Category : Books

(CT) Christiopher Benson–The Contentious Literary Family That Explains Global Anglicanism

Radner posits that “God has, until the present, been using Anglicans as a figural outworking of Christian reconciliation in a fragmented, post-Babel world.” Reconciliation of the divided church has been achieved through Anglican habits encapsulated in three Latin phrases: ecclesia semper reformanda est (ongoing reform of the church), ad fontes (retrieval of the apostolic tradition), and lex orandi, lex credendi (reciprocation of prayer and belief). Another contributor to the book, Anglican journalist and theologian Barbara Gauthier, maintains that Anglicans have wrought reconciliation through the three streams of Scripture, sacrament, and Spirit, “representing Anglicanism’s evangelical, sacramental, and charismatic traditions.”

Because Anglicanism seems to be dying, Radner suggests letting it go as “a discrete ecclesial vocation and allowing its historic and contemporary forms to be remade for some further divine purpose.” This echoes the late Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey’s vision about the built-in obsolescence of Anglicanism, as summarized in the book by Stephen Bayne: “The vocation of Anglicanism is to disappear because Anglicanism does not believe in itself but believes only in the Catholic Church of Christ; therefore it is forever restless until it finds its place in that one Body.” Bray makes a similar point: “If Anglicanism is anything, it is a servant church in which every member has a ministry and in which all who believe in Christ are equally welcome.”

Indeed, a servant church may ultimately become invisible if the schisms in the worldwide church are healed, but ecclesial unity may not be possible without “Anglican essentials,” which have faded from the Global North. What other room off the hall summons the entire Christian family to the belief and practice of the undivided church during the first five centuries, as outlined by 16th-century Anglican Divine Lancelot Andrewes: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the Fathers in that period (the three centuries before Constantine and the two after) which determines the boundaries of our faith”?

The shorthand for Anglicanism is “reformed catholicism.” That seems as relevant today as ever because Geneva, Rome, and Constantinople have not come together in the ministry of Word and sacrament. And yet, as Bray recognizes, Anglicans in the Global North have either ignored or revised the formularies of the tradition—the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Homilies, the Ordinal, and the Book of Common Prayer—which are critical to its work of reconciliation: “Can a theological tradition exist without theology? That often seems where we are heading, but if we ever get there, Anglicanism will be as good as dead. Theological renewal is essential if we are to survive.” The via media of the Anglican tradition (interpreted in various ways as a mediator between Catholicism and Protestantism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy, popery and Puritanism) constitutes “the best of Anglicanism and its template for the future of Christianity after Christendom,” but also “evokes the worst aspects of Anglicanism: the spineless, muddling middle way that encourages a managerial mentality and gives rise to a false peace without principles,” avers ex-Episcopalian, Catholic theologian R. R. Reno.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Books

(WSJ) Writer Liu Cixin On How His Visions Of The Future Collide With Reality

What is the biggest technological shift we’ll see in the future?

It’s definitely going to be artificial intelligence. I don’t think AI will overtake humans in the short term, but it will have a profound impact on society. Recently, I stayed at a hotel near Beijing, and I didn’t encounter a single human worker during my stay. From checking in to ordering takeout, there wasn’t a single human interaction, everything was done on apps and with AI-powered bots.

This is more and more common in China. I used to think that AI would displace simple and repetitive jobs, but now I think the opposite: It will replace more “senior” positions like doctors, lawyers, teachers and stock analysts. On the other hand, it’s the jobs that are more labor intensive that will be harder to replace. I renovated my house recently, and needed an electrician to rewire the entire living room. I really can’t see a situation where AI can replace that kind of a job in the short term.

But AI’s effect on people will be sweeping, and an issue we will have to grapple with in the very near future. We’re past the agricultural and industrial age and firmly stepped into the era of AI.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, China, Globalization, Poetry & Literature, Science & Technology

(TLS) Giles Foden on the salient ideas, elegant writing and ethical commitment of this year’s Nobel laureate, Abdulrazak Gurnah

ew announcements could give greater pleasure to followers of the broad church of African literature than that of the East African-born novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah as winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. We would all like to give the honorific Swahili greeting shikamoo – “I touch your feet” – but we can’t do that literally right now, and he wouldn’t like it anyway, I reckon, being a very self-effacing man, despite his great talent.

