A dialogue with J I Packer’s book “Knowing God”.

Amazing book; enough material for a year’s discussion!

Some issues which interested me..

  1. Chapters 1-4:  Knowing God…How can we really ever know God if “his thoughts are higher than our thoughts and his ways higher than our ways”?
  1. p55: re images of Jesus. What do we really think about Jesus pictures in Sunday School rooms? Christ Pantocrator images e.g. in the Hagia Sophia? a crucifix in church or worn around the neck; Greek iconography? movies about Jesus? What would have happened had Jesus become incarnate in an age of photography? See Peter Adam’s excellent book “Hearing God’s words: Exploring biblical spirituality, Downers Grove, Ill, Apollos, IVP, 2004 chapter 5 for a really helpful discussion of this issue.
  1. p60:  How much of a problem for Christian communication and unity is the doctrine of the Trinity?  cf p71: Do we need to preach the Trinity more?

iv) pp66-70 re the Kenotic theory that Jesus “emptied himself” of his divinity…are we persuaded by Packer’s argument that at times Jesus chose “not to use” his divine knowledge? (p68 divine capacities restrained…

vp71  Do we have a major problem as we live our “Middle Class Christianity?”

vi) p75  Why are there so few books on the Holy Spirit compared with those about Jesus? p76 Ought we not to concern ourselves about the Holy Spirit more than we do?

vii) p80 the present barrennes of the Church’s life;  p92: Our faith and our worship is flabby.  Is Packer too harsh in his criticism of the late C20th church? What would he think of BAC?

viii) p85  Are we comfortable with an immutable God?

ix)  pp87f …he [God] shows his freedom and lordship by discriminating between sinners, causing some to hear the gospel while others do not hear it; and moving some of those who hear it to repentance while leaving others in their unbelief…really?? or is Packer too bound to his Calvinism here rather than to scripture?

x) p88 God does not repent but p89 God does repent! Which is correct?

xi) p93:  ….the God with whom we have to do is not a mere cosmic principle, impersonal and indifferent, but a living Person, thinking, feeling, active, approving of good, disapproving of evil, and interested in his creatures all the time.   Is God a “Person”? What does this mean? Where do we find this in the Bible?  Why does C S Lewis picture God as a lion, not as a human being in The Narnia Chronicles?

xii)  p97  Do we agree that the great ones  [world leaders e.g. Stalin/Trump/Roosevelt/Churchill/Elizabeth 11 do not run the world?

xiii) p101 God’s wisdom is not, and never was, pledged to keep a fallen world happy, or to make ungodliness comfortable. Not even to Christians has he promised a trouble-free life; rather the reverse. He has other ends in viewer life in this world than simply to make it easy for everyone. 

Was Malcolm Fraser correct? Life wasn’t meant to be easy!

xiv)  p102 …Christian joy is greatest, when the Cross is heaviest….Is this true? I don’t recall too much joy in Gethsemane or on the Cross.

xv) p109 We may be frankly bewildered at things that  happen to us, but God knows exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our affairs. (cf Job) I think this is true but it is hard to cope with sometimes.

xvi) p111  A list of the incommunicable (to man) and communicable qualities of God. What do we think of this list?

xvii) p113 It is to be feared that many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all.  cf Proverbs 11:2 With the lowly is wisdom.

xviii) p114 Do you spend as much time with the Bible each day as you do even with the newspaper?  [or Facebook?]

xix) p116 There is a need for realism in our lives. Most of us live in a dream world, with our heads in the clouds and our feet off the ground; we never see the world , and our lives in it, as they really are. …Packer’s solution is that we pay more attention to Ecclesiastes.p117 Ecclesiastes describes our misconceived quest for understanding. p118 The God who rules it [the world] hides himself. Rarely does this world look as if a beneficent  Providence were running it. Rarely does it appear that there is a rational power behind it all. p119 [the result is] personal spiritual inertia combined with critical cynicism about the churches and supercilious resentment of other Christians’ initiative and enterprise. Behind this morbid and deadening condition often lies the wounded pride of one who thought he knew all about the ways of Godin providence and then was made to learn by bitter and bewildering experience that he didn’t.

xx)  p120  [Ecclesiastes] clearly has no time for the super spirituality which is too proud, or ‘too pious’ ever to laugh and have fun.

xxi) p127 Truth in the Bible is a quality of persons primarily, and of propositions only secondarily.  I think this opposes the idea of propositional revelation.

xxii) p129 …liberal theology, with its refusal to identify the written Scriptures with the word of God, has largely robbed us of the habit of meditating on the promises…

xxiii) p132  When Paul says,’the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us’ (Rom.5:5, KJV), he means, not love for God, as Augustine thought, but knowledge of God’s love for us.  [brave man to argue with Augustine!]…the New Testament set forth this knowledge, not as a privilege of a chosen few, but as a normal part of ordinary Christian experience.

xxiv) p133  Packer opposes the emphasis on spectacular spiritual gifts present in the charismatic movement of his day (mid 1970s) We have become preoccupied today with the extraordinary, sporadic, non-universal ministries of the Spirit to the neglect of the ordinary, general ones….Paul had to insist that without love— sanctification, Christlikeness, —tongues were worth precisely nothing.

xxv) p139  Packer quotes Berkhof Systematic Theology, p70): [God’s love is] that perfection in God which prompts him to deal bountifully and kindly with all his creatures….but on p140 Packer appears to differentiate between sinners…God’s love is an exercise of his goodness towards individual sinners. It is not a vague, diffused good-will towards everyone in general and nobody in particular; ….it involved first, the choice and selection of those whom he would bless, and second, the appointment of the benefits  to be given to them…[ Personally, and not just because I have been reading Rob Bell, I cannot find this idea in Scripture. Romans makes it quite clear that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” and that Christ died for the ἀσεβης [the ungodly].  Christ did not just die for those individuals he chose before the foundation of the world.

xxvi) p148 Packer believes the average Christian and church-goer knows nothing about the grace of God and believe they can please God by churchmanship and morality.  Do we agree? On p149  Packer quotes  German/Jewish poet and philosopher Henrich Heine allegedly said on his death-bed God will forgive …it is his business.  [Packer calls him a French free-thinker]  Packer’s view is what decides each individual’s destiny is whether or not God resolves to save him from his sins, and that this is a decision which God need not make in any single case…..[ I do not see this as grace but as a potentially maverick tyranny] What do we think? [see no. ix… this again looks more like Calvinism than Biblical theology to me.]  cf p153 where Packer refers to predestination but does not deal with its meaning and purpose.

xxvii) pp161-165  Packer makes it very clear here that judgment  for everyone is based on works using Romans 2 and various Gospel passages. This would have been unusual in 1975 evangelicalism and folk like N T Wright still get into strife from more fundamentalist brethren for saying this. My only disagreement is Packer’s statement on p161 that the heart of the justice which expresses God’s nature is retribution. This is not scriptural. The heart of the justice of God is Exekiel: God desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his wickedness and live and John 3:16 God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son that everyone who believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.  on p164 Packer understands the sheep “going to the right” as those who helped Christians, not just anyone in need. I do not believe Matthew’s text demands this interpretation.

xxviii)  p171 God’s wrath in the Bible is always judicial…that is, the wrath of the judge administering justice..Again this is too stark. Scripture is much more ambivalent…e.g. Psalm 103:8-10  The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities.

xxix) p172 Packer suggests secondly that God’s wrath in the Bible is something they choose for themselves. While I think this is true for those who know and yet deliberately flout God’s commandments, it is not clear to me that folk who have never heard of the God of the Bible are deliberately choosing to reject God…their only knowledge is what can be perceived about God from the things which have been made (Romans 1). They will be judged according to the light they have received I think. I would feel stronger about Packer here if he had exegeted Romans 1 here.

xxx) p172 again: The essence of God’s action in wrath is to give people what they choose, in all its implications; nothing more, and equally nothing less. God’s readiness to respect human choice to this extent may appear disconcerting and even terrifying, but it is plain that his attitude here is supremely just…This is an amazing statement by Packer and looks far more like an Arminian position that an Calvinist position. In xxv Packer says that “God will choose those he will bless” whereas here he is saying that individuals can choose to disobey God and God will treat them accordingly as Scripture promises. So the saved are predestined (Calvinism) but the damned choose their fate (Arminianism). I am confused by Packer in this section. Can anyone help me understand him?

xxxi) p177 No doubt the sight of small sects cheerfully consigning the whole world, apart from themselves, to hell has disgusted many. [I agree and am just as anxious if a large section of the church “cheerfully consigns the whole world to Hell]. I keep coming back to John Milton: A man’s mind is its own place and of itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.]

xxxii) p 180 …people have got into the way of following private religious hunches rather than learning of God from his own Word…[I agree!]  On p181 Packer describes liberal theology (e.g. Brunner & Niebuhr) as Santa Claus theology. He accuses liberals of leaving folk with a kind God who means well, but cannot insulate his children from trouble and grief. When trouble comes, therefore , there is nothing to do but grin and bear it. In this way, by an ironic paradox, faith in a God who is all goodness and no severity tends to confirm people in a fatalistic and pessimistic attitude to life. [The problem for evangelicals is that, like liberal Christians, they have the same ironic paradox…when trouble comes to them it is the same…they have to grin and bear it…they have no choice..so Packer’s point here is somewhat weakened I think].

xxxiv) p.184 The distinction between “common” and “special” grace. Do we agree?

xxxv) p191  The anthropomorphisms in Scripture. But God is personal …how do we know which attributes are real and which are anthropomorphic?

xxxvi) p198 How many of our churches today are sound, respectable— and lukewarm?

xxxvii) p.219  Packer’s only treatment of universalism.  Those who in this life reject God will for ever be rejected by God. I am not defending universalism but Packer gives no Biblical reference for  this statement other than Jesus’ words about Judas which are ambiguous and the separation of the Son from the Father on the cross produced by the sin of the world.

xxxviii) p237 Christian ethics

xxxix) p241 I’m glad my Dad is a good driver..but what about other drivers??

xl) p238 on Christian prayer

xli)p244  Hope. Very few Christian writers write about hope.

xlii) p248 Various expressions for being “born again” e.g. a single transforming psychic event …

-full surrender; the Keswick experience; baptism in the Holy Spirit; entire sanctification; beatification; sealing in the Spirit; tongues;  a second conversion….a false magical type of supernaturalism.  This is all helpful stuff I think. cf p249 ..So it is not as we strain after feelings and experiences, of whatever sort, but as we seek God himself, looking to him…

xliii) p250  What do we understand today by the term “holiness”? We become “royal children” with responsibilities but there is always the danger of legalism …yet we are a royal priesthood..

xliv) p.256  What assurance do we have? I personally find deep assurance in joint prayer with another believer….cf p258 What is “the double witness”?

xlv) pp265-271 Guidance including 6 pitfalls. p271…”there are no rules!!!”

xv) p277  Inward trials…Misapplied doctrines; p 280 the wrong remedy (cf Job); p282 losing sight of grace.  All very helpful advice

xvi) p287  Chapter 22 is a commentary on the Book of Romans..”the high peak of Scripture”.  I agree although Romans cannot be read without Genesis 12 and Isaiah 49.

A N Wilson: Against the Religion of Hatred

<p><img src=”Religion of hatred: Why we should no longer be cowed by the chattering classes ruling Britain who sneer at Christianity

By A N WILSON
UPDATED: 00:22 GMT, 11 April 2009

A week ago, there were Palm Sunday processions all over the world. Near my house in North London is a parish with two churches. About 70 or 80 of us gathered at one of these buildings to collect our palms.

We were told by the priest: ‘Where we are standing in Kentish Town does not look much like a Judaean hillside, and the other church to which we are walking does not look much like Jerusalem. But as we go, holding our palms, let us try to imagine the first Palm Sunday.’

 

Jesus Christ: With sneering doubters becoming ever more vocal in their dismissive attitudes towards Christianity AN Wilson says we should no longer be cowed

And so we set off, singing All Glory, Laud And Honour! and holding up our palm crosses, to the faint bemusement of passersby, who looked out of their windows at us, tooted their horns as we blocked the traffic or smiled from sunny pavements.

We were walking, as it were, in the footsteps of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey while crowds threw palms before him. Except our journey was along the pavements strewn with the usual North London discarded syringes, chewing gum and Kentucky Fried Chicken boxes.

When we had reached our destination, a small choir and two priests sang the whole of St Mark’s account of the last week of Jesus’s life – that part of the Gospel that is called The Passion.

It is said the chant used for this recitation dates back to the music used in the Jewish Temple in Jesus’s day.

We heard of his triumphal, palm-strewn procession into Jerusalem, his clash with the Temple authorities, his agonised prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, his arrest by the Roman guards, his torture, his trial before Pontius Pilate, his Crucifixion and his death.

So there we were, all believers, and a disparate group of people, of various ages, races and classes, re-enacting once more this extraordinary story.

A story of a Jewish prophet falling foul of the authorities in an eastern province of the Roman Empire, and being punished, as were thousands of Jews during the governorship of Pontius Pilate, by the gruesome torture of crucifixion.

This Easter weekend we revisit the extraordinary ending of that story – the discovery by some women friends of Jesus that his tomb was empty. And we read of the reactions of the disciples – fearful, incredulous, but eventually believing that, as millions of Christians will proclaim tomorrow morning: ‘The Lord is risen indeed!’

 

Athiest: Richard Dawkins

But how many in Britain today actually believe the story? Most recent polls have shown that considerably less than half of us do – yet that won’t, of course, stop us tucking into Easter eggs (symbolising new life) and simnel cake (decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 11 true disciples, with Judas missing).

For much of my life, I, too, have been one of those who did not believe. It was in my young manhood that I began to wonder how much of the Easter story I accepted, and in my 30s I lost any religious belief whatsoever.

Like many people who lost faith, I felt anger with myself for having been ‘conned’ by such a story. I began to rail against Christianity, and wrote a book, entitled Jesus, which endeavoured to establish that he had been no more than a messianic prophet who had well and truly failed, and died.

Why did I, along with so many others, become so dismissive of Christianity?

Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.

It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.

The vast majority of media pundits and intelligentsia in Britain are unbelievers, many of them quite fervent in their hatred of religion itself.

The Guardian’s fanatical feminist-in-chief, Polly Toynbee, is one of the most dismissive of religion and Christianity in particular. She is president of the British Humanist Association, an associate of the National Secular Society and openly scornful of the millions of Britons who will quietly proclaim their faith in Church tomorrow.

 

Self-satisfied tv personalities like Jo Brand are openly non-believers

‘Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?’ she asked in a puerile article decrying the wickedness of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, which have bewitched children for more than 50 years. Or, to take another of her utterances: ‘When absolute God-given righteousness beckons, blood flows and women are in chains.’

The sneering Ms Toynbee, like Richard Dawkins, believes in rational explanations for our existence and behaviour. She is deeply committed to the Rationalist Association, but her approach to religion is too fanatical to be described as rational.

Perhaps it goes back to her relationship with her nice old dad, Philip Toynbee, a Thirties public school Marxist who, before he died, made the hesitant journey from unbelief to a questing Christianity.

The Polly Toynbees of this world ignore all the benign aspects of religion and see it purely as a sinister agent of control, especially over women.

One suspects this is how it is viewed in most liberal circles, in university common rooms, at the BBC and, perhaps above all, sadly, by the bishops of the Church of England, who despite their episcopal regalia, nourish few discernible beliefs that could be distinguished from the liberalism of the age.

 

Smug: Jonathan Ross

For ten or 15 of my middle years, I, too, was one of the mockers. But, as time passed, I found myself going back to church, although at first only as a fellow traveller with the believers, not as one who shared the faith that Jesus had truly risen from the grave. Some time over the past five or six years – I could not tell you exactly when – I found that I had changed.

When I took part in the procession last Sunday and heard the Gospel being chanted, I assented to it with complete simplicity.

My own return to faith has surprised no one more than myself. Why did I return to it? Partially, perhaps it is no more than the confidence I have gained with age.

Rather than being cowed by them, I relish the notion that, by asserting a belief in the risen Christ, I am defying all the liberal clever-clogs on the block: cutting-edge novelists such as Martin Amis; foul-mouthed, self-satisfied TV presenters such as Jonathan Ross and Jo Brand; and the smug, tieless architects of so much television output.

But there is more to it than that. My belief has come about in large measure because of the lives and examples of people I have known – not the famous, not saints, but friends and relations who have lived, and faced death, in the light of the Resurrection story, or in the quiet acceptance that they have a future after they die.

The Easter story answers their questions about the spiritual aspects of humanity. It changes people’s lives because it helps us understand that we, like Jesus, are born as spiritual beings.

Every inner prompting of conscience, every glimmering sense of beauty, every response we make to music, every experience we have of love – whether of physical love, sexual love, family love or the love of friends – and every experience of bereavement, reminds us of this fact about ourselves.

Ah, say the rationalists. But no one can possibly rise again after death, for that is beyond the realm of scientific possibility.

And it is true to say that no one can ever prove – nor, indeed, disprove – the existence of an after-life or God, or answer the conundrums of honest doubters (how does a loving God allow an earthquake in Italy?)

Easter does not answer such questions by clever-clever logic. Nor is it irrational. On the contrary, it meets our reason and our hearts together, for it addresses the whole person.

In the past, I have questioned its veracity and suggested that it should not be taken literally. But the more I read the Easter story, the better it seems to fit and apply to the human condition. That, too, is why I now believe in it.

Easter confronts us with a historical event set in time. We are faced with a story of an empty tomb, of a small group of men and women who were at one stage hiding for their lives and at the next were brave enough to face the full judicial persecution of the Roman Empire and proclaim their belief in a risen Christ.

Historians of Roman and Jewish law have argued at length about the details of Jesus’s trial – and just how historical the Gospel accounts are.

Anyone who believes in the truth must heed the fine points that such scholars unearth. But at this distance of time, there is never going to be historical evidence one way or the other that could dissolve or sustain faith.

Of course, only hard evidence will satisfy the secularists, but over time and after repeated readings of the story, I’ve been convinced without it.

And in contrast to those ephemeral pundits of today, I have as my companions in belief such Christians as Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot, Samuel Johnson and all the saints, known and unknown, throughout the ages.

When that great saint Thomas More, Chancellor of England, was on trial for his life for daring to defy Henry VIII, one of his prosecutors asked him if it did not worry him that he was standing out against all the bishops of England.

He replied: ‘My lord, for one bishop of your opinion, I have a hundred saints of mine.’

Now, I think of that exchange and of his bravery in proclaiming his faith. Our bishops and theologians, frightened as they have been by the pounding of secularist guns, need that kind of bravery more than ever.

Sadly, they have all but accepted that only stupid people actually believe in Christianity, and that the few intelligent people left in the churches are there only for the music or believe it all in some symbolic or contorted way which, when examined, turns out not to be belief after all.

As a matter of fact, I am sure the opposite is the case and that materialist atheism is not merely an arid creed, but totally irrational.

Materialist atheism says we are just a collection of chemicals. It has no answer whatsoever to the question of how we should be capable of love or heroism or poetry if we are simply animated pieces of meat.

The Resurrection, which proclaims that matter and spirit are mysteriously conjoined, is the ultimate key to who we are. It confronts us with an extraordinarily haunting story.

J. S. Bach believed the story, and set it to music. Most of the greatest writers and thinkers of the past 1,500 years have believed it.

But an even stronger argument is the way that Christian faith transforms individual lives – the lives of the men and women with whom you mingle on a daily basis, the man, woman or child next to you in church tomorrow morning.

BOOKS RECENTLY READ (March-April 2017)

RECENTLY READ BOOKS  (March – April 2017)

1.  Paulo Coelho: The Alchemist, trans. Alan R Clarke, New York, HarperOne, 2014 (1993)

This is a popularly read book which combines a form of magic realism with a form of Christian and Eastern mystical  teaching written in a smooth, easy to read style for all ages. It has a certain charm and picks up on characteristics of ancient alchemy without being preachy or new age waffly. It is an easy and calm read but may well be too superficial or whimsical for some. The theology points to a Christian world view but the vision is cloudy and incomplete!   3 stars

2. Jack London: The Call of the Wild, illustrated Martin Gascoigne, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK, Puffin Books, 1985 (1903).  The ultimate animal story. This edition was Issued in a Puffin series for children but the novel is not really a children’s book..it contains considerable brutal cruelty, killing and bloodshed. Extraordinarily powerful rhythmic language of deep vigour and fire and images that will not be soon forgotten after reading. The image built up of the magnificent dog “Buck” tugs at the heartstrings episode after episode. Also a magnificent introduction to the Yukon and the Klondike gold rush. Exceptional impact for such a short novella (124 pages).   5 stars.

3.  Charles Dickens:  The Pickwick Papers, (The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club),  Nelson Doubleday, New York, 1944  (1837)  A rollicking account of the adventures and misadventures of the indefatigable Samuel Pickwick, Esq, G.C.M.P.C (General Chairman-Member of the Pickwick Club). Pickwick formed this club of good friends (Tupman, Winkle and Snodgrass) who agreed to spend some time together travelling around the country and city sights of England and enlarge their experience of life. It is the first “laugh out loud” book by Dickens I have read  although some of the embarrassing scenarios are difficult to read and some of the horrors of the C19th poorer classes appallng to read about. In particular the account of some aspects of the now defunct  Fleet St prison and the amount of alcohol consumed in daily life everywhere on every occasion both help to remove any glorification of the purity of life in C19th England.   Representatives of the legal and official religious classes come out badly here and as usual Dickens’ description of women is awkward in places. The real hero is not Pickwick but Sam Weller, Pickwick’s heroic man Friday whose expressions are as funny and clever as I have come across. The theme also allows Dickens to retell some ancient English yarns and stories including an interesting tale of a grumpy grave-digger who is transported to Goblin-hell to change his ways1  A very cheerful, if at times tedious read!  4 stars.

4. J I Packer: Knowing God; with Study Guide, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1993 (1973). This is the third time I have read this spiritual classic at very different times in my life. Packer’s knowledge of Scripture and theology is impressive. A careful study of this book brings one into contact with a vast amount of Biblical material including an excellent analysis of Ecclesiastes and a detailed analysis of Romans (36 pages).Theologically Packer is very much at home quoting Puritan writers to good effect  but also Luther, Calvin, Samuel Rutherford, Wesley, Whitefield, Leon Morris, T C Hammond,  C19th and C18th hymn writers, Jonathan Edwards, John Murray, Tasker, Ryle.  He is also able to quote accurately from Brunner, Niebuhr, and Robinson. Perhaps the most helpful parts of the book are Packer’s wise comments on living the Christian life especially in relation to personal suffering and hardship, Middle Class Christianity, problems associated with the use of images of Christ, Christian conceitedness, super spirituality, finding truth in persons first and propositions only secondarily, understanding the wrath of God, ethics, prayer, hope, holiness, guidance, inward trials and much more. Curiously Packer appears to be Calvinist in relation to who God chooses to bless and Arminian in regard to those who choose to reject God. Packer’s detailed analysis of salvation, judgment, wrath and atonement is hard work for anyone unschooled in dogmatic theology and reading. In 2017 it feels like a gap that Packer does not give attention to the  question of the fate of those who have not heard the Gospel   A thought provoking and challenging book. The study guide makes this book an excellent tool for a committed study group. (5 stars).

5.  How Shall We Worship? Biblical Guidelines for the Worship Wars, Marva J Dawn, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton Ill., 2003.  A penetrating, scholarly and useful guide to the issues in the current “worship wars” between supporters of traditional and contemporary worship written by theologian, musician and educator Marva J Dawn who is a Teaching Fellow at Regent College Vancouver British Columbia Canada.  In general the book appears to be aimed at Fundamentalist North American churches who major on loud contemporary music in their worship and have little by the way of liturgy, structure or ordered reflection in their worship. Nevertheless the book also has some hard things to say about the rigidity of some churches using historic liturgies (p76) and our culture’s idolatry of everything new, though in worship, materials the new is often not sorted …on the opposite side, many sacralise the old, without noticing that some hymns and forms from bygone eras have lasted for terrible reasons (such as fatuous sentimentality).  

The structure and chapter headings of the book are based on an exegesis of Psalm 96

I note the following wise comments that should inform the debate about church worship:

  • Music should be of all kinds…traditional, multi-cultural, contemporary..above all it should be what is appropriate for the particular service.  (chapter 1)
  • Worship is primarily in praise of God. She is critical of the culture of narcissism [à la Christopher Lasch: The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations. New York, Norton, 1978]  Lasch argues that the C20th produced a momentous selfishness which continues today.
  • Churches should not succumb to the C21st niche marketing rage and divide up congregations into smaller sub-sections based on age or choice of worship style.(chapter 2)
  • Declining church attendance has encouraged “attracting new attenders” as the major preoccupation of church planning and has confused worship and evangelism. (chapter 3)
  • The whole of life is worship…Churches should use “the church’s year” to structure the content of worship and in some cases this means that worship cannot always be upbeat e.g. Good Friday. The author argues that we have failed to train our church members for daily mission, that worship is the job of the whole congregation, and that churches need to be counter-cultural. (Chapter 4)
  • Idolatries and false gods abound today including mammon, worship of nature, idolising “the new”. Dawn provides a useful list of dialectical opposites which are both needed in worship (p53) Some prominent examples are these: (chapter 5)

truth from God…………………….. response to God

head…………………………………… heart

freshness………………………………continuity with the past

contextualization………………… universality

new expressions……………………familiiarity for the sake of participation

order…………………………………… freedom in the Spirit

joy, delight, elation…………………….sorrow, penitence, lament

enthusiastic expression………………silence

ritual…………………………………….spontaneity

simplicity………………………………..complexity

  • Worship should be influenced by creation theology…silence and beauty as well as wild power; young and old together in worship (especially in musical instrumentation); qualified use of technology without domination by technology.and more on dialectics (chapters 6 & 7)
  • The importance of liturgy, ritual and mindfulness (chapter 8)
  • Good worship changes our character…examples include offering of ourselves and our means to God; a sense of the communion of saints; even the question of how we dress in church; a sense of the privilege of worship; reconciliation with one another; mission and redescribing the world; using secular songs/cultural symbols in worship vs Christian symbols; robes or not robes. our inability to escape cultural forms; (chapters 9 & 10);
  • Creation as a model for praise; celebrating the cosmos; all nature joins our praise; worship is counter-cultural; It is not a democracy or a hierarchy or a majority..it is a charismacracy; the charismacracy includes the pastor, the musicians and a worship committee. (chapter 11)
  • Worship forms us to be the people of God; are our lives determined by the past, present or the future? We are not pulled down by the past… we live for the present guided by the future; our thinking must be eschatological so that our worship is not utilitarian or entertainment or a backdrop for ‘star clergy’! We carry God’s kingdom wherever we go. We are freed from the power of sin..a community in Jesus’ likeness. (chapter 12)  The book includes useful discussion questions, informative notes, excellent resources for further study and group discussion and a topical index which could have been more useful if more detailed. (4 stars)

 

6.  Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,  London, Serpent’s Tail, 2014.   A quirky, very funny but also heart-breakingly sad novel which shines a fierce  light on the use of sentient animals for scientific research. Since a summary of the plot would detract from the pleasure of reading I will simply say that the book is an excellent read. The writing is deceptively simple yet sophisticated; it will improve your vocabulary substantially; the insights into human communication are superbly and humorously drawn; and a mid-novel twist brings surprise and a serious look at some ethical questions regarding scientific method and some components of the study of psychology. Difficult to put down initially but the second half tends to get caught between the story and the message and can’t quite make up its mind. For a deeper understanding of our simian friends this book is essential.(4 stars)

7. Cate Kennedy, Dark Roots, Melbourne, Scribe, 2014 (2006)  Imaginative and evocative collection of short stories written in an Australian environment and cleverly managing to avoid dateable references.Very funny in parts; exceptional ability to get into the minds of individual characters in a very short space of time. It is easy to identify with many of these stories and characters. Well deserved recognition (reprinted seven times since 2006).  (4 stars)

A dialogue with Karl Barth re the importance of preaching in the Church

A dialogue with Karl Barth and his massive Church Dogmatics. In Section 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God, in Chapter  1 Barth begins with a discussion about the importance of proclamation or preaching.  In particular he dialogues with Paul Tillich.   I am using the translation of his second edition by G W Bromiley,  London/New York, T& T Clark International, paperback edition, 2004 (1936)  p 47.  Barth’s quotations are in italics. My comments are non-italicized. Barth writes a little like Calvin…he states a bold idea and then begins to hedge around it in such a way that you begin to agree with him once you accept all his “possible alternatives” to his initial bold statement.

CHAPTER 1: THE WORD OF GOD AS THE CRITERION OF DOGMATICS (p47)

B. CHURCH PROCLAMATION AS THE MATERIAL OF DOGMATICS.

  1. TALK ABOUT GOD AND CHURCH PROCLAMATION.

 p47-48  Nor all human talk is talk about God. It could be and should be. There is no reason in principle why it should not be. God is the Lord from whom and to whom we exist. …We do not know man, i.e. ourselves, as man in his original estate and therefore as the man of the kingdom of glory….We know ourselves only as the man to whom mercy is shown as one who is fallen, lost and condemned. 

 Only the believer knows this condemnation. The natural man knows only deep down that he or she is lost and “his heart is restless until he finds his rest in Thee”.  There is no point in trying to show non-believers that they have offended against God’s will for their lives. What we can do is live as joyfully and faithfully as we can striving with all our might for the fulfilment of God’s kingdom on earth and caring for the earth.  We can extend God’s love to everyone we meet and encourage them to hear and see God in the wonder and beauty of creation,  and if they are willing, to look into the Word itself and encouraging them to listen to their inner self and conscience. We have a particular responsibility to our own family. 

We stand under the sign of a decision constantly taken between the secularity and the sanctification of our existence, between sin and grace, between a being which forgets God, which is absolutely neutral in relation to Him and therefore absolutely hostile, and one which in His revelation is awakened by faith[fulness] to being in the Church. 

p48  Barth opposes Paul Tillich’s view in Kirche und Kultur, 1924, p10f that from God’s standpoint the historical Church has no advantage over historical society, that revelation is addressed equally to society and the Church [which seems to be what Romans 2 is saying] and that the “invisible community” can be equally proclaimed and actualized  ‘from the religious and cultural angles.’  But Barth does admit that Certainly, God is not bound to the historical Church. He is free and able to raise up children to Abraham from the stones. 

I agree with Barth that the deep fellowship, excitement and joy that comes from a loving Christian fellowship is a particular gift from God and should be cherished when it occurs but the reality is that churches, too, are fallen and in need of forgiveness and some churches  and church leaders/members do and have done damage to folk that  non-Christians do not experience; also of course, being a committed believer inevitably brings secular persecution. There is no value in weighing up degrees of “happiness” between the churched and non-churched. “The rain rains on the just and on the just (but chiefly on the just because the unjust steals the just’s umbrella!). I think both Tillich and Barth have a point here!

p49  Only in faith[fulness]  is being in the Church visible as divine election and  sanctification. What is visible in itself is simply an event within the secular sphere.  Barth quotes Luther, Fastenpostille, 1525..the Gospel is not an eternal, lasting, static doctrine, but like a moving shower of rain which strikes what it strikes and misses what it misses….Barth comments: The one who is awakened and gathered to being in the Church has every cause for full assurance of faith[fulness] but none at all for certainty or over-confidence….the being of man in the Church “ubi et quando visum est Deo”  [“where and when it pleases God”] is a true and concrete event….

Not all talk in the Church’s worship seeks to be proclamation. It does not seek to be such when it is talk addressed by man to God…[this talk is]   a response to God of the praise, confession and thanksgiving of those to whom proclamation concerning Him has come.

p50 …other elements in the life of the Church ..cannot seek to be proclamation e.g. the expression of helpful solidarity in the face of the external needs of human society. [prayers for the world and its people]. Barth cites Matthew 5:14. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. …If God exists for man …then this man…must also exist for his fellow -men……[yet this intercession for the world] is primarily and properly directed to God and not to men. It can neither try to enter into quite superfluous competition with society’s necessary efforts at self-help…..Like prayer, praise and confession, especially in cases like Francis of Assisi and Bodelschwingh, it has always been spontaneous and unpremeditated, and in the final and best sense unpractical talk about God. 

 [Friedrich von Bodelschwingh (1831-1910)..German priest, theologian, politician and social worker; founded schools, charities for the handicapped and the first savings bank.]

p51 The education of youth has to teach and not to convert, not to bring to a decision, and to this extent does not proclaim.  

Finally, according to our understanding of the matter, neither can theology as such claim to be proclamation. It, too, is talk about God to men. Proclamation, however, is its presupposition, its material, its practical goal, not its content or task. Theology reflects upon proclamation. It confronts it as a court of criticism….it is …testing the coherence of modern proclamation by the original and dominant being of the Church, and of giving directions for its correct and relevant continuation….there will unavoidably be invasions of the sphere of proclamation, and they will often be highly appropriate as reminders of the theme. But, here, too, the exceptions prove the rule, namely, that theology as such is not proclamation, but science, instruction and investigation.

p51-2 The talk about God to be found in the Church, however, is meant to be proclamation when it is directed to men with the definitive claim and expectation that it has to declare the Word of God to them. Barth quotes 1 Thessalonians 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. 

 [note this: the word of God works in us…we need to read it constantly and hear it so it is able freely to work in us.]

 Barth  also quotes 1 Peter 4:11a whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God… and 2 Corinthians 2:17..For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word; but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

p52  Proclamation is human speech in and by which God Himself speaks like a king through the mouth of his herald, and which is meant to be heard and accepted as speech in and by which God Himself speaks, and therefore heard and accepted in faith as divine decision concerning life and death, as divine judgment and pardon, eternal Law and eternal Gospel both together. 

[Note: “life and death” can refer to how we die and how we deal with living and dying in this life and how we live in this life; “pardon” is the opposite of judgment for those who have faithfulness; for the non-believer the opposite of judgment is not necessarily eternal death….it could be a “hell of accountability” facing up to the true Christ” after death and leading to salvation within the eternal love of God…in what way who knows although we know that those of faithfulness will rule in that world…perhaps they will be teachers and mentors;  the κοσμος is a big place!  I think there will be much to do! à la Billy Graham in an interview long ago with Mike Willissee. Ideas like this do not reduce the urgency of proclamation in this life. As Hebrews notes this is the only life on this unredeemed earth we will ever have..it should be a life of joy, beauty in brokenness, harmony and faithfulness…it is tragic that folk should be living lives and relationships of such harsh misery and misfunction.]

Nor does God’s own Word cease to be itself when it allows itself to be served by human utterance. But as it allows itself to be served by it, it is itself his human utterance, and as this human utterance serves it, it is itself God’s own Word.  For a proper explanation of this “is” we should have to refer even at this stage to the Christological doctrine of the two natures.

It is a decisive part of the insight of all true prophecy that man as such has no possibility of uttering the Word of God. What human utterance concerning God aims to be when it is intended as proclamation is….a means of grace.

p53 Thus proclamation is not asked concerning its formal or material perfection…it is simply asked whether it is service, whether it is commissioned…the διακονια του λογου (Acts 6:4) (the ministry of the word).  Barth quotes Luther: Festpostille: …thou shouldest flee as from hell from speaking a single word, except thou shouldest be bidden and called thereto…none will do any good by preaching except he who is bidden and forced to preach without his own will or desire…but whoso teacheth uncalled, teacheth not without harm, both to himself and the hearers, for that Christ is not with him.

p54 If the Church is visible, this need not imply that we actually see it in its full compass, that the dimensions of its sphere might not be very different from what we think we know them to be. God may suddenly be pleased to have Abraham blessed by Melchizedek, or Israel blessed by Balaam or helped by Cyrus….He can establish the Church anew and directly when and where and  how it pleases Him…..Hence it can never be the case that the Word of God is confined to the proclamation of the existing Church, or to the proclamation of the Church as known to us, or to the talk about God in this known Church which specially claims to be proclamation. Church proclamation itself, in fact, regards itself only as service of the Word of God, as a means of grace in God’s free hand. Hence it cannot be master of the Word nor try to regard the Word as confined within its own borders.

p55 [On the other hand]…a philosophy of culture [eg Paul Tillich] may very well reflect upon things, including an “unconditioned” or a “far side of being” discerned elsewhere than in the command. But it must not imagine that in so doing it has even touched the task of theology.

God may speak to us through Russian Communism, a flute concerto, a blossoming shrub, or a dead dog. We do well to listen to Him if He really does. But, unless we regard ourselves as the prophets and founders of a new Church, we cannot say that we are commissioned to pass on what we have heard as independent proclamation. God may speak to us through a pagan or  an atheist, and thus give us to understand that the boundary between the Church and the secular world can still take a different course from that which we think we discern. Yet this does not mean that we ourselves have to proclaim the pagan or atheistic thing which we have heard. [i.e. proclaim it as the Church.]

p56  But what is this specially commissioned proclamation of the Church which it must accept as a commission to and for men?….

  1. This proclamation is preaching, i.e., the attempt by someone called thereto in the Church, in the form of the exposition of some portion of the Biblical witness to revelation, to express in his own words and to make intelligible to the men of his own generation the promise of the revelation, reconciliation and vocation of God..
  2. This proclamation is the sacrament….visible, sacred signs and seals appointed by God…(Heidelburg Confession)…namely that for the sake of the one sacrifice of Christ accomplished on the Cross He graciously grants us remission of sins and eternal life.[But the question remains: who is “us”? Is it just “our particular group? or is it that Christ died while we were yet ungodly (Romans) ..for the sins of the whole world  (AAPB)]

iii)p 57-59  ….[God]  also and specifically wills that God’s own Word should be proclaimed in and through His Church. [based on Matthew 28:19f]….Again if this announcement is to be legitimate repetition of not just any promise, but of the promise given to the Church by God Himself, then it cannot be arbitrary religious discourse. It must be homily, i.e., discourse which as the exposition of Scripture is controlled and guided….it cannot consist in the mere reading of Scripture or in repeating or paraphrasing the actual wording of the biblical witness….the person called must be ready to make the promise given to the Church intelligible in his own words to the men of his own time. Calling, promise, exposition of Scripture, actuality—-these are the decisive definitions of the concept of preaching….

p60 How is this to happen inasmuch as proclamation must be unambiguously identical with preaching? [It is not just] higher instruction in religion and morals [or] the expression of the personal  piety of the person concerned…it represents the character of promise as event and grace in contrast to all man’s work on the level of human occurrence….it has to be action.

p61 [proclamation] has to be action demanded and controlled by the biblical witness. Again, like preaching, it cannot seek to replace the Word of God itself…it can only be a serving of God’s Word…as word in human thought and expression, …it cannot represent..revelation, reconciliation and calling …as the act of divine grace…enacted once and for all in the epiphany of Jesus Christ.

..promise…action in distinction to mere word, conformity to Scripture, representative symbolical connection with the ‘once -for-all of revelation— these are the decisive definitions of the concept of sacrament.

…we should not omit to point away from the exegesis and back to the actual text before us.

p61-2 Modernist dogmatics is finally unaware of the fact that in relation to God man has constantly to let something be said to him, has constantly to listen to something which he constantly does not know and which in no circumstances and in no sense can he say to himself. Modernist dogmatics hears man answer when no one has called him. It hears him speak with himself. For it, therefore, proclamation is a necessary expression of the life of the human community known as the “Church.” 

p62 Barth moves from the above to criticize Schleiermacher and Tillich because we are forced to conjecture that here too man is finally conceived of as conversing only with himself. Barth quotes Tillich: (Relig.Verwirkl) “..One has a right to say that e.g., Christ and Buddha are symbols in so far as they are a representation of what is ultimately intended in the religious act….the truth of a symbol rests upon its inner necessity for the symbol-creating consciousness…”

p63  Barth replies to Tillich:  …But then Logos in its isolation as word spoken back and forth necessarily becomes one symbol among many others. …The question now becomes in all seriousness: Why do I choose precisely these symbols, talk about God and this form of it, namely, actual exposition of the Bible, along with these two or seven sacraments? Are these really the truest symbols when my spiritual nature should and would express itself. Might there not be truer symbols than these?  

 [I find this a strange way to criticize other symbols of God’s love and power to say they are not “as true” as biblical word and sacrament. The early Fathers argued e.g. that when the pagan philosophers e.g. Plato spoke true words we should accept them as the truth even though they are not found directly in the Bible.  Likewise Paul writes in Romans 1:20  that “God’s invisible nature namely his eternal power and deity, have been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”  Surely a beautiful leaf or flower, or mountain view, a morning in the desert,  or woodland river, or work of human creation can by a symbol of God’s truth and lead us closer to him. To reject all of this out of hand is unnecessary. Yes the bible contains words that God can use to transform our lives but it is the Spirit which achieves this so we worship God in Spirit we do not worship the bible, and indeed à la P T Forsyth we “criticize” the bible textually etc and interpret the bible (in literal form etc) legitimately.  What the bible does do which a leaf or a flower or a painting cannot do, is “reveal the ways of God to us” (e.g. Psalm 103:7). God has chosen Israel and the apostolic witness to the incarnate Logos to be a light in the world. Yet it is clear from the bible itself that God as Barth himself wrote earlier that God can also speak through a Melchizedek, a Cyrus, a Balaam  or even an ass! As for Barth’s question how do we choose which symbol? Surely we don’t have to…Let God be God and let us rejoice in his creation.

A more important question might be ..”is there a hierarchy of revelation”? Can we relate to God without the bible. The answer must be yes. Abraham and Moses had no bible yet they heard God speaking to them and responded. Yes God has sent us messengers, prophets, priests and apostles but above all he has written a covenant by his Spirit into our hearts. We value what the saints of old have written down about God’s revelation and we collect and try to preserve their words but God does not “need” human councils and creeds to express himself to us. (and indeed sometimes the human formulations and translations can be unhelpful and lead us astray.) Above all we are led astray if we set up our own understanding of the bible as the ONLY expression of the boundless love of God. So how do we answer Tillich and the hierarchy question?? In my view we should NOT ignore any of God’s gifts..our conscience,  the wonder of creation, AND the written word of God…God has chosen these agents to teach and inspire us …the written word is a light to our path. To play down this revelation is as ridiculous as to live in a house in a beautiful place and never go out and enjoy it or even look out the window! After all, the basics of human living…love, honesty, caring,  character, endurance, integrity …these are not rocket science…where we find them we should cherish them. Similarly murder, theft, terror, anger, hubris, cheating, aggression, selfishness are to be avoided and opposed.. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in his written word. We should not ignore or marginalise it.  After all, Tillich would have had nothing to write or think about if generations of theologians had not thought deeply and written before him.  God’s revealed word can give us clarity, encouragement and inspiration.  But to ignore or play down other symbols is unnecessary.  How do we choose which symbols?  There is no short cut.  We live, read, talk, discuss, serve, examine, think and we make judgments and learn to trust what is good and useful and to be careful of what is shoddy, untrustworthy, inadequate. It is called “living” and we live to God in the whole of his revelation. I value both Barth and Tillich but Tillich does not discriminate enough and Barth discriminates too much!]

 p63  Barth opposes Tillich’s rejection of ultimate revelation in the bible e.g. Tillich: “..it is quite wrong to equate the Word as a symbol of the self-impartation of transcendent being with the Word as the physical medium of the self comprehension and impartation of the human spirit, and in this way to mix up God’s Word and the word of Scripture or the word of preaching…Word is not only present when it is spoken and conceived but Word is also present when it is spoken in powerful symbols”…..Protestantism has  largely forgotten this. Verbum, the Word of revelation, may (!) be in everything in which spirit expresses itself, even in the silent symbols of art, even in the works of society and law….and that means that nothing less than the whole of life of society in every aspect is ordained to be symbolically powerful of God. [Theology and Culture, 1924]

 [Tillich has surely gone too far here…many aspects of “the whole of life in society” are shot through with eroticism, vanity, neuroticisim, envy, concupiscence, greed, hubris, atheism, corruption, shallow thinking, ignorance, stupidity, covetousness, insincerity, selfishness, narcissism, and just plain human pride and desire for autonomy and its refusal to bow to any authority other than its own “will to power”…and this is just the short list.  These aspects of life or society are definitely not “symbolically powerful of God.”!]

p63  Barth is whimsical about the Berneuchener movement..an evangelical Lutheran youth movement in Germany in the 1920s designed to throw off the influence of liberal theology and  included artistic symbols and other various cheerful things of a similar nature [which] now have a chance of entering into not wholly purposeless rivalry with preaching, which has become less relevant ever since e.g. Julius Smend, Herbert Birtner, O. Dibelius (less preaching! More action and  more of other forms of proclamation!) …Inspiration is needed in poets and in religious speakers…

[ I have some sympathy with this approach but surely it can be combined with preaching. It doesn’t have to be “all art” or “all poetry” or “all philosophy” but it doesn’t hurt to include human reflection or allusion to lighten and vary the sermonic monotone. After all, Jesus himself summarised “the law and the prophets” in his own words and chose “purple patches” from Isaiah to highlight his own teaching. Genuinely original thinkers seldom quote directly from others but most mere mortals can do with a bit of help from the greats!]

p63 Barth asks: Why proclamation at all? Why symbols at all? Why not better be silent? Why not, as the truest word we can utter, renounce all special talk about God, all use of symbols whatsoever?  [This is the way of mysticism or pietism and of Aquinas after his vision when he determined not to say anything more ever again]

p64 Again Barth quotes Tillich:  Undoubtedly the supreme aim of a theological work should be to discover the point at which reality itself speaks unsymbolically both of itself and also of the unconditional, to discover the point at which reality itself without a symbol becomes a symbol, at which the antithesis between reality and symbol is removed… [Rel. Verwiirkl. p.208]

Barth comments:  Understanding of the concept of Proclamation along these lines can end only with its dissolution. Proclamation as self-expression must in the long run turn out to be a superfluous and impossible undertaking….What is the Church, what is it meant to be, if it has no centre, if man is not really addressed in it? Can the truth of its being really be that man is alone in and with his world?  ….Barth finds his answers to these questions in Romans 10:14 (how shall they hear without a preacher …ἀρα ἡ πιστις ἐξ ἀκοης, ἡ δε ἀκοη δια ῥματος χριστου]

p64 Barth now moves to deal with Roman Catholic dogmatics which he argues is concerned with the mutual relations of the concepts of preaching and sacrament….its dogmatics cannot emphasise strongly enough that the Church lives and dies by and in this means of grace. Barth cites various Roman Catholic scholars e.g. H Hurter, Scheeben-Atzberger and Bartmann. e.g. “The Church’s work in performing [the sacraments] is the truest revelation and the outer confirmation of its mysterious life.” [Hurter]

p65 “[The sacraments] are the most concentrated expression and the inmost kernel of the Church’s faith and life” [Scheeben-Atzberger]

Barth comments: …in this dogmatics preaching is not only assigned less importance, but virtually no importance at all compared to the sacrament which is received and celebrated so zealously.  

p65  Barth also opposes those Lutherans e.g. Klaus Harms (1817) who advance the exaggerated view that the Roman Church inclines to cling to the sacrament and build its life around this, that the Reformed Church does the same with the Word, but that the Lutheran Church “more splendidly than either” honours both sacrament and Word..

 Barth disagrees with this and argues that the Reformed and even the Modernist traditions pay much more care and attention to the sacraments than the Roman church does to preaching. [The Roman Church] consistently speak of the teaching office of the Church as though preaching did not even exist as an indispensable means of grace that claims serious attention.

p66  Barth does admit practical Roman writings say positive things about preaching and quotes Franz Hettinger (1909) “through this word of preaching and in it Christ lives on mystically, edifies, extends, enlightens, comforts and blesses HIs Church continually, pursues His work of redemption through every century,, feeds our souls on the bread of truth, just as He incorporates the whole man into Himself through the eucharistic bread”.  But Barth  complains that such thought are not represented in the manuals of Roman Catholic dogmatics.  

p66 Barth argues that the fact …that the Roman Catholic Church has produced more than one outstanding preacher  both past and present, cannot alter …the way in which this function is obviously forced into a backwater even in its exercise, as shown externally by the ruling that the Mass may be complete without it.

p67 …Roman Catholicism—not unlike Modernism in this respect—sees something quite different from proclamation take place as that centre of the Church’s life which we have described as proclamation.

 [It is possible that Barth over-rates the role of proclamation in worship. Effective, powerful, interesting  preaching is a rare gift in my experience and it should be cherished when it occurs but even the finest preaching will be lost if the surrounding worship..prayer/sacrament/hymn singing etc is performed poorly. I think it is not that proclamation has priority over sacrament, singing and public prayer but that public worship should be seen in totality as service to God and therefore carefully prepared, sensitively performed and prayerfully surrounded. The problem with over-estimating proclamation is that it becomes Protestant scholasticism.]

p68  [The Reformers}…thought they could understand the presence of the holy God among unholy men only as the grace of the strictly personal free Word of God which reaches its goal in the equally free hearing of men, the hearing of faith, which for its part, too, can be understood only as grace….[The Roman Catholic understanding] …sees the presence of Jesus Christ in his Church, the mystical unity of the Head with the whole body, in the face that under certain conditions there flows from Jesus Christ a steady and unbroken stream or influence of divine-human being on His people. Barth regards this a “theocentric” theology as opposed to the “anthropocentric” theology of Modernism but both agree in the unwillingness to recognise the ultimate necessity of proclamation. 

[It is almost as if what Barth fears is missing form Modernism and Roman Catholicism is mission…the spoken word which seeks to proclaim and convert..and yet surely church is for insiders not for outsiders. Apart from specific “seeker services” surely when Christians gather to worship they are seeking encouraging fellowship, joint exhilarating worship with fellow believers, the sense of drawing near to the very presence of God in sacrament, exhortation to dig more deeply into their faith and understanding certainly but not the constant proclamation e.g. that they are sinner’s in need of salvation or the repetition of God’s proclamation to the world through his Word…that is surely the task of mission not worship ]

p69  On this  [Roman Catholic] view the sacrament has to become the one and all …and naturally preaching has to be forced into that particular backwater. [The Roman Catholic Church}..regards the faith which comes from hearing the Word only as preparatory to receiving righteousness from God….It cannot be a means of true sanctifying grace…only a means of preparatory grace….For it, then, preaching can have a place only on the extreme margin of the Church’s action.

p70  [The Reformers]…regarded the representative event at the centre of the Church’s life as proclamation, as an act concerned with speaking and hearing… a personal encounter…..hence not the sacrament alone nor preaching alone, nor yet, to speak meticulously, preaching and the sacrament in double track, but preaching with the sacrament, with the visible act that confirms human speech as God’s act…The Evangelical Churches, Lutheran as well as Reformed, can and must be termed the churches of preaching.

  [and yet in Europe in the C20th and C21st many of these Lutheran and Reformed churches are relatively empty and some have become museums while the Catholic churches with their creaky machinery continue to rumble along with large numbers and e.g. in Spain it is the more “superstitious” centres with Mariology at the heart of things that attract more numbers than the more traditional catholic churches. Similarly in the West, Orthodoxy and its mystic Christ experience is growing at the expense of both Catholicism and Protestantism…while the megachurches seem to collapse when their proclaiming guru (e.g. Driscoll, Bell, Piper, Peters, crystal cathedral etc decides to withdraw and follow other paths..twas ever this I guess with e.g. Wesley, Whitefied, Spurgeon, Moody, Stott, Graham…the proclaimers cannot go on for ever and new proclaimers must arise but at the moment (2017) it seems that proclaimed words about Christ are less required than quiet meditation and thinking with Christ…hence the popularity of Benedictine order and thinking…maybe it has something to do with the noise and the tiresomeness of online chatter…]

p70-71  Barth cites many authorities in favour of proclamation above all else as important in the church [ e.g. the Augustininian Confession, Luther, Calvin, Melanchthon,  and writes against C19th Lutheran scholars (Harms, Vilmar, Löhe) who discredited preaching. He closes with a quote from Johannes Rupprecht (1925):…The Word is the primary thing. The Word existed before the sacrament was…The Word is God’s original essence, the sacrament is first aroused by our need. The Word will remain after our need, the sacrament will disappear after our need.  This presupposed, I must say that Word is the audible sacrament and the sacrament is the visible Word. The Word was before the sacrament and exists without the sacrament and will also still exist afterwards.

Review of Tom Macleish: Faith and Wisdom in Science

Tom McLeish: Faith and Wisdom in Science, Oxford, OUP, 2014

This is a significant and unique book in the area of the interaction between science and faith in my experience.  The writer is Professor of Physics and former Pro Vice Chancellor of Research at Durham University and the descriptors of his writing by significant referees include “verve and vision,  erudite, rich and discursive” I certainly concur.

His goal is a “theology of science”, a suggestion put forward first I think by Karl Barth in the first volume of his Dogmatics and taken up previously by T F Torrance and Alister McGrath. Quite surprisingly Macleish begins with the sad state of current negative opinion about science in the modern world. He sees this response in many areas: in senior secondary students he addresses; in the political pressure for short term results and “wealth creation”  from scientific research by government; by the privileging of secondary and tertiary learning in science compared with primary research (i.e. scientists critiquing others rather than creating their own research); the fact that journalistic media, obsessed with conflict as entertainment, has little interest in scientific good news stories other than as a filler at the sagging end of a program; and finally the fact that the average punter is persuaded that science is for boffins presenting transcendant and arcane truths that don’t matter much, in language impossible to understand.  In general, he argues, the common man has lost “faith in science” let alone being interested in “Faith in science!”

In relation to religion McLeish focusses on the “clamour of voices” including the “new atheists” (Dawkins/Atkins/Hitchins et al); loud and dogmatic fundamentalist extremists in all faiths; Romantic and New Age post-enlightenment sidelining of science as just one of many metanarratives;  and the careful “complementary” analysis of science and faith put forward by Christian physicists like John Polkinghorne and evolutionists like Francis Collins and Darrel Falk.

In dealing with this clamour Macleish calls for an entirely new vision of the relationship of science and faith based on a return to an earlier understanding of “science” as “natural theology”..the exploration by thoughtful folk of many earlier generations and cultures of the wonder, beauty and importance of the world we inhabit. It is a science of love and care for the world which comes from questioning the world, from ancient wisdom, from the wonder and delight in beauty which has always been part of the human make-up. Using both modern examples (Einstein and Macleish’s own cross-discipinary research) and historical examples (e.g. Faraday, Grosseteste,Brown, the Venerable Bede and Gregory of Nyssa’s sister Macrina) McLeish suggests a new whole community way of thinking about science.

His inspiration comes from an in-depth analysis of the Biblical Wisdom and prophetic literature and in particular a careful  in-depth analysis of the Book of Job as well as a further chapter on creation theology in the New Testament especially Paul and John.  In particular Macleish focusses on the questions God asks Job in chapters 38 and 39 as a pattern for the re-engagement of science with humanity. In addition to asking rich fertile questions Macleish adds the need for a re-imagination of the cosmos “beneath its surface” ; insistence on the deep perception of wisdom including love, care and wonder of and for the world; and finally winning knowledge through pain which includes the whole range of disciplines not just a “priesthood” of a scientific elite. McLeish calls for scientists (natural philosophers) to see their role as “the husbandry of creation”, underpinning the healing of the world that has been brought to the brink by human exploitation and a re-emergent chaos. “Natural philosophers” are to bring shalom to the world working across disciplines in a whole community approach.

These ambitious goals will require from religious thought leaders a removal of the false distinction between creation theology and salvation theology ensuring that the resurrection is taken seriously as a ‘substantial, materially embedded sign of hope” and the “greatest possible sign that physical embodiment matters”. McLeish reminds us that New Testament eschatology points us to a city, not a return to some “Arcadian vision of rustic simplicity”. Mankind is a part of creation, not an enemy and is to use human skills, vision and mind to participate with the Holy Spirit in the love, care and reconciliation of the cosmos. This is our creational purpose as stewards in covenant with our creator,  recognising as the Wisdom literature shows that chaos and power are irreducible parts of the created order and we should never think either in science or in faith that we will ever completely understand or master the creation. Our goal is not to “leave behind” the world, whisked away to some disembodied existence but to join in creation’s groaning travail as we  journey from ignorance to knowledge and finally to wisdom. Macleish summarises this theology of science as “a story of reconciliation by participation.” (p264) He concludes with God’s final questions to Job and to us: Can we learn what ‘loving wisdom of nature’ might mean? Do we have the wisdom to count the clouds? (Job 38:37).

We dismiss the challenge of this book at our peril. Macleish is no naive idealist..many of his suggestions are already being put into practice. The world’s human leadership is terminally fractured and wounded and western media has handcuffed itself into reporting on short-term political advantage ignoring so much that is of goodness, love, sacrifice and genius in the world. Both science and Faith will need to change and fast if “faith and wisdom in Science” is to be found.

Richard Prideaux, Senior Chaplain, Newhaven College

(richardprideaux.wordpress.com)

Top 10 novels read and why (so far!)

TOP 10 NOVELS 

  1. Anna Karenin.   Leo Tolstoy: (1874-6) (Trans. Rosemary Edmonds 1954) 

Extraordinarily powerful account of the doomed love affair between the married Anna Karenin and the playboy aristocratic soldier Vronski played off against the innocence and humility of the courtship, marriage and family of Levin and Kitty and the troubled and forgiving relationship between Stiva and Dolly Oblonsky. This lengthy novel had me spellbound when I read it in 1967 and I have read it twice since as well as enjoying several film versions

2.  Voss.  Patrick White (1957)  Although I much enjoyed Tree of Man this account of a fictional explorer challenging the vast spaces of an Australian outback unknown to white Australians is gruelling, heroic, intense and enthralling. Inspired by the story of Ludwig Leichhardt who died in the Australian desert in 1849 I remember being exhausted by the narrative but totally captivated and unable to put it down. Both of these novels gave me a life-long love for the writing of Patrick White.

3. Women in Love.  (1913-1917) D H Lawrence. I read and badly misunderstood The Rainbow in my first year at Melbourne University as a relatively immature student in the English Faculty. I could not understand a thing about the writing. Reading Women in Love in my 40s i was stunned by Lawrence’s sensitivity to male/female emotions, interactions, misunderstandings and love making. The sophistication, clarity and deep emotion of this writing I will never forget.

4. The Ancestor Game. (1993)  Alex Miller. Alex Miller is my Number 1 modern Australian/English/writer although Geraldine Brooks runs a close second. This complex three generation account of a set of Chinese and Australian relationships mesmerised me and I have now read this novel twice. The use of works of art as a thread and the contrast between the wondrously and fragilely delineated ancient China and the rather less entrancing modern  China as well as the very familiar Australian teaching background and locations held me enthralled. Alex Miller’s Autumn Laing,  loosely based around Sydney Nolan’s life also captivated me as it will anyone who has spent time at Heidi in Bulleen Victoria. In fact Alex Miller has not written a novel I haven’t devoured with deep pleasure.

5. Ulysses. (1922 text edited with an introduction and notes by Jeri Johnson).  James Joyce. Joyce’s account of one day in the Dublin love life of Leopold Bloom and the intellectualising thought life of Stephen Dedalus was a text I deliberately left until I was in my fifties and had spent a few days wandering around in Dublin, drinking my first guiness and visiting the Joyce museum there.  I also did not read it until I found an excellent Oxford notated edition with over 200 pages of carefully edited explanatory notes! The sheer genius and breadth of Joyce’s vast (over 500 on my count)  literary associations, the Shakespearian authorship debate subplot, the Biblical/Hindu/buddhist/Jewish interactions, the philosophic/poetic/literary duels and even the Madame Blavastki spiritualism adventures are all rich sauce on a story of a delightful and thought provoking day in Ireland.  A tough day at the office but an unforgettable experience. (I don’t think I could do it again!)

6. All the Light We Cannot See. (2014)  Anthony Doer. I am not much of a fan of war novels as a rule but this complex and beautifully written World War 2 fictional story set in France involving a young blind girl and her museum curator father and a young German lad growing up and enlisting under Hitler is spell-binding.  In the short time since its publication I have met so many people who talk about this book as one they cannot forget. This novel grips you by the throat and does not let you go until the very end, then stays in your mind as a heart-warming and redeeming experience emerging from the most atrocious horror of war.

7. Middlemarch. (1871-2)  George Eliot.  This is again a novel I have read twice and watched as a  movie.  Maybe it is  because I see something of myself in the desiccated scholar and pedant Casaubon and his creative, luminous and deeply understanding wife Dorothea that I enjoy this novel so much. The ultimately doomed Dr Lydgate and his spendthrift wife Rosamond is a wonderful subplot but above all this is a deeply thoughtful novel which engages both emotion and mind to a very significant depth indeed. This is a book that adds something to the texture of a reader’s life forever.

8.  Wolf Hall. (2010)  Hilary Mantel. I have to put this novel into my top ten because for the first time in my life I simply could not stop turning the pages of this novel. It is the ultimate page turner. We were in Canberra with a big day ahead but I stayed up I think until 3.00am reading this beautifully written factional account of the life and influence of Thomas Cromwell during the early years of the Protestant reforms begun by Henry VIII’s all consuming desire for a divorce from his Catholic wife Catherine of Aragon. Mantel is a fine historian but more so a fiendishly clever novelists who traps readers into personal relationships with her characters to the extent that we simply have to keep reading to find out what happens to them. A not before time? reassessment of the role of Thomas More during the frantic years of the English Reformation.  I consider the sequel Bring Up the Bodies as part 11 of the same novel and equally fine.

9.  Wuthering Heights. (1847)   Emily Brontë  I took this novel which I regarded at university as the greatest love story of all time on my honeymoon and did not get very far reading it to my wife! We left it under the bed and remarkably a mate of mine from Melbourne University hired the same holiday unit, found the book with my name in it  (what was he doing under the bed?) and returned it to me! I still think the spiritual and physical bond between Heathcliff and Catherine which overcame physical death is the ultimate statement of passionate love. I have since visited the beautiful village of Haworth with its vicarage high on a hill and right next door to the parish graveyard…fertile ground for deep emotional writing. I am still moved by this novel and I think I would be a different person if I had not read it.

10. The Songlines. (1987)  Bruce Chatwin     The enigmatic Bruce Chatwin has made more sense of indigenous Australian culture for me than anything else I have ever read. The unique nomadic relationship Aboriginal communities and individuals have had with the landscape of the great South Land is complex and spiritually alien to white Australians. This beautifully written tale  of actual encounters with real people, complex notebook gleanings from cultures all around the world and all periods of history. Chatwin’s creativity and research has left an indelible mark on me. (His novel On the Black Hill is also a thoughtful and powerful read!)

N T Wright:The Day the Revolution Began: Rethinking the Meaning of Jesus’Crucifixion.

I just read this book and here is my review:

N T Wright: The Day the Revolution Began: Rethinking the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion, Harper One/SPCK, San Francisco/London, 2016.

Tom Wright’s latest blockbuster is  a big sprawling book clearly based on a lecture series and therefore could have done with some judicious editing. (416 pages).  Nevertheless it makes a powerful impact because in this significant study Wright attempts to overturn many current and traditional theological understandings of the crucifixion of Jesus. The book will engender vigorous discussion and has already encountered substantial online opposition from Wright’s normal opponents both conservative and liberal. This noise should not deter readers from making the effort to stay the distance because Wright’s argument is Biblical, cogent, eventually compelling and in his final two chapters of application to today’s church I believe his analysis can only be ignored at the church’s peril especially the first world church,

In Part 1, the first three chapters, the opening question is “why did Jesus die”? Of course there are historical and theological answers but Wright’s two questions are first, “what was Jesus thinking when he chose to go to the cross? and secondly what did the earliest Christian writers mean by saying the reason for his death had resulted in “the forgiveness of sins.”? This is especially surprising given that Jesus’s own preaching had been based around the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. Wright addresses directly the issue that Jesus preached the kingdom and the early church preached Jesus.

Wright answers his own questions with  he reality that, with the resurrection, Jesus’s followers became immediately aware that arguably the most momentous revolution in human history had begun. Jesus’s followers especially Paul believed it involved the defeat of the powers of the cosmos and in particular the power and fear of death. As his followers wrestled with the Cross an understanding of its universal significance began to dawn. Wright provides some difficult to read detail of the scandalous horror and unglamorous torture involved in Roman crucifixion to prove that only a life changing purpose could have made early believers make such a horrific death central to their understanding of God’s action in the world. Wright provides a cook’s tour of two thousand years of interpretation of the meaning of the cross, concentrating on Reformation responses and then demonstrates at length an equally varied response to the crucifixion in first century Roman and Jewish/Christian understanding.

In Part 11  headed “in Accordance with the Bible”  Wright engages in a surprisingly detailed analysis of the narrative of the Old Testament focussing deliberately and directly down on to the five themes of the universal covenant promises to Abraham; the narratives of exodus and exile; the prophetic call to God’s people to be “the light to the nations” and the suffering servant narrative of later Isaiah. Readers familiar with Wright’s major commentary on Romans in The New Interpreter’s Bible Volume X will recognise this approach. Thus Wright prepares the way for his “Israel centred” understanding of the meaning of the crucifixion in Part 111.

Part 111 is the most theologically controversial section of the book in which Wright analyses first the Gospels in some detail especially John, followed by “Paul and the Cross apart from Romans” and finally two chapters centred on Romans. All the “big-name models” of atonement are there including penal substitution, justification, propitiation (ἱλαστηριον), expiation, reconciliation, redemption, punishment, the wrath of God and the righteousness of God. These themes are reinterpreted in a broader understanding of God’s ongoing revolution lead by God’s people resuming the task of being light and salt in the world and playing their part of being the suffering body of Christ in the world as we await its transformation with the return of Christ.

In part this Old Testament story of God’s action in the world is Wright’s reaction to such “slimmed down” evangelistic models as “the Romans Road” (see gotquestions.org) in which the meaning of the crucifixion tends to be limited to the forgiveness of personal sin so that a person can “go to heaven when they die”.  Wright’s response is to underline Israel’s responsibility to be a light to the nations which, in spite of their return to Jerusalem, had stalled through their continuing “exile” under Roman rule in the first century. Wright sees Christ’s victory over the powers of the world on the cross as reigniting the establishment of the kingdom of God in a “this world time/space”, not escaping from the world into some disembodied heavenly existence. In this regard Wright gives Biblical expression to philosopher Roger Scruton’s recent powerful call to a spiritual life and 3an afterlife in time, [belonging] within the causal envelope, in the space-time continuum which is the world of nature. [The Soul of the World, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2014 p198]  In relation to “the powers” Wright interprets them as three “old gods”..Mammon, Ares and Aphrodite i.e. wealth, war and sex!

Part IV of the book contains two chapters of a clarion call to living the Christian life within the victory of the crucifixion. It is hard-hitting, dynamic and potentially life-changing as well as threatening. Do not proceed if you do not want your spiritual equilibrium disturbed! Consider these zingers for example:

Many churches have colluded in the privatisation and spiritualisation of ‘salvation.” (p.394); Forgiveness of sins is not a tolerance of ‘anything goes’. (p396); Challenging political agendas does not absolve us from the need for personal holiness. (p403) We cannot assume that we are now mandated to live the Christian version of a modern Western “good life”. (p404) How easily the Western church embraces self-discovery, self-fulfilment and self-realization as if they were at the heart of the Gospel. (p410) “..for every word of Jesus against sins of the body there are a dozen against sins of the bankbook. (p410). So, finally, when the New Testament tells us the meaning of the cross, it gives us not a system, but a story; not a theory, but a meal and an act of humble service; not a celestial mechanism for punishing sin and taking people to heaven, but an earthly story of a human Messiah who embodies and incarnates Israel’s God and who unveils his glory in bringing his kingdom to earth as in heaven. (p415)

The Revolution began on that first Good Friday and continues in the faithful and suffering lives of God’s people around the world as they work with joyful politically challenging courage and holiness as the body of Christ to continue to create God’s kingdom of love, beauty and justice in the world, patiently awaiting its transformation at Christ’s return. May it be so in the churches to which we belong.

Richard Prideaux, Senior Chaplain, Newhaven College, Victoria, Australia

RECENTLY READ BOOKS

BOOKS READ RECENTLY

P T Forsyth:  Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind, New Creations Publications, Spotswood SA, 1993 (1907)   (read and carefully analysed 2013-2016) ..detailed notes elsewhere; certainly the best book on preaching I have ever read.  J K Mozley: Perhaps English Christianity’s most powerful theologian in the sphere of dogmatics. 5 stars

Phillip Henderson: William Morris: His Life, Work and Friends, Thames and Hudson, London, 1967  ( read December 2016)   amazing life and work of one of the world’s most amazing creative geniuses;  Yates: the most loved man in England!   5 stars

Rob Bell: Velvet Elvis, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2005. (Read December 2016;) unique style aimed at mega church attendees; Clarion call for common sense theology for the C21st in so many areas; all the key ideas are there but referred to almost tangentially;   3 stars

Kent Haruf: Our Souls at Night, Picador, London, 2015. (Read December 2016 )(Book club) Two single old folk who get together late at night for companionship. Heartwarming, passionate, cruel in its depiction of family stresses. 3 stars.

Roger Scruton: The Soul of the World, Princeton and Oxford. Princeton University Press, 2014.  (read December 2016.)  English philosopher arguing against reductionist conclusions in evolutionary psychology, cognitive dualism and neuroscience as well as nothing buttery and  reductionism in aesthetics, personal identity and relationships, music, art and religion.  Difficult read but a wealth of supporting data beautifully argued including deep analysis of opponents. Moves toward the the God of the Judaeo-Christian tradition but not enough for many Christians and way too far for many secularist atheists.   4 stars

Aristotle, trans. J A K Thompon (1953) Ethics: with intro by Jonathan Barnes & notes by Hugh Tredennick and Preface by A C Grayling, The Folio Society, London, 2003.  (Read term 3 2016 ) Difficult read in defence of virtue ethics but full of wisdom, wit, common sense and pre-Christian “Christian values” regarding the human pursuit of happiness. p121:All teaching starts by what is known; p201: A good man, if necessary, dies for his friends. p224 We ought, so far as in us lies, to put on immortality. p227: A man’s life will be happy if he acts in accordance with virtue.  4 stars

Peter Goldsworthy: Maestro, Melbourne, Angus & Robertson, 2010. (Read term 4 2016 Newhaven. ) Australian angry young man story with holocaust link. Very thin! …1 star.

Julian Barnes:  A History of the World in 101/2 Chapters,  (Read term 3 2016 Newhaven).  Clever,  annoying book with a water/Biblical/art/terrorism theme including an excursus on love and another on heaven.  (his father is Jonathan Barnes ..Oxford Classics and Philosophy genius)   3 stars

Daniel Varè: The Maker of Heavenly Trousers, Penguin Books Aust, Camberwell, 2011 (1935) ( Read December 2016 ) Curious story of an Italian diplomat in China during the period before and after WW1..mixture of romance, fantasy, poetry, philosophy,Chinese and Buddhist culture…3 stars.

Michelle De Kretser: Questions of Travel,  Crows Nest Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 2012 ( Read December 2016); Fiction based around two characters..footloose traveller and travel writer Laura Fraser and Sri Lankan refugee to Australia, Ravi Menises. Large book, interesting reflections on travel, striking ending, 3 stars.

Richard Holloway: Leaving Alexandria, Edinburgh, Canongate,2010. (Read January 2017.) Extraordinarily honest, annoying and searching book by renegade priest, prolific author and former Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church before he was encouraged to quit by a significant section of his clergy. Widely read he gives a fascinating portrait of clerical life in the C20th from within an Anglo-Catholic perspective although one senses he would like to be a “liberal charismatic evangelical”.  In many ways a Christian atheist! Not a book for the faint-hearted but a useful read if only for the poetry and writers he quotes! 3 stars.

Bruno Vincent: Five Give up the Booze, London, Quercus (Enid Blyton for Grown-Ups, 2016.  (Read January 2017) Quirky adult story written in Enid Blyton style with Enid Blyton presentation and illustrations.  Quite funny and clever and even thoughtful in places   3 stars

Manning Clark: The Puzzles of Childhood: His Early Life, Ringwood Aust, Penguin Books, 1990 (1989). (Read January 2017)  Intensely written account of his early life and family history including his complex working class clergyman father, upper class mother and brother Peter. Includes his time at Kempsey, Phillip Island, Belgrave and Melbourne Grammar as a student.  Engaging, complex and funny in parts.   4 stars.

Simon Garfield: The Error World, London, Faber & Faber,2008. (Read January 2017 ) Funny, clever and engaging book about collecting. Focuses mainly on stamp collecting but many other interesting insights. Also a kind of autobiography of a writer who has ranged widely in non-fiction with books on music, time, war and history.   3 stars.

Manning Clark: The Quest for Grace, Ringwood Au, Viking, 1990.( Read January 2017) An autobiographical follow up to The Puzzle of Childhood. Stunningly honest and scarifying account of Manning’s desire for Christian grace alongside his biting and witty dismissal of his father’s stuffy Anglicanism, the smugness of the bourgeois, the attractions of sex and alcohol, his genuine love affair with socialism and a new world order and his final acceptance of the uniqueness of Australian culture against the dying European order set against the chaos of the build up and chaos of WW11; it is also the account of the birth and 25 year production of the six volume History of Australia and an amazing account of the significant students he taught and staff he taught and learned with at Geelong Grammar, Oxford, Melbourne Uni and ANU  as well as the writers, art, music and travel which influenced him.  According to his biographers, not always totally reliable. e.g. arriving in Germany the morning after kristallnacht.   5 stars.

Jean Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, Ed., John T McNeil; trans. Ford Lewis Battles,  2 volumes (Volumes 20 and 21 in “The Library of Christian Classics”),  Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1960. Latin title reads: The Institute of the Christian Religion, Containing almost the Whole Sum of Piety and Whatever It is Necessary to Know in the Doctrine of Salvation. A Work Very Well Worth Reading by All Persons Zealous for Piety, and Lately Published. A Preface to the Most Christian King of France, in Which this Book is Presented to Him as a Confession of Faith. Author, John Calvin, of Noyon, Basel, MDXXXVI.  (Read 2014 (complete)  and Book 3 again January 2017;)   A big read! (1784 pages);  Written initially in Latin, then in French over eight editions between 1536 and 1559. In this translation quite readable; outstanding notes and clarifications by John T McNeill. A remarkable window into the Reformation fight with the mediaeval church Councils and Papal rulings on Biblical interpretation and doctrine (including Jerome’s Vulgate) paying particular and detailed attention constantly to the failure of the doctrine of salvation by merit as well as substantial criticism of ‘The Schoolmen’ i.e. mediaeval scholars such as  Aquinas, Cochleaus, Servetus, Fisher, Duns Scotus, Bonaventura, Lombard, Abelard and hundreds of other scholars,  and many disputes with Luther, Erasmus and Melanchthon also. Relies heavily on Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrose  and Bernard of St Clair. A clear statement of all the major Christian doctrines with detailed rebuttal of opposing arguments of the day. Calvin’s deep Renaissance knowledge of classical philosophy is evident especially Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Cicero, Seneca, Homer, Euripides, Plutarch amongst others. Wonderful treatment of prayer in Book 3.  The lengthy chapters on predestination and double predestination to Hell in Book 3 in which the latter is simply treated as a mystery into which it is unprofitable and dangerous to look will not be helpful to C21st readers with the exception of those committed to a stern Reformed theology. (4 stars)

J Ross Wagner: Heralds of the Good News: Isaiah and Paul in Concert in the Letter to the Romans, Boston/Leiden, Brill Academic, 2002( Read February 2017.)  Outstanding analysis of the quotations from Isaiah in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. A book for scholars and students of Paul and Isaiah..not for beginners.  Particularly interesting in relation to: (i) the importance of the Septuagint in Paul’s writing; (ii)reading and writing in the First Century of the Christian era;(iii)  the audacity of Paul’s treatment of Isianic prophecies about Israel being turned into prophecies about the salvation of Gentiles; Significant debt to the work of N T Wright, Richard Hays and E P Sanders but Wagner maintains his own position with trenchant and careful argument and does not slavishly follow any of these authors. Very useful bibliography and detailed footnotes; also very helpful charts of the Isaiah quotations and allusions. ( or “echoes”..Hays)  4 stars.

Rob Bell: Love Wins: At the Heart of Life’s Big Questions, London, Collins 2012.  (Read Feb 2017) A powerful follow up to Velvet Elvis (2005, see review above).  This is a clearly written and Biblically researched analysis of the Christian doctrines of Heaven and Hell, the Cross and the Resurrection written in an accessible style for folk who have little or no connection with formal church. I know no better book to give to someone ‘on the edge’ of faith or in opposition to faith. Bell tackles the universalism question straight on and mounts a powerful Biblical argument that, when all the chips are down, love wins. Winning no friends in the Facebook war, (Piper et al)  nevertheless Bell’s book  is a transformative, helpful and deeply thought provoking read. Bell lead the Mars Hill Michigan megachurch for many years and now lives in Los Angeles and is “on the circuit” which has included an appearance on Oprah Winfrey. In his later interviews he opposes the authority of the Bible as a source of ethical authority in the church of today which leaves him stranded for most conservative Christian believers. 5 stars

Martin Ayers: Naked God: The Truth About God Exposed, Kingsford, NSW, Matthiasmedia,2010. (read Feb.2017)  Probably the C21st version of Mere Christianity without the intellectual fireworks.  Simply written for teenagers and young adults with up to date references. Standard solid apologetics with a modern thrust although already strangely outdated e.g. by referencing Obama rather than Trump! (the obvious danger of using dateable examples).  A Useful book to give to someone on the edge but less cut than say Bell or Wright.  3 stars

N T Wright: The Day the Revolution Began: Rethinking the Meaning of Jesus’ Crucifixion, Harper One/SPCK, San Francisco/London, 2016. (Read February 2017) A big sprawling book clearly based on a lecture series and therefore could have done with some judicious editing. (416 pages).  Nevertheless it makes a powerful impact. Detailed review elsewhere; Notable for its emphasis on the narrative of the Biblical story rather than the Bible being a storehouse from which to dig out a systematic theology. Treats the crucifixion from the context of the Covenant promises to Abraham, the Old Testament narratives of exodus and exile, the prophetic call to a new covenant based on the vocation of God’s people to be the light to the nations, the narrative of the suffering servant in Isaiah, a helpful analysis of the four Gospels and three detailed chapters on Paul Including two chapters based on Romans. The book closes with two dynamic chapters and a call to arms for  the church and the vocation of God’s people. In summary Jesus died and rose again for the forgiveness of sins, demonstrating the  defeat of the dark powers at work in the world personified as Mammon (wealth), Mars (war) and Aphrodite (sex). At six o’clock in the evening on the first Good Friday the world was a different place…the Revolution began and continues in the faithful and suffering lives of God’s people around the world as they work with joyful politically challenging courage and holiness as the body of Christ to continue to create God’s kingdom of love, beauty and justice in the world, patiently awaiting its transformation at Christ’s return. (5 stars).

We cannot assume we are mandated to live the Christian version of a modern Western “good life”. (p 405); how easily the Western church embraces self-discovery, self-fulfilment and self-realization as if they were at the heart of the Gospel (p410)  (4 stars)

Carlos Ruiz Zafon: (translated, Lucia Graves):  The Shadow of the Wind, Melbourne, Text Publishing, 2004. (Read December 2016)

Clever, engaging Spanish novel involving books and who has owned and written them, arcane mystery, love, inter-generational relationships, criminality, a hint of an evil muse and a generally complex thematic structure.  The “library of forgotten books” owes a substantial debt to Borges’  “The Library of Babel” in his collection Labyrinths, and there is a debt to Borges also in the labyrinthine turns of the plot.  Hard to put down; a good read!  (3.5 stars).

Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness, Ringwood, Penguin, 1979 (1902). Read 1967 and Feb 2017).  Very short, powerful novel of a steamship captain’s recollection of a river journey in the Congo in search of ivory and a mysterious company agent gone native known as Kurtz. Stunning use of language, symbol, imagery, the most appalling sort of colonialism and perhaps a general symbol of the “dark heart” of the human situation at the start of the C20th epitomised by T S Eliot’s reprise of the line Mr Kurtz..he dead as his epigraph to his 1925 poem The Hollow Men. (5 stars)

Gigging in Glasgow and carting around in Carlisle before moonlighting in Manchester 

Thursday 10th September

Today with beautiful sunny Autumnal  weather we jumped back into the trusty Kia for the last time and drove through Edinburgh’s not very busy peak hour traffic to its neighbour city Glasgow one hour away.  Glasgow is no longer a bleak drab city, quite the opposite.  Its freeway access is second to none and the cityscape is stately, modern, clean and energising.

We made our way directly to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery which is an amazing Victorian purpose-built palace designed for presentations of all kinds.

Amazing C19th Victorian palace purposefully designed for an art gallery and celebration space
Amazing Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. A C19th Victorian palace purposefully designed for an art gallery and celebration space
Kelvingrove front entrance detail
Kelvingrove front entrance detail

It has a huge hall with pipe organ on the second floor and organ recitals everyday. Installations of all kinds are everywhere and some sort of major production was being staged in the ground floor studio. It is a very happening place indeed.

Front wall of the event space in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow
Front wall of the event space in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow
Pipe organ in the event hall at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. Organ recitals are held every afternoon
Pipe organ in the event hall at Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow. Organ recitals are held every afternoon
Currently there is a display of the architect and cabinet maker Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This is a stunning cabinet
Currently there is a display of the architect and cabinet maker Charles Rennie Mackintosh. This is a stunning cabinet
Plaster and bronze sculptures of Thomas Carlyle. He was arguably the C19th's finest essayist, historian and publicist but is little read today. A remarkable man
Plaster and bronze sculptures of Thomas Carlyle. He was arguably the C19th’s finest essayist, historian and publicist but is little read today. A remarkable man
Amazing installation of faces suspended in the main display area.
Amazing installation of faces suspended in the main display area.
Very fine sculpture by Gilbert Ledwad, 1932 simply entitled
Very fine sculpture by Gilbert Ledwad, 1932 simply entitled “Garden Piece” at Kelvingrove Art Gallery

Our goal was to see Salvador Dali’s wonderful Christ of St John of the Cross which  is a stunning treatment of the cosmic impact of the  crucifixion. Spanish born Dali was an unusual figure and produced extraordinary contemporary art but later in life believed that he was the recipient of a vision and turned to some religious themes in his painting. He was received into the Church personally by the Pope at the time who gave his blessing to his religious art work.  This painting has always meant a lot to me and it was wonderful to see it in reality. It is much larger than I thought it would be and a very moving experience.

Salvador Dali:
Salvador Dali: “Christ of St John of the Cross” in Kelvingrove Art Gallery Glasgow

Kelvingrove Dali sources of inspiration info Kelvingrove Dali notes on religion

Moving on from Glasgow we drove the M8 South back into England, past Thomas Carlyle’s birthplace and stopped off at the wonderful historical town of Carlisle with its ancient Norman and Gothic cathedral. Below is the sort of scenery we passed on the way to Carlisle on an absolutely gorgeous Autumn day in England

Carlisle a quiet spot

Carlisle cathedral exterior Carlisle cathedral ext 2

Two shots of the exterior of the Carlisle Cathedral in beautiful red stone.

In its first incarnation in the C13th  it was a Romanesque cathedral with the normal “fat” round and shorter columns.  Some of these were broken down for the stones for defence by Cromwell’s men but quite a distinct section remains.

The Norman nave of Carlisle Cathedral with large round columns and round arches remiiscent of Tewksbury C12th
The Norman nave of Carlisle Cathedral with large round columns and round arches remiiscent of Tewksbury. This section is C12th

The Gothic section was added in C14th and is restrained and dignified. The nave is relatively short. The sanctuary was covered by a platform today because the local Trinity Grammar School has an academic presentation tonight.  The C16th grammar students have left their mark on the choir stalls with their Etonian like graffiti, names and even family crests.

Carlisle cathedral nave Carlisle Cathedral nave ceiling Gothic Nave and ceiling Carlisle Cathedral organ and choir stalls Carlisle student grafitti

organ, stalls, grafitti in Carlisle Cathedral

On the back of the ancient choir stalls are wonderful  C16tth paintings, some badly damaged but others in good shape, depicting the twelve apostles and several saints.  Some wonderful carving from Henry VIII’s time remains from Lancelot Salkeld, the last Prior of the ancient Abbey alongside the church. Apparently he kept his job by offering his skills and they are memorable including Henry’s coat of arms and several portraits in wood allegedly of Henry’s forbears (one of whom is the Roman emperor Severus who was of course an African as the carving shows!..(carving was on the other side of the Salkeld screen)

Slacked screen from C15th carved by former Abbot of the Priory after its dissolution. His way of keeping a job under Henry
Salkeld screen from C15th carved by former Abbot of the Priory after its dissolution. His way of keeping a job under Henry
High altar of Carlisle Cathedral
High altar of Carlisle Cathedral

For me a particular treat was the memorial to William Paley, the biologist whose writings on the evidence for creation in defence of divine creation were forrmely required study for all Oxford entrants.  In a way he was the most famous supporter of “intelligent design”. He is buried at Carlisle with his two wives (the first died).

William Paley's tomb in Carlisle Cathedral. Famous for his
William Paley’s tomb in Carlisle Cathedral. Famous for his “Evidences” of creation in the Natural World which was the last word on the subject before Darwin.

The old abbey is still very much in evidence and the crypt is now an excellent tea room. The grounds of Carlisle are peaceful, treed and very inviting.

Ann at the door of the old abbey with the chapter house beyond
Ann at the door of the old abbey with the chapter house beyond

From Carlisle we drove through the wonderful Lakes District of northern England, draped in late afternoon sun in gorgeous Derwent colours  and we are now happily ensconced in the Crown Plaza ready to fly out early tomorrow morning to Munich, then Singapore then Melbourne.

Ann high on Thai at the restaurant of the Crowne Plaza at Manchester Airport. That's me in the mirror taking the photo
Ann high on Thai at the restaurant of the Crowne Plaza at Manchester Airport. That’s me in the mirror taking the photo

So this little pilgrimage comes to an end and I thank the faithful who have followed or tuned in from time to time. We have seen much to digest and ponder upon in the years ahead. We have been both encouraged and dismayed by some aspects of “church”.  We have travelled quite close to political turmoil throughout Europe including terrorism in Turkey and Belgium, Financial brinkmanship and distress in Athens and refugee trauma in Calais, Greece and Germany.  Finally we joined the Queen in Edinburgh to celebrate the longest reign of a reigning monarch. Whatever your views of the monarchy, she has worked hard, long and consistently for the good of others and from our observation, lived relatively simply compared with some of the palaces of other leaders in the past. We  pray God for a safe flight home and give thanks for the privilege of sharing some of this experience with you fellow pilgrims.

Edified by art in Edinburgh and celebrating Queenie’s longest ever reign on the Quintessential royal yacht Brittania

Wednesday 9th September 2015

Today we slept in and took things slowly, finally jumping back on the double decker back to Edinburgh where the Queen herself was also coming by train to reopen the Borders Railway line.  We didn’t actually see her at Waverley Station but we did catch a bus from Waverley not long after she left to do the opening.  We drank her health on the former royal yacht Brittania which is moored these days at the Edinburgh docks and can be toured at length.

Prior to the Brittania we wandered around the Scottish National Art Gallery which has an excellent collection of all periods of Western Art majoring obviously in Scottish art but also a very strong collection of Dutch, Renaissance and other European art. As ever artistic tastes vary. I include some of my favourites from Edinburgh. An unknown Flemish artist, Raphael, Da Vinci, Verrochio, Jan Steen, Tiepolo and Turner.

Unknown Dutch artist C15th beautiful Madonna and Child with leaves painted in such a way as they look like needlepoint.
Unknown Dutch artist C15th beautiful Madonna and Child with leaves painted in such a way as they look like needlepoint.
Verrochio C15th Italian: The Virgin adoring the Christ Child. This was one of Ruskin's personally owned and favourite paintings donated to the Edinburgh Gallery
Verrochio C15th Italian: The Virgin adoring the Christ Child. This was one of Ruskin’s personally owned and favourite paintings donated to the Edinburgh Gallery
Raphael: The Holy Family..interesting to me because Joseph is hardly ever seen in art. On loan from the Bridgewater collection
Raphael: The Holy Family..interesting to me because Joseph is hardly ever seen in art. On loan from the Bridgewater collection
Raphael
Raphael “The Bridgewater Madonna” …obviously from the Bridgewater collection on loan to Edinburgh. Apparently Raphael painted two different backgrounds, one a landscape and eventually removed both and it is all black!
Leonardo Da Vinci: The Madonna of the Yard Winder, painted for Floriband Robertal, a French Minister interested in all things Italian.
Leonardo Da Vinci: The Madonna of the Yard Winder, painted for Floriband Robertal, a French Minister interested in all things Italian.
Jan Steen 1670: A School for Boys and Girls! I hope my classes in term 4 do not look like this!
Jan Steen 1670: A School for Boys and Girls! I hope my classes in term 4 do not look like this!
Tiepolo: The Finding of Moses, almost humorous in his use of contemporary comic faces known to some.
Tiepolo: The Finding of Moses, almost humorous in his use of contemporary comic faces known to some.
John Turner: Somer Hill
John Turner: Somer Hill

We then took the No 22 bus to the Docks to find the Brittania.  It is an amazing exhibition and includes all levels of activity on the boat from the engine rooms to Queen’s personal apartments. An independent trust now runs the Brittania and they have a working staff including full time chefs who run high class business dinners for profit.  Throughout there are many photos of royal events involving the yacht as well as the royal racing yacht which was raced with success by Prince Phillip and has now been completely restored. The royal barge is also stored in the same area.  We finished the afternoon in the tea room on the top deck looking out over the water. The weather held and it was a very pleasant way to celebrate the longest ever reign of a British monarch.

Ann on a boat! actually a boat severely anchored in three places for ever. Check the new coat!
Ann on a boat! actually a boat severely anchored in three places for ever. Check the new coat!
Britain casual deck for games, sunbathing, even a portable swimming pool apparently
Britain casual deck for games, sunbathing, even a portable swimming pool apparently
More royal boats!
More royal boats!
Close up of the royal lounge room carpet on the Brittania ..great taste..same Persian carpet as Prideaux Castle in Berwick!
Close up of the royal lounge room carpet on the Brittania ..great taste..same Persian carpet as Prideaux Castle in Berwick!
The bar in the Royals' sunroom...some good stuff here!
The bar in the Royals’ sunroom…some good stuff here!
The ante -room to the royal lounge room ..together they could entertain 200 people. This set up is for the card players
The ante -room to the royal lounge room ..together they could entertain 200 people. This set up is for the card players
The royal dining room set for 56!
The royal dining room set for 56!
The racing yacht which won many races with the Duke and Charles at the helm at various times
The racing yacht which won many races with the Duke and Charles at the helm at various times

Brittania Engine room 1 Brittania engine room 2 Brittania engine room 3These are shots of the spit and polish royal engine room for Brian Brown, former Chief Engineer on many a  Merchant Navy and Shell ocean going ship for many many years.

Brittania ...how the Junior rating sailors were cared for; they also did not have to wear their hats on board to avoid the royals having to return salutes; whenever a royal appeared they had to stand perfectly still and look straight ahead and all their deck cleaning etc had to be done by 8.00am
Brittania …how the Junior rating sailors were cared for; they also did not have to wear their hats on board to avoid the royals having to return salutes; whenever a royal appeared they had to stand perfectly still and look straight ahead and all their deck cleaning etc had to be done by 8.00am
Just a few knots a sailor needs to know
Just a few knots a sailor needs to know
The Officer's lounge
The Officer’s lounge
The Queen's Rolls Royce travelled with them to other lands. the bumper had to be removed to get it into the space
The Queen’s Rolls Royce travelled with them to other lands. the bumper had to be removed to get it into the space
Security officers bar ...they had spirits, the sailors only beer. But officers had to pay for their drinks
Security officers bar …they had spirits, the sailors only beer. But officers had to pay for their drinks
The Old Brittania longer!
The Old Brittania donger!
The Royal Barge..still in use from time to time I think
The Royal Barge..still in use from time to time I think
A Toast on the Brittania to the longest reigning monarch of England on our last day in Edinburgh and second last in Europe. We still seem to be friends...quite amazing really!
A Toast on the Brittania to the longest reigning monarch of England on our last day in Edinburgh and second last in Europe. We still seem to be friends…quite amazing really!