Of Course, I Could be Wrong

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All Ye Are Brethren

From “No Little People, No Little Places,”
a sermon by Francis Schaeffer, 1912-1984

Scripture emphasises that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God. There are no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense but only consecrated and unconsecrated people.

But if a Christian is consecrated, does this mean he will be in a big place instead of a little place? The answer, the next step, is very important: as there are no little people in God’s sight, so there are no little places. To be wholly committed to God in the place where God wants him, this is the creature glorified. In my writing and lecturing, I put much emphasis on God’s being the infinite reference point which integrates the intellectual problems of life. He is to be this, but he must be the reference point not only in our thinking but in our living. This means being what he wants me to be, where he wants me to be.

Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the twentieth-century syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc. This is not so. Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but he even reverses this (especially in the teaching of Jesus) and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us. We all tend to emphasise big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh. To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centred me. This attitude, taken from the world, is more dangerous to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice.

People in the world naturally want to boss others. Imagine a boy beginning work with a firm. He has a lowly place and is ordered around by everyone.

“Do this! Do that!”

Every dirty job is his. He is the last man on the totem pole, merely one of Rabbit’s friends-and-relations, in Christopher Robin’s terms. So one day when the boss is out, he enters the boss’s office, looks around carefully to see that no one is there and then sits down in the boss’s big chair.

“Someday,” he says, “I‘ll say ‘run’ and they’ll run.”

This is man. And let us say with tears that a person does not automatically abandon this mentality when he becomes a Christian. In every one of us, there remains a seed of wanting to be boss, of wanting to be in control and have the word of power over our fellows.

But the Word of God teaches us that we are to have a very different mentality.

“But Jesus called his disciples to him, and saith unto them, ‘Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you, but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.’” (Mk. 10:42-45)

Every Christian, without exception, is called into the place where Jesus stood. To the extent that we are called to leadership, we are called to ministry, even costly ministry. The greater the leadership, the greater is to be the ministry. The word minister is not a title of power but a designation of servanthood. There is to be no Christian guru. We must reject this constantly and carefully. A minister, a man who is a leader in the church of God (and never more needed than in a day like ours when the battle is so great) must make plain to the men, women, boys and girls who come to places of leadership that instead of lording their authority over others and allowing it to become an ego trip, they are to serve in humility.

Again, Jesus said, “But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your master, even Christ and all ye are brethren” (Mt.23:8).

This does not mean there is to be no order in the church. It does mean that the basic relationship between Christians is not that of elder and people, or pastor and people, but that of brothers and sisters in Christ. This denotes that there is one Father in the family and that his offspring are equal. There are different jobs to be done, different offices to be filled, but we as Christians are equal before one master. We are not to seek a great title; we are to have the places together as brethren.

When Jesus said, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt. 23:11), he was not speaking in hyperbole or uttering a romantic idiom. Jesus Christ is the realist of all realists and when he says this to us, he is telling us something specific we are to do.

Our attitude toward all men should be that of equality because we are common creatures. We are of one blood and kind. As I look across all the world, I must see every man as a fellow creature and I must be careful to have a sense of our equality on the basis of this common status. We must be careful in our thinking not to try to stand in the place of God to other men. We are fellow creatures. And when I step from the creature-to-creature relationship into the brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ relationship within the church, how much more important to be a brother or sister to all who have the same Father. Orthodoxy, to be a Bible-believing Christian, always has two faces It has a creedal face and a practising face, and Christ emphasises that that is to be the case here. Dead orthodoxy is always a contradiction in terms and clearly, that is so here; to be a Bible-believing Christian demands humility regarding others in the body of Christ.

Jesus gave us a tremendous example: “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he was come from God and went to God, he riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments and took a towel and girded himself. After that, he poureth water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded… ‘Ye call me master and lord and ye say well; for so l am. If I then, your lord and master, have washed your feet ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as l have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. lf ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.’” (John 13:3-5, 13-17)

Note that Jesus says that if we do these things there will be happiness. It is not just knowing these things that brings happiness, it is doing them. Throughout Jesus’ teaching, these two words know and do occur constantly and always in that order. We cannot do until we know, but we can know without doing. The house built on the rock is the house of the man who knows and does. The house built on the sand is the house of the man who knows but does not do.

Christ washed the disciples’ feet and dried them with the towel with which he was girded, that is, with his own clothing. He intended this to be a practical example of the mentality and action that should be seen in the midst of the people of God.

Where’s The Beef?

From “Letters to a Diminished Church:
Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine”
by Dorothy Sayers, 1893-1957

Any stigma,” said a witty tongue, “will do to heat a dogma” and the flails of ridicule have been brandished with such energy of late on the threshing floor of controversy that the true seed of the Word has become well-nigh lost amid the whirling of chaff. Christ, in his divine innocence, said to the woman of Samaria, “Ye worship ye know not what,” being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worshipping. He thus showed himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth-century mind, for the cry today is, “Away with the tedious complexities of dogma, let us have the simple spirit of worship, just worship, no matter of what!” The only drawback to this demand for generalised and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.

It would not perhaps be altogether surprising if, in this nominally Christian country, where the creeds are daily recited, there were a number of people who knew all about Christian doctrine and disliked it. It is more startling to discover how many people there are who heartily dislike and despise Christianity without having the faintest notion of what it is. If you tell them, they cannot believe you. I do not mean that they cannot believe the doctrine; that would be understandable enough since it takes some believing. I mean that they simply cannot believe that anything so interesting, so exciting, and so dramatic can be the orthodox creed of the Church.

That this is really the case was made plain to me by the questions asked me, mostly by young men, about my Canterbury play, “The Zeal of thy House. The action of the play involves a dramatic presentation of a few fundamental Christian dogmas, in particular, the application to human affairs of the doctrine of the Incarnation. That the Church believed Christ to be in any real sense, God or that the eternal word was supposed to be associated in any way with the word of creation, that Christ was held to be at the same time man in any real sense of the word, that the doctrine of the Trinity could be considered to have any relation to fact or any bearing on psychological truth, that the Church considered pride to be sinful, or indeed took notice of any sin beyond the more disreputable sins of the flesh: all these things were looked upon as astonishing and revolutionary novelties, imported into the faith by the feverish imagination of a playwright. l protested in vain against this flattering tribute to my powers of invention, referring my inquirers to the creeds, to the gospels and to the offices of the Church. I insisted that if my play were dramatic it was so, not in spite of the dogma, but because