Peter Jensen, if I may make that judgment) a white, Anglo-Saxon, over-educated middle-class, ‘conservative evangelical’ Australian male. I still have no problem affirming that Jesus Christ is ‘my
Saviour, my Lord and my God’. But another dimension has been added to the mix: I’ve spent the last 25 years working with the materially and/or emotionally poor. I now read the Bible – especially the Gospels, and in particular Dr. Jensen’s favourite gospel Luke - very differently. The western exegetical/ post-Enlightenment tradition usually begins with the text, or theological propositions (like ‘Jesus is God’). In the Two-Thirds
World thoughtful Christians and theologians tend to move from the realities of the Christian community and its struggles and work back into the biblical text (‘action/reflection’). This way of doing exegesis from the bottom-up as the outstanding Australian New Testament Professor Athol Gill used to point out, overcomes two serious weaknesses in western church life. It avoids the excesses of privatized/ individualistic religion, and also the danger of Bible-study for its own sake, rather than seeing Jesus as our model promoting social justice in a hurting world. (See Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42; cf. Micah 6:8 for two summary-statements Jesus made to one group – the Pharisees – who knew their Bibles very well but missed the main point (!) – two key texts which I think don’t get a mention in Dr Jensen’s book.)

In the context of Jesus’ mandate for his mission (and ours) in Luke 4:14-21 – an important foundational passage which Dr Jensen also avoids – Jesus says he’s come to ‘set free those who are oppressed’. His Gospel is ‘good news for the poor’. Chilean theologian Segundo Galilea wrote: ‘A conversion to the Lord always implies as an important dimension a turning to the poor… the conversion that God wants expresses itself in the service of others, especially of the oppressed.’ [2]

Conservative Evangelicals

‘Conservative evangelicalism’ is easily spotted: their mantra is an incessant ‘The Bible says!’ and there’s a lack of commitment to radical social justice. ‘Justice’ in a general sense is mentioned a few times by Dr. Jensen but ‘social justice’, I think, only once, and in a somewhat trivializing context: ‘[As a subject for the Boyer lectures] perhaps it would be better for me to stick to something safe, like botany, or golf, or even values or social justice!’ (exclamation mark added! p 10). He gets a bit closer on page 85: ‘Our concerns for justice and well-being should not stop with national or ethnic divisions’. Evangelicals emphasize ‘receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour’ (a group of words not found in the Bible, interestingly), and diligence in Bible Study.

So what’s wrong with all that? Well, it’s an OK place to start for young people perhaps - certainly better than Bishop Spong or the Jesus Seminar or the Da Vinci Code. I’d applaud Dr Jensen for not muddying the waters in that respect. Perhaps in addition to his generally excellent discussion of miracles he could have gone a little deeper into basic evangelical apologetics - like the classical ‘evangelical quadrilemma’ (Jesus as legend, liar, lunatic, or Lord). There’s nothing really about hell, and few
references to heaven. And it’s assumed we can trust the content and historicity of the Gospels: I’m not sure educated ABC listeners are easily prepared to do that anymore.

But a doctrinaire evangelical approach can easily lead to cerebralism, exclusivism and arrogance (‘we have nothing to learn from anyone else who also claims to relate to God, but does it differently from us’), and Pharisaism (‘Go and sin no more’, often forgetting Jesus’ ‘I do not condemn you’). In this system the ordained clergyperson is first a proselytizer/proclaimer and secondarily pastor/prophet. How do I know that? I spend my life counselling with ministers/pastors/priests.

Put simply, bad theology separates what God has put together. When we over-emphasize any of the four ‘canons of authority’ (Bible, reason, experience, tradition) we’ll become theologically lopsided. This will also happen if we don’t give equal weight to all three of the Judeo-Christian missional imperatives – justice, (especially, as I’ve said, the prophetic emphasis on social justice), mercy, and faith. (That’s Micah’s (6:8) and Jesus’ order (Matthew 23:23): conservative evangelicals tend to put ‘faith’
first, mix in a bit of mercy, and avoid social justice altogether).

So would I recommend this book to a thoughtful person who wanted to know more about Jesus? Sure, and I’m about to order a pile of them to give away, and then discuss with others. But I would supplement it with authors who portray a more biblical/balanced view of Jesus, like Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.


Footnotes:


[1] http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/spirit/stories/s1495293.htm

[2] Segundo Galilea, Following Jesus, NY: Orbis Press, 1984, 32.


Bibliography:


David Millikan has been frustrated by Archbishop Peter Jensen’s Boyer Lectures (SMH 23-25/12/05). He rejects Jensen’s assumption that “there is only one way to know… the archbishop has no understanding of general revelation.”

The Chosen Ones: The politics of salvation in the Anglican Church, by Chris McGillion, Allen & Unwin, 2005.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/the-dude-is-back/2005/12/22/1135032135729.html

Wikipedia articles on Peter Jensen, Sydney Anglicans

Ask your local evangelical Anglicans for the free promotional flyer, how organise an afternoon or evening discussion group. MP3 files and PDF copies of the series are available on the Boyer website. An audio CD is also available through ABC Shops.

http://imaginingaustralia.blogs.com/imagining/2005/11/the_boyer_sermo.html

http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/9241.htm

Transcripts and downloads - http://www.abc.net.au/rn/boyers/default.htm

http://www.theage.com.au/news/general/does-jesus-have-a-future/2005/11/11/1131578238972.html# This is an edited extract from the first of his six 2005 Boyer Lectures, titled The Future of Jesus. Further details at abc.net.au/rn

http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/16246.htm

http://old.anglicanmedia.com.au/index.php/article/articleprint/74/-1/25/

~~

Rev. Dr. Rowland Croucher

http://jmm.aaa.net.au

January 23, 2006

WELCOME!

Here's a Blog of articles and reviews.
For more, visit our website (with its 20,000 articles: so get comfortable!)

Shalom!/Salaam!/Pax!

Rowland Croucher

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Husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, pastor, teacher, writer, used-to-be-academic... See here for more: http://jmm.org.au