Sunday, November 07, 2004

All things will be made new

Yes, Solemnibus II has arrived. Please update your bookmarks and links.

I intend this to be the last post here.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Gospel, Mission and Election (via Matt)

Yet recently McLaren has started to sketch the outlines of his vision of a postmodern church. He sketches a big circle labeled "self," a smaller circle next to it labeled "church," and a tiny circle off to the side labeled "world."

"This has been evangelicalism's model," he says. "Fundamentally it's about getting yourself 'saved'—in old-style evangelicalism—or improving your life in the new style. Either way, the Christian life is really about you and your needs. Once your needs are met, then we think about how you can serve the church. And then, if there's anything left over, we ask how the church might serve the world."

He starts drawing again. "But what if it went the other way? This big circle is the world—the world God loved so much that he sent his Son. Inside that circle is another one, the church, God's people chosen to demonstrate his love to the world. And inside that is a small circle, which is your self. It's not about the church meeting your needs, it's about you joining the mission of God's people to meet the world's needs."

With his circle diagrams, McLaren is popularizing the work of the late British missionary Lesslie Newbigin, who returned from a lifetime in India to spend his last years reflecting on the need for a new theology of mission. "According to Newbigin, the greatest heresy in monotheism is a misunderstanding of the doctrine of election," McLaren says. "Election is not about who gets to go to heaven; election is about who God chooses to be part of his crisis-response team to bring healing to the world."

Friday, October 29, 2004


In today's Dominion Post several things caught my attention.

1. Apparently there lived in Indonesia, only about 12,000 years ago ET (evolutionary time), a species of hobbit-like people - about 1 metre tall and with a brain capacity approximately one-third of modern humans. There are local legends about 'little people' suggesting these creatures were known to exist - which may, tantalisingly, provide the background for our tales of such things as elves.

2. The European Union's executive body, known as the European Commission, is appointed by member states. For the first time in 50 years, just as the signing of the European constitution draws near, the body has been vetoed by the European Parliament. The reason is that one of the Commissioners is a conservative Italian Catholic, who has told the Parliament that he considers homosexuality a sin.

There will be no competition to the reign of the new gods.

3. In a similar vein, Chris Trotter in his From the Left column suggests that defending free speech can go too far. Some opinions, he argues, are not worth the cost of their being expressed. He gives two examples: a National Front rally in London 25 years ago, which ended in riots and the life of a young NZ man, and Hitler. But for the intervention of Erhard Auer on free-speech grounds, Hitler would have been exiled to Austria in 1922. Auer was a principled man; his defence of Hitler's rights came shortly after he survived an assination attempt by Hitler's brownshirts.

See the post below for more commentary on this.

4. Two Muslim women wish to wear their burqua in court, on the grounds of faith and culture. I thought I agreed that they should not be allowed, but now I am not sure. My reason was that our common way-of-being doesn't include the resources to cater to such wishes. Our court system requires the reading of body language, for instance. The women chose to live here; it is encumbant upon them to make the accomodations necessary to do so.

Of Free Speech and the character of Christian witness (Commentary on the post immediately above)

I have always thought it a mistake to stand on the idea of free speech. Is it a neutral religious principle? It is not. Free speech enshrines the pluralistic voices of many gods.

Yet even that is in some ways a facade, a veneer over a much deeper reality. For, the gods must conform to an order above any of them, if there is not to be outright war between their subjects. "Let us exchange ideas instead of bullets; and cast votes rather than spears" is therefore the overarching framework of democratic liberalism, within which the gods must all operate.

This framework operates with many prior basic assumptions. For instance, the nature of knowledge and who has the right to it: who says that knowledge (the right to declare and explain things, to construct reality) is a public artifact, to be considered by all? Our ideas of knowledge have been transformed by the philosophical rationalism of science and the political thrust of egalitarianism; in the days when knowledge was delivered by priest-kings, knowledge was administered and kept as a means of power and control, a means of constructing and directing the group identity and mission. The point is that these things with whcih we are so familiar - bedrocks of our thinking and actions - are not static, eternal and simply "the way things are"; they are constructed and contestable.

Less abstractly, there is the question of who is eligible to exchange ideas and cast votes. This is what knowledge looks like when it is exercised in public: I say this, you say that. So let us vote in the sacrament of the Pantheon. I know life this way, you know it that way. So let us vote.

The right to vote only happens when knowledge is democratised and made, as a matter of principle, accessible and constructable by all. Thus, far from being a right and power vested solely in the priest-king, it is the right and power of all: and therefore, who has the right to express his view is either a god, or the representative of one. Liberal democracies are politico-religious-philosophical teachers. They embed a world-view.

