Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Subtitled: 'A Minister's Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your Future', by Robin Meyers, Wiley, 2006.

The cover blurb sums it up well: 'I join the ranks of those who are angry, because I have watched as the faith I love has been taken over by fundamentalists who claim to speak for Jesus but whose actions are anything but Christian.'

Robin Meyers is a United Church of Christ minister, a contributor to The Christian Century, and 'professor of rhetoric' at Oklahoma City University.

In 2004 he gave a speech at a University of Oklahoma peace rally from which he achieved widespread Internet fame. (You can find the speech by putting the relevant words into Google - or the John Mark Ministries website indexes). It ended with these stirring words: 'Time to march again my friends. Time to commit acts of civil disobedience. Time to sing, and to pray, and refuse to participate in the madness. My generation finally stopped a tragic war. You can too!'

In this speech he introduced himself as 'minister of Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, an Open and Affirming, Peace and Justice church in northwest Oklahoma City, and professor of Rhetoric at Oklahoma City University. But you would most likely have encountered me on the pages of the Oklahoma Gazette, where I have been a columnist for six years, and hold the record for the most number of angry letters to the editor.'

Well, he's still angry, particularly about the moral bankruptcy of the Christian Right, and the Bush Administration.

Fundamentalists, he says, have used the catastrophic events of 9/11 to wage war on irenicism and tolerance. The dreaded military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against 'has now lost the hyphen and become one word'. There are three main points to his thesis: 'The emperor is naked. The flag is flying upside down. And Jesus has been silenced by his own church.'

The Christian Right, he says, 'seems to have accepted war as inevitable if regrettable and sex as regrettable if inevitable.' They inhabit an either-or world of 'the saved and the "left behind"'. Their familiar bumper- sticker is AMERICA: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT. President Bush 'acts as if we own the franchise on "freedom" and "liberty" and that we alone know what is best for other nations, even if they don't know what is best for themselves.'

In terms of the Christian Right's hermeneutic, they are more concerned with selective legal aspects of the Old Testament than the heart and soul of the New Testament.

Equally illogical of course is the 'war on terror': 'It is better to go on killing more of them, even if they go on killing more of us, so that we can remind everyone how vital it is to kill more of them first'. The book is replete with such sardonic barbs...

We are encouraged here to be thoughtful in our questioning of authority - especially when that authority is claiming to act on God's behalf. America - whose government has been driven by big money and big business - is in deep trouble: the way out is to combine rationality with essential Christian virtues, form nonviolent resistance groups, and vote out warmongering politicians.

A hard-hitting chapter is titled "Christian Fascism and the War on Reason" and includes 14 characteristics of fascism: (1) Powerful nationalism (knee-jerk patriotism), (2) disdain for recognition of human rights (eg. torture, long imprisonments), (3) identifying enemies and scapegoats as a unifying cause (eg. liberals, terrorists), (4) supremacy of the military (see our budget), (5) rampant sexism, (6) control of the mass media, (7) obsession with national security, (8)religion and government intertwined (using religion to manipulate public opinion), (10) suppression of labor power, (11) disdain for intellectuals and the arts, (12) obsession with crime and punishment, (13) rampant cronyism and corruption, and (14) fraudulent elections (eg. smear campaigns, manipulation of boundaries).

Read it with another book which has a similar flavour - Marvin McMickle's 'Where Have all the Prophets Gone?' (see ). Well, Marvin, here's one: you two should get to know each other!

Rowland Croucher
October 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007


(General Editor: Alister McGrath, First hardback edition 2006; flexiback 2007)

Here's an excellent 350 page introduction to classic Christian thinking/doctrine.

It begins with a seven-page overview of Christian Church History (try doing that sometime!). Then we explore faith, including an introduction to the creeds, faith and philosophy, religious language, can God's existence be proved?, the place of tradition, interpreting the Bible, introduction to theology, modernity, postmodernity, and Islam.

Next we have chapters on God, Jesus, Salvation, the Church, and the Christian Hope.

At the end is a Concise Anthology of Christian Thought (actually 'church history' via some great Christian apologists and theologians, from Justin Martyr to Tillich, Moltmann and Pannenberg). Then we have a useful 22-page glossary and an index.