Born in 1948 on Zanzibar, then still a British colony, Gurnah came to the United Kingdom in 1968. This was the year of Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech and four years after the violent Zanzibar revolution that eventually led to the union of Zanzibar and Tanganyika as present-day Tanzania – a moment later dramatized in his debut novel, Memory of Departure (1987). He studied at Canterbury Christ Church University and earned a PhD at the University of Kent in 1982, before teaching for a few years at a university in northern Nigeria. He then returned to Kent, rising through troublesome academic ranks to become Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, until his retirement in November 2018, an occasion on which I was honoured to give a valedictory lecture. At the end of that peroration, I rashly predicted the likelihood of Nobel laurels. The best bet I never made. Gurnah’s academic work during this period, like that of his fellow laureate J. M. Coetzee, focused on colonial and post-colonial writing – branching out, when the field went mainstream, into some creative-writing tuition.

All through this time – the early part of which saw post-colonial writing going against the grain of predominantly white, neocolonial establishment authority – Gurnah was writing groundbreaking fiction. To date, he has produced ten novels that grapple with the subjects of the immigrant experience, displacement, memory and colonialism. These concerns – the transnational, the trauma narrative – are very current now, but they were just a speck on the horizon when Gurnah began developing his oeuvre. He was a prime mover in this respect, and that is part of what has catalysed this award. As the chair of the Nobel committee, Anders Olsson, remarked, “Gurnah has consistently and with great compassion penetrated the effects of colonialism in East Africa, and its effects on the lives of uprooted and migrating individuals”.

This element of compassion was clearly an important factor for the Nobel committee.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Books, England / UK, History, Tanzania

(Christian Today) Alister McGrath on faith, science and why we should be excited by theology

CT: You begin your book with this declaration: “I never expected to be a Christian theologian, mainly because I never expected to be a Christian.” What was the main thing that drew you to Christianity at Oxford in the 1970s?

AM: I was an atheist when I arrived at Oxford, although I had some growing doubts about whether atheism was really as simple and rational as I had thought. My doubts increased as it became clear that my atheist friends at Oxford couldn’t prove that their beliefs were right. I gradually came to see that atheism was a matter of faith, not something that could be proved.

These friends believed that there was no God, but could not show that this was right. I had been attracted to atheism as a teenager because of its apparent certainty, and I now began to realize that it was actually a faith. As I met and talked to lots of students and academics who were Christians, I began to realize that I had misunderstood what Christianity was all about.

One of the reasons for my teenage atheism was that I believed that God was a total irrelevance. God was in heaven; but I was on earth, in the midst of time and space. God had no connection with or presence within my world, and could say or do nothing of any relevance to me.

But my Christian friends at Oxford told me about the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. I could see that, if this was right, it was a game-changer….

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Apologetics, Books, Church of England (CoE), Science & Technology

(CC) Philip Jenkins reviews five new books about the lives and faith of Christians around the world

Based on years of experience as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church, Wayne Ten Harmsel presents a fascinating study of The Registered Church in China: Flourishing in a Challenging Environment (Pickwick). As conditions for Christians become harsher in that country and official pressures toward Sinicization become more aggressive, the word challenging sounds ever more like a euphemism.

The greatest contribution of Ten Harmsel’s crisp and sympathetic study is to give readers a sense of the ordinary realities of lived faith in those churches. Outsiders might be tempted to dismiss the church leaders and members as compromisers, or even sellouts, but they are nothing of the sort. Much like the “border” people Hanciles describes, these people are struggling constantly to balance two competing identities: that of a loyal Chinese citizen, subject to the control of a one-party state, and that of a Christian who has no earthly commonwealth. These believers walk a delicate path as they try to live Christian lives without compromising their faith.

Let me conclude with an introduction. Over the past quarter century, plenty of authors have offered broad surveys of the rapidly changing state of global Christianity, and some have been impressive. One new work that really stands out for its scope and accessibility is World Christianity and the Unfinished Task: A Very Short Introduction (Cascade) by F. Lionel Young III. This book does an excellent job of compression, while at the same time succeeding fully in sketching recent trends and identifying pressing issues. Part of that success lies in Young’s ability to incorporate personal observations and stories, and so effectively.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Globalization, Religion & Culture

(Bloomberg) In America’s Next War, Machines Will Do the Thinking

TH: Where do you think that the Pentagon most needs to engage these innovative companies and people? Is it AI? Unmanned systems? Communications networks?

CB: All of it, but primarily autonomy. Autonomy — enabled by artificial intelligence, edge computing and other technologies — allows you to operate at scales and speeds that you simply cannot do under the traditional model of big, expensive, heavily manned systems that, no matter how much money you throw at them, will only be able to do a limited number of things. The problem is that China has been developing very precise capabilities to disrupt, disable, degrade and destroy those limited numbers of big things. This is our strategic problem. This is why our future force needs larger numbers of cheaper, more autonomous systems.

We’re not talking about photon torpedoes and intergalactic space travel. We’re talking about systems that are already in existence; that are imminently fieldable if we move with the right sense of urgency.

TH: In your book, you wrote a bit about the ethics of this and taking the human out of the “kill chain.” Is that something that’s going to happen?

CB: Yes, in time human beings will need to rely more on intelligent machines to help them understand, decide and act in warfare.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Books, China, Defense, National Security, Military, Science & Technology

(Unherd) Park MacDougald reexamines the work and insights of Philip Rieff

Rieff thought Freud’s admission — of the existence of an unconscious ego repressing intolerable thoughts — should revolutionise our understanding of the psyche. It meant that the “interdicts” are not merely “social morality” but are sunk so deeply into the structure of the self as to effectively constitute it; they are what shape a formless mass of instincts into a person. They represent a primal, unconscious morality whose origin Rieff traced to the sacred commandments at the heart of our culture’s religious tradition. We can obey or transgress them but never abolish them.

All this may seem quite esoteric, but it is important for understanding Rieff’s account of therapeutic culture. The modern West, in his telling, is the first culture in history that has attempted to deny the legitimacy of the interdicts and to live without some form of sacred authority. Therapy is our means of getting away with this denial. The therapeutic ethos teaches us to overcome the guilt and shame, especially around sexuality, prompted by what we have come to regard as the unrealistic, unhealthy, and oppressive moral prohibitions inherited from Christianity. But because, for Rieff, these prohibitions are a core part of our psyche, therapeutic culture can only ever lead to their transgression or negation, never to their genuine overcoming. He believed, for instance, that sexual liberation was seen as a positive ideal purely because it transgressed the inherited Christian virtue of chastity. It was good because it was the opposite of what our religion used to teach; it had no positive value in itself.

Indeed, this is how Rieff came to understand our culture war. He believed that the Western elite had abdicated its responsibility to continue transmitting moral commandments, instead embracing an ethic of liberation and transgression designed to free themselves from the too-strict demands of the interdicts. But because this cultural shift had penetrated deeply only among elites, the result was a constant war between the “officer class” and the population at large, who still clung to a basically traditional conception of the moral order. Elite cultural output — both the modernist high art that Rieff analysed and the pop culture of our own day — had become a series of “deconversion therapies” attempting to train the lower classes out of their supposedly primitive superstitions, which in his telling were actually the vestiges of a sacred impulse toward transcendence.

For Rieff, of course, such efforts were doomed to failure.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, History, Philosophy, Psychology

The Economist reviews Richard Power’s new Book ‘Bewilderment’

An ecological epic about deforestation, “The Overstory” brought Richard Powers a wider readership when it won a Pulitzer in 2019. His new novel, shortlisted for this year’s Booker prize, may make him even better known. It is a shorter, more intimate tale that still wrestles with the scientific themes that are his hallmark..

The story is set in Wisconsin and narrated by Theo, a widowed astrobiologist. He is struggling to bring up his son, Robin, whose diagnosis of autism he resists, and whom the novel follows from the age of eight to ten. Robin’s mother, Alyssa, recently died in a car crash; he is disruptive at school. Distressed about global warming and the ruin of the natural world, he is consoled by playing a game in which he and his father imagine life on other planets….

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Ecology, Eschatology, Military / Armed Forces

Monday Encouragement–The Angel in the Cell from Elizabeth Elliot

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Books, Church History, Theology

Friday Food for Thought from Francis Spufford on why He Wrote ‘Light Perpetual’

[F]or the last twelve years, I’ve been walking to work at Goldsmiths College past a plaque commemorating the 1944 V-2 attack on the New Cross Road branch of Woolworths. Of the 168 people who died, fifteen were aged eleven or under. The novel is partly written in memory of those South London children, and their lost chance to experience the rest of the twentieth century.

But what has gone is not just the children’s present existence…It’s all the futures they won’t get, too. All the would-be’s, might-be’s, could-be’s of the decades to come. How can that loss be measured, how can that loss be known, except by laying this absence, now and onwards, against some other version of the reel of time, where might-be and could-be and would-be still may be?

–quoted by yours truly in last week’s sermon

Posted in Anthropology, Books, England / UK

Thursday food for Thought from Henri Nouwen

As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will be filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to the need to put people and things in their “right” place. To the degree that we can embrace the truth that our identity is not rooted in our success, power, or popularity, but in God’s infinite love, to that degree can we let go of our need to judge.

–Henri Nouwen, Here and Now (New York: Crossroads, 1994), pp.70-71

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Still More Food for Thought from Esau McCaulley

Posted in * Theology, Anthropology, Books, Race/Race Relations, Theology: Scripture

Food for Thought from Esau McCaulley

Posted in Books, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Food For Thought from Lamin Sanneh

“The west as a modern progressive society is committed to live as if God does not exist, etsi deus non daretur, or at any rate to live with no sense of the devil”

-—Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity? (Eerdmans, 2003) p. 83

Posted in Books

William Reed Huntington for his Feast Day-‘Catholicity is what we are reaching after’

Dissatisfaction is the one word that best expresses the state of mind in which Christendom finds itself today. There is a wide-spread misgiving that we are on the eve of momentous changes. Unrest is everywhere. We hear about Roman Councils, and Anglican Conferences, and Evangelical Alliances, about the question of the Temporal Power, the dissolution of Church and State, and many other such like things. They all have one meaning. The party of the Papacy and the party of the Reformation, the party of orthodoxy and the party of liberalism, are all alike agitated by the consciousness that a spirit of change is in the air. No wonder that many imagine themselves listening to the rumbling of the chariot- wheels of the Son of Man. He Himself predicted that ” perplexity” should be one of the signs of His coining, and it is certain that the threads of the social order have seldom been more seriously entangled than they now are.

A calmer and perhaps truer inference is that we are about entering upon a new reach of Church history, and that the dissatisfaction and perplexity are only transient. There is always a tumult of waves at the meeting of the waters; but when the streams have mingled, the flow is smooth and still again. The plash and gurgle that we hear may mean something like this.

At all events the time is opportune for a discussion of the Church-Idea; for it is with this, hidden under a hundred disguises, that the world’s thoughts are busy. Men have become possessed with an unwonted longing for unity, and yet they are aware that they do not grapple successfully with the practical problem. Somehow they are grown persuaded that union is God’s work, and separation devil’s work ; but the persuasion only breeds the greater discontent. That is what lies at the root of our unquietness. There is a felt want and a felt inability to meet the want; and where these two things coexist there must be heat of friction.

Catholicity is what we are reaching after….

–William Reed Huntington The Church Idea (1870)

Posted in Books, Church History, Ecclesiology, Ecumenical Relations

Sunday food for Thought–Artur Weiser on Psalm 78

‘The meditation on history is here worked out in detail with an eye on the incomprehensible fact that the tribe of Joseph (v.9), the eyewitness of the mighty saving acts at the time of Moses (v.11) and the first bearer of the covenant which God made with the people at Sinai (v.10), has not remained faithful to God.’

–Artur Weiser The Psalms (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962 E.T. of 1959 German original), p. 539

Posted in Books, Theology: Scripture

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Richard R. Gaillardetz’s ‘The Cambridge Companion to Vatican II’

As Richard Gaillardetz points out in his introduction to this important work, efforts to assess the impact of Vatican II have been hindered by what he terms a Catholic version of the ‘culture wars’ with conservatives claiming the Council was pastoral and brought about no doctrinal change and radicals seeking to put the Council’s stamp of approval upon whatever policies they favour.

No one reading this book can doubt that the Council did produce significant changes in the life of the Catholic Church but that it was often able to build on developments that had already begun, not least in the work of an impressive group of German and French theologians that included such figures as Karl Rahner, Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar. The first six chapters of this book seek to set Vatican II in context and show that while Rome opposed the ‘new theology’ the picture was mixed. The encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu , for example, promulgated by Pius XII paved the way for acceptance of biblical criticism.

My main criticism of this work is that it does not seek to assess the influence of Vatican II beyond the Catholic Church or see it as a significant event in the life of the world-wide church. This is especially true of the impact of the liturgical changes it encouraged in Anglicanism and many other churches. David Turnbloom does refer to this in his chapter on liturgy, pointing to such WCC documents as Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry as showing the influence of the Council.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Books, Church History, Roman Catholic

(Mockingbird) Joshua Simpson reviews Fleming Rutledge’s newest book–The Gospel, On Repeat

Rutledge repeats a cycle of sober assessment and hope — a hope that is expressly found in Christ. Readers of The Crucifixion will observe that her magnum opus really was the result of a lifelong, cruciform ministry. She reiterates Paul’s exhortation that all are unrighteous and that we must be saved by a power outside of ourselves.

[Jesus] is willing to die even for such poor specimens as you and me, covering our unrighteousness with his righteousness, offering his life to save us from death, victorious over the old Adam, the Judge judged in our place. He has compensated for our too-short list of good deeds by his one great deed.

The sermons are varied and based upon an array of scripture readings, yet more often than not Rutledge sets our gaze on the crucified and resurrected Christ. As I read through Means of Grace, I realized why I am drawn to the writings of Fleming Rutledge: she can’t stop talking about the core event that changed the history of the cosmos. My soul needs to hear the story of Christ’s death, resurrection, and future coming over and over again. I’m not sure that another self-help sermon will change my life. I am not convinced that a preacher will provide five steps to resolve my anxiety, improve my self-esteem, etc. But the problems I face, and perhaps the problems you face, seem far less daunting when nestled within God’s bigger story.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Christology, Sermons & Teachings, Soteriology, Theology

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Harriet Beecher Stowe

Gracious God, we offer thanks for the witness of Harriett Beecher Stowe, whose fiction inspired thousands with compassion for the shame and sufferings of enslaved peoples, and who enriched her writings with the cadences of The Book of Common Prayer. Help us, like her, to strive for thy justice, that our eyes may see the glory of thy Son, Jesus Christ, when he comes to reign with thee and the Holy Spirit in reconciliation and peace, one God, now and always. Amen.

Posted in Books, Church History, Poetry & Literature, Spirituality/Prayer

(Tablet) Robert Zaretsky–The philosophy of being good

Murdoch’s notion of the Good might seem little more than the reluctant addition of another “o” to “God”. Believers might wonder why Murdoch bothered, especially as her Platonic model did not come equipped with the standard features of the Christian model, including a personal relationship with the Maker and a warranty good for all eternity. Murdoch confessed that she herself had, at times, doubts about insisting upon the Good as our central point of reflection. Yet, she also maintained that there is something in the “serious attempt to look compassionately at human things which automatically suggests that ‘there is more than this’”.

While Murdoch acknowledged the difficulty in pinning down what this “more” is, she kept returning to the Good. Just as transcendence in religion leads to God, transcendence in morality must lead to the Good – a claim rooted not in psychology, but in reality. Convinced that goodness is a form of realism, Murdoch declares that a good person living in isolation makes no more sense than a living tree suspended in mid air. Both the tree and person need to be rooted, the one to live and the other to achieve the good. “A good man must know certain things about his surroundings, most obviously the existence of other people and their claims. The chief enemy of excellence in morality (and also in art) is personal fantasy: the tissue of self-aggrandising and consoling wishes and dreams which prevents one from seeing what is there outside one.”

Just how successful, though, was Weil at this near impossible task? As she lay dying at a sanatorium in Ashford in August 1943, her tubercular lungs fatally compromised by her refusal to eat more calories than her fellow French under the German occupation, Weil’s doctors were frustrated and bewildered. But the nurses had her full attention. “How much time do you devote each day to thinking?” she would ask them. I cannot help but wonder if she ever truly saw what those nurses were attempting to do. Namely, to keep her from a death Weil perhaps thought consoling, but the nurses certainly thought tragically pointless.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy

(RNS) At 71, Christian author Philip Yancey still believes in amazing grace, despite the county’s divisions

If you could talk to evangelical leaders right now or to people in the pew, what would you tell them?

I go back to that beautiful discourse in John Chapters 13 to 17, which is Jesus’ last time with his disciples. He’s turning over the whole thing to them. And they haven’t really proven themselves. In fact, they’ve proven themselves unreliable. So, what did he do? He washed their feet. And he said to them, this is your stance in the world. You’re a servant, you’re not the leaders. Then he said, you should be known by your love. And you should be known by your unity. Those three things.

Yet so often the church seems more interested in cleaning up society, you know, returning America to its pristine 1950s. That’s the myth we have — we are making America pure again, cleaning it up.

Jesus lived under the Roman Empire, Paul lived under the Roman Empire, which was much worse morally than anything going on in the United States. They didn’t say a word about how to clean up the Roman Empire, not a word. They just kind of dismissed it.

So, why are we here? Well, we’re here to form the kind of community that makes people say, ”Oh, that’s what God had in mind.” We’re here to form pioneer settlements of the kingdom of God, as N.T. Wright puts it. It’s about demonstrating to the world what the whole human experiment is about.

Let’s remember why we are here. We love people, we serve and we show them why God’s way is better. Let’s concentrate on that rather than tearing people down or rejecting them or denigrating them in some way. We’re here to bring pleasure to God. I believe we do that by living in the way God’s son taught us to live when he was on earth.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CEN) Catherine Fox–A novel view of a dysfunctional future

I now think of 2016 as a gentle warm-up routine for blogging in 2020. I had a couple of sketchy plot strands for Tales from Lindford, and the original full moon names idea. Other than that, all I had was the characters and COVID-19. But isn’t that all that any of us had last year—one another, and COVID-19? I tried to capture it all, and reflect on it; all the tiny isolated lives, like little separate screens on a Zoom call, lonely people waving at one another and longing, longing to be together again. An old hymn runs throughout the book, one I used to sing in the Baptist chapel where I grew up: ‘God be with you till we meet again.’ The novel ends on 31st December 2020 with those words.

The novel ended, but the pandemic wasn’t over…. No. Absolutely not. I stuck my fingers in my ears, and sang la-la-la, but I could hear the dreadful siren call of the blogging rollercoaster. Readers have noticed that the last two times I set out to blog a novel, I picked the worst years in living memory.Now that I’ve begun blogging Volume 5 of the Lindchester Chronicles—The Company of Heaven—what fresh hell is going to overtake us? A giant asteroid six months away, and heading towards the earth? I could end up blogging the end times of the human race. Good Lord, deliver us!

We are very small, and our lives are precarious. The pandemic has taught us that. Whatever happens in 2021, I can only continue doing what I’ve been attempting all along—to explore the glory and the tragedy of the human condition in the context of The End, and to keep my hopes fixed on the Good Lord, and the limitless possibility of deliverance.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Books, England / UK, Parish Ministry, Poetry & Literature, Religion & Culture

Tuesday Food for Thought–Ideas that Matter: Lisa Bowens, Esau McCaulley, and Mariam Kovalishyn: “The Black Experience in Biblical Interpretation”

Watch and listen to it all.

Posted in Books, Race/Race Relations, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology: Scripture

(NYT) A 1956 review by W H Auden of J R R Tolkien’s ‘The Return of the King’

To present the conflict between Good and Evil as a war in which the good side is ultimately victorious is a ticklish business. Our historical experience tells us that physical power and, to a large extent, mental power are morally neutral and effectively real: wars are won by the stronger side, just or unjust. At the same time most of us believe that the essence of the Good is love and freedom so that Good cannot impose itself by force without ceasing to be good.

The battles in the Apocalypse and “Paradise Lost,” for example, are hard to stomach because of the conjunction of two incompatible notions of Deity, of a God of Love who creates free beings who can reject his love and of a God of absolute Power whom none can withstand. Mr. Tolkien is not as great a writer as Milton, but in this matter he has succeeded where Milton failed. As readers of the preceding volumes will remember, the situation n the War of the Ring is as follows: Chance, or Providence, has put the Ring in the hands of the representatives of Good, Elrond, Gandalf, Aragorn. By using it they could destroy Sauron, the incarnation of evil, but at the cost of becoming his successor. If Sauron recovers the Ring, his victory will be immediate and complete, but even without it his power is greater than any his enemies can bring against him, so that, unless Frodo succeeds in destroying the Ring, Sauron must win.

Evil, that is, has every advantage but one-it is inferior in imagination. Good can imagine the possibility of becoming evil-hence the refusal of Gandalf and Aragorn to use the Ring-but Evil, defiantly chosen, can no longer imagine anything but itself. Sauron cannot imagine any motives except lust for domination and fear so that, when he has learned that his enemies have the Ring, the thought that they might try to destroy it never enters his head, and his eye is kept toward Gondor and away from Mordor and the Mount of Doom.

Further, his worship of power is accompanied, as it must be, by anger and a lust for cruelty: learning of Saruman’s attempt to steal the Ring for himself, Sauron is so preoccupied with wrath that for two crucial days he pays no attention to a report of spies on the stairs of Cirith Ungol, and when Pippin is foolish enough to look in the palantir of Orthanc, Sauron could have learned all about the Quest. His wish to capture Pippin and torture the truth from him makes him miss his precious opportunity.

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in Books, History, Poetry & Literature, Theodicy

(FT) Jo Ellison–The beauty of the unquiet mind: ‘Madness’, creativity and the post-pandemic culture

Watching The Father, the stage play of which was first produced in 2012, I found Zeller’s depiction of entrapment frighteningly familiar — he captures perfectly the horror of mindless repetition and inhabiting a quickly shrinking world. Sinéad O’Connor writes with striking clarity about the agoraphobia she now feels having spent a long period in solitude, and how despite her best efforts to try to socialise she would rather be at home. Bo Burnham ends his special by dramatising his exit from the claustrophobic space in which he has laboured for a year on his material, only to be found cringing before a spotlight when he tries to leave the door.

Ironic, maybe, that these studies of psychosis, misery and brain malfunction should have resonated far more powerfully than the clanging hoopla that is now accompanying our return to normal life. I shuddered as I read New York magazine’s exhortation on “The Return of FOMO”, a recent cover story dedicated to the return of the pre-pandemic social anxiety that you might be “missing out”.

“FOMO might have gone into hibernation for a while,” writes Matthew Schneier, “but we may now be on the way to a new golden age as we try to make up for the year we lost by doing more than ever . . . The city runs on FOMO, a connoisseurship of opportunities and possibilities; the catechism of “Did you get invited, are you on the list, can you get a table?”; the performance of plans.” Eurgh. While Sinéad O’Connor left me feeling quite euphoric, the anticipated buzz of being on the right list made me suddenly depressed.

In the US, or maybe it’s a particularly New York mindset, the pandemic is now regarded almost as old news. “Now that Covid is behind us . . . ” have read numerous emails from my US colleagues in recent weeks. America, it is assumed, has vaxxed the virus out of mind. For the more robust of constitution, we can now anticipate a #hotgirlsummer like no other. If the new underground advertising hoardings are to be believed, we will now commence a roaring summer in scenes reminiscent of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new film musical In the Heights.

For now, I’m far more comfortable in the company of outcasts.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Anthropology, Books, Movies & Television, Psychology

(CEN) Michael Fuller and David Jasper–Being human in the 21st century UK

Who am I? What am I? Humans have been asking these questions almost from the moment they were first capable of framing them. For the Christian, they are questions with added dimensions to them, because our faith prompts us to ask, who am I, and what am I before God, the Originator of everything that is? And those added dimensions include ethical ones, as we ask the further question: How am I to become the person that God wishes me to be?

Such reflections prompted members of the Doctrine Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church to explore how we might respond to them in our current circumstances: in short, how we might start to frame a twenty-first century Christian anthropology.

As someone who has been engaged (Michael Fuller) at different times both with scientific research and with ordained ministry in busy parishes, and who now teaches in a university in the field of science-and-religion studies, the question Who am I? is one I have been privileged to look at from a number of different perspectives as I reflect on my own experiences, and on those of the people around me. The Church, as the community of the faithful, has many wonderful resources to help people considering the question, Who am I? – from the Scriptures, to the writings of theologians, sages and mystics, to the lived experience of walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Those lived experiences, and the internalised wisdom of our tradition, are perhaps what help us most in forming a response to the question. But it seems to me that we should not neglect the knowledge that comes from outside our tradition in shaping such responses. In particular, the sciences have generated a huge amount of knowledge about what it is to be a human being: they show us to be evolved, biological creatures, formed by our genetic heritage and by our environment to behave in particular ways.

My thoughts centre on the ways in which the sciences place parameters around how we think of ourselves as living beings, in particular when we come to think about ourselves as somehow ‘special’ within the created order (which our being in the ‘Image of God’ surely suggests). How are we to think of ourselves in such terms when we share so much genetic information with other creatures (including our prehistoric hominin ancestors)? Are there particular aspects of our behaviour that mark us out as unique – are we the only creatures on our planet capable of prayer, for example (or, indeed, of sin)? Is it likely that life forms like ourselves might exist elsewhere in the universe, and if so what would that tell us about ourselves? As we create more and more complex, and more and more capable, artificial intelligences, what does that tell us about ourselves? And what might we say regarding the possibility of a ‘post-human’ future, in which people might be genetically and cybernetically enhanced to achieve feats completely beyond those of which we are currently capable? And would such people even be ‘human’?

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Posted in Anthropology, Books

(Evangel) Martin Goldsmith–The Genius of Roland Allen

Trust God’s Spirit. Allen accuses western missionaries of failure to trust the work of the Holy Spirit in sanctifying and maturing new believers in China or Africa. He reminds his readers that the same Holy Spirit indwells these new national Christians and us. If God is at work in them, then we must assume that they, too, have all the necessary gifts for the leadership and life of the church. There is no need for us to remain in charge of everything. Allen notes that the apostle Paul did not stay unduly long in any one place, but quickly trained and taught new believers, appointed leaders and moved on. He trusted the Holy Spirit to use them and lead them, so that the church flourished and grew. Allen contrasts this apostolic pattern with contemporary systems in which many missionaries remain for many years in one place, dominate the national church and thus prevent natural development under the Spirit of god. Allen seems to be a prophet before his time, for in more recent years the charismatic renewal has taught us that all Christians have gifts for the edification of the church and, therefore, we do not need to be mere pew-dusters saying ‘amen’ to a dominant minister.

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Posted in Books, Church History, Missions, Theology

(Irish Times) Niall Ferguson–If you think we’ve just had ‘a year like no other’, you need a history lesson

It’s early in the morning in the Glasgow-born US citizen’s home in northern California, and we can hear his young children having their breakfast. Sun streams through the windows, but we’re cheerfully discussing war, famine, pestilence and death. The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse gallop across the pages of Ferguson’s new book, Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe, but he is less concerned with the proximate causes of disasters – a mutated virus, a crop failure, a military conflict – than with the ways in which societies act to increase or mitigate the deaths that ensue.

Ferguson’s title is lifted from “We’re doomed!”, the catchphrase uttered with relish by fellow Scot Private Frazer in the classic BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. “Ultimately our relationship to death is a strange one. We’re a bit in denial about it and we’re a bit obsessed with it.” We’re particularly obsessed, he says, with mass disaster. “Because the end of the world is such an interesting idea. And yet when an actual disaster happens, we act shocked and surprised.”

In part, Doom is a rebuke to the overuse of words like “unprecedented” and phrases such as “a year like no other”. It offers a sweeping compendium of the many appalling catastrophes that have befallen us throughout human history. Covid-19 seems a bit of a damp squib by comparison.

“The perception that 2020 was a year like no other was essentially based on an ignorance of history,” Ferguson says. “The 1950s saw some pandemics that were global in scale and comparable in their impact on population. It’s just that we’ve forgotten about them.” Doom specifically compares the “Asian flu” of 1957. “In terms of excess mortality, its impact was almost exactly the same as 2020.”

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Posted in Books, Health & Medicine, History

Food for Thought on Worship from a brand new book on Anglicanism

Worshiping the God who is triune makes a substantial difference to what true worship actually is. The doctrine of the Trinity means that Christian worship is a sharing in the Son’s union with his Father, through the Holy Spirit. Our union with Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is the basis for this sharing of God’s people together in the divine life of God. We stand to worship God by means of the mediatory ministry of Jesus before the Father, to which we are drawn by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. As our great high priest, he sanctifies us by his blood, which he himself offered. This understanding of our relationship to the triune God was in part responsible for the Reformation’s rejection of the medieval concept of priesthood—since Christ is our supreme and exclusive mediator before God. As Torrance puts it, “The doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar of this participatory understanding of worship and prayer.”

–Michael P. Jensen, Reformation Anglican Worship:Experiencing Grace, Expressing Gratitude (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2021), p. 42

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Books, Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship

Thursday Food for Thought from T H White

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn….”

–T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Posted in Books, History, Poetry & Literature, Psychology