"Free speech" is therefore never atheistic, or even agnostic. It is the conversation of the Pantheon, shaped and presided over by the chief god, demos. And demos creates the framework for discussion: which involves questions of eligibility, questions of who may represent (or be) a participating god.

And thus Chris Trotter is simply being honest. Some gods may - or must, for the sake of the rest - be excluded. Some forms of knowledge threaten the whole system. The ones that are the most threatening are those which question the eligibility of participants. The larger the number of those whose eligibility is questioned, the greater the threat posed by the question. That is why, politically, we hate religious fundamentalistists. They threaten the voices of other gods.

And so we get to the European Parliament. YHWH is to be excluded from the Pantheon of debate, because sexual choice has become the other sacrament (apart from the self-determining vote), the ultimate symbol, of democratized, individualistic knowledge. It is the expression of individuals freed from the priest-king, freed to represent other gods, freed to proclaim their status through their sexual behaviour. Deny that - call homosexuality a sin - and you have set yourself against autonomous knowledge itself.

As for how I, as a Christian, should respond to this: well, that's hard. My reading of scripture and reflections on Christ's life suggests to me that it the church must embody, or incarnate, a redemptive kind of knowledge. We must set forth the truth, the trustworthiness, of God. We do this as a form-of-life (I cannot stress that enough): and so we must oursleves repent of the idea that knoweldge is an intellectual thing, that the mind and body are opposed. We must stop thinking, for instance, of doctrine as a matter of propositions for assent, of faith as a commitment to a system of thought. Faith is knowledge; knowledge is action. Only when I act do I truly know. Anything else is just a movement of chemicals in the brain.

We (not I, we) must challenge demos in ways that mimic Christ's willingness to die for the sake of resurrection: for the sake of restoration. Only as the Christ-embodying (the Christ-incarnating) community in whom the Spirit dwells will we offer a real challenge to the status quo. In one sense, who cares what parliament does; the fight is not at that level. How do I respond to homosexuality, or to Islam? Maybe not with law, but with the evangelism of an embodied redemption. With the light that will be attractive and compelling to all who seek restoration.

Clearly, there is so much to be said about so much of this. A whole-of-life redemption does not exclude law, nor does it exclude philosophy, nor does it exclude propositions. Of course not. But these are aspects, components, pieces, of the full picture, and it is a picture that, at its heart, is personal: not in the sense of yours and not mine, but in the sense of manifesting human life, of having a corporate (and corporeal) body in which the true meaning of these things is seen and confronted.

That is true knowledge. Neither that of the priest-king, nor of the autonomous god-self, but that of redemptive confrontation with YHWH.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Church 101

"Explain why the contrast between communities of descent and assent, respectively, is inadequate to explain the characteristics of the church, as discussed by the apostles."

Friday, October 22, 2004

Walking Small

There's a way of holding oneself responsible, of walking small so that your imprint on the world doesn't hurt others.

It's about the insignificant things we do: cleaning up after oneself, not presuming to take things without asking, being considerate in giving space or perhaps just a kind word. It's about not littering, about being polite and not rude, about not assuming that the world has to put up with your impulses and your ego.

In short, it is putting others first, considering their interests before your own.

God said love your neighbour; Christ said that the greatest commandment was to love God and then your neighbour - and that men would know he was from God if his disciples loved one another; John said that the new command he was giving was to love one another.

It constantly amazes and disappoints me how Christians think that they can insist on this or that abstract point, or that religious duty, and just as easily show absolutely no consideration in all the small things that show a genuine attitude of care for others.

I really really really hope that when I do such things, you, gentle reader, will bring them to my attention.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

To the life-goblin

Bring out your dragons
And let the boy slay them

Bring out your bogey-men
And let the boy face them

Bring out your years
And let the man laugh

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

On the deployment of internet technology and infrastructure:
I'm not arguing that we haven't done anything significant. We are in the process of deploying another package of technology, which is just as significant as the railroads, the telephone, the telegraph, electricity, and so on - all of which were terribly significant. I just don't think it alters the fundamentals of supply and demand, the fundamentals that determine pricing, that determine economic growth. I don't like to mystify what we are doing.
- Andy Grove, Chairman of Intel, in Wired

I reckon it's pretty much useless sharing opinions about anything until you've done something with them that's useful and/or admirable. Then people want to know what it is that makes you tick - they imagine that you have wisdom.

This is dawning on me more and more. I always thought that ideas themselves were what drove people, but that's not really true. Ideas aren't the bedrock of what makes people commit to patterns of action or attitudes. And in that sense, blogging is such a waste of time - as Tim is wont to point out. Sometimes I think I ought to shut up, on general principle, until I'm at least 40.