Now, a cautious caveat. Lion Hudson, as this publisher is now called, has generally a 'conservative evangelical' flavour. The editor of this volume - Alister McGrath - may be the UK's most prolific evangelical writer. And J. I. Packer, the associate editor, is probably - with John Stott - one of the two or three modern 'godfathers' of English-speaking evangelicalism. (So, of course, the index has 13 references to John Calvin!).

I wanted to test the integrity of this book in terms of its ecclesiological breadth. My quest began with two articles on women. Here are two representative quotes:

'It is sometimes difficult to appreciate how novel [Jesus'] attitudes were at the time. Jesus' ministry represents an attempt to reform the patriarchalism of his day, and permit women to hold a new kind of authority in religious matters' (p. 139).

'An increasing number of churches have decided that there is no biblical or theological reason against ordaining women... Yet many churches hold that the tradition of the church in this regard must not be changed, and they limit the ministerial roles of women accordingly.' (p. 249).

You get the idea: conservative generally, but also cautiously 'broad church'. But not too broad: Bishop N. T. Wright gets a mention, but not, I think, the Jesus Seminar: though there is a one-page summary of the Quest for the Historical Jesus; the NRSV is used, but also the NIV; and there's two pages (!!) for an article entitled 'Where was the Garden of Eden?'

It's well-illustrated, brilliantly laid-out, and very readable. I'm teaching an Introduction to Theology course at the moment, and I recommended this book as a basic text. It's now (after the Bible) the first resource I would give to a thoughtful young person or adult beginning the Christian journey.

Copies available from Ridley College Bookshop, Melbourne.

Rowland Croucher

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


(Zondervan, 2006).

Shane Claiborne looks, speaks, and dresses like an Old Testament prophet (or John the Baptist). And he makes the same sort of crazy sense. (But he's had a better formal education than most of them).

He's a young (my guess: 30s) idealistic American, who spent time with Mother Teresa's helpers in India, and went to Iraq with other peacemakers (there he was lucky to survive a car accident and other possible horrors). He's one of the founding members of The Simple Way community in very-downtown Philadelphia, and a prominent activist.

A couple of months ago I heard him speak at the Urban Neighbours of Hope conference in Melbourne, and was impressed. (My wife Jan's job at the conference was to provide hospitality - bedding and breakfast, for Shane - and his mother: he's never married - and other speakers, but that's by-the-way). He's a terrific raconteur. Who could forget his lines: 'Patriots you may bring your flags; we're washing feet and will need some rags'? Or his story about throwing $10,000 worth of small change around Wall Street. Or of his grandfather's setting fire to fields because he overloaded a new trailer with hay, which ignited from friction?

This book is a terrific read: those of us over 50-or-so mightn't get some of the modern lingo, but we'll certainly enjoy his humor (particularly 8 or 10 'Just kiddings!').

I have no other comments to make about the book, and would rather use the space here to cite a few representative 'quotable quotes' to whet your appetite:

* (When Roman Catholic authorities began the legal process of evicting homeless people from a deserted cathedral): 'We ran through campus hanging up flyers that read, "Jesus is getting kicked out of church in North Philly. Come hear about it. Kea Lounge. 10 pm. tonight".

* 'You guys are all into that born again thing, which is great. We do need to be born again, since Jesus said that to a guy named Nicodemas. But if you tell me I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, I can tell you that you have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too'.

* 'If you don't know what a eunuch is, see the diagram in the appendix. Just kidding. Check the phone book and call up a pastor and ask her or him: it should make for an interesting conversation'.

* 'Many spiritual seekers have not been able to hear the words of Christians because the lives of Christians have been making so much horrible noise. It can be hard to hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit amid the noise of Christendom'.

* 'When people move beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get into trouble... Managing poverty is big business. Ending poverty is revolutionary'.

* 'There is one thing I will never forget - (Mother Teresa's) feet. Each morning in Mass, I would stare at them. I wondered if she had contracted leprosy. But I wasn't going to ask, of course... One day a sister said to us, "Have you noticed her feet?" We nodded, curious. She said, "Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet." Years of loving her neighbor as herself deformed her feet'.

* 'The stuff Jesus warned us to beware of, the yeast of the Pharisees, is so infectious today in the camps of both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives stand up and thank God that they're not like the homosexuals, the Muslims, the liberals. Liberals stand up and thank God that they are not like the war makers, the yuppies, the conservatives. It is a similar self-righteousness just with different definitions of evildoing. It can paralyze us in judgment and guilt and rob us of life'.

* 'Bono, the great theologian (and decent rock star) said in his introduction to a book of selections from the Psalms: "The fact that the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers, and mercenaries used to shock me. Now it is a source of great comfort".'

* 'The Catholic Workers used to say "The true atheist is the one who refuses to see God's image in the face of their neighbor".'

You get the idea... Every Westerner whose life is fairly comfortable should read a book like this at least once a year.

Rowland Croucher

Thursday, October 11, 2007


C. S. Song, Tracing the Footsteps of God: Discovering What You Really Believe, Fortress Press, 2007.

Here's a readable introduction to 'modern mainline liberal Christian theology' by a professor of theology (Pacific School of Religion) who is also sufficiently esteemed in his denomination (Reformed Churches) to have been voted president of their world body.

Professor Song (he doesn't say, but from his knowledge of Asian religions his family origins are probably Chinese) doesn't like the way our (European) creeds constrict belief. Using the parables of Jesus as his starting-point, he leads us through nine essential questions of faith.

I said he was 'mainline liberal', yes, as distinct from 'mainline evangelical' (for example, he prefers 'God's self' type phrases rather than masculine pronouns for God); or 'liberal radical' (there's not much here referencing the Jesus Seminar presuppositions, though he does quote John Dominic Crossan once or twice). A glance at his citations tells a story: Karen Armstrong, Walter Brueggemann, Feuerbach and Tillich are there, for example, but not Karl Barth...

He begins by suggesting that an exploration into what we mean by God doesn't begin with ideas about God at all, but with what is known through our experience of the world. And when we do come up with some 'answers' they may not be neat or elegant - or even 'correct'. So an appropriate starting-point might be Tillich's question 'Why is there something rather than nothing?'; or the preacher in Ecclesiastes talking about 'a time to be born and a time to die', and the universal experiences of wonder and dread.

From there we look at the 'reality' of Jesus' resurrection (an 'enigma best left to the mystery of God') which was 'real' in terms of the 'inner, visionary, or contemplative experience' of those who 'saw' the risen Christ (but we don't have to believe that the resurrected body was a resuscitated corpse).

Jesus' teaching and healing ministries focussed on the rule of God, addressed to both Jews and non-Jews, and more concerned about this life than another/eternal life. Which leads to the big question about 'Who is saved?' Song leaves us here with the assertion (hard to disprove) that there is truth in all religions, but none of them has the whole truth. (Wasn't it C S Lewis who said - au contraire - that in any mathematical problem there is only one right answer, but some answers are more nearly right than others?). The essence of Christianity, derived from the life of its Founder, writes Song, is more a function of the practice of compassion than assenting to the propositions of a creed. Which is why he has a whole chapter on the Beatitudes: suggesting that they are central/foundational to the teaching of Jesus.

Our mission is to live, as Jesus did, as free people in a pluralistic world, remembering that all humans are made in God's image and therefore, (like the rest of creation actually) 'inspirited' with the creative breath of God. Truly 'spiritual' people may not be aware of their spirituality, but live in freedom from bondages to rites, rituals and creeds...

So Song says an authentic Christianity is more 'Jesus oriented' than 'Christ-centric'. And in the last chapter he actually poses the question 'Who do you say God is?' Answer: the clue is in the life of Jesus, rather than the Pauline and post-Pauline images of God.

And ultimately, when we ask the question 'Who are you God?' the most immediate answer will be silence. 'God as Spirit is the key. Not God as a theological construction, not God affirmed in the belief systems and creeds of the varying churches and religions, not God handed down by religious traditions and authorities...' (p. 153). (I think we've got the message!)

There are excellent questions in each chapter for group discussion, which makes it a very good resource for people 'searching for truth with an open mind'.

Rowland Croucher

October 2007.


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


Rowland Croucher


Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Melbourne, Australia
Husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, pastor, teacher, writer, used-to-be-academic... See here for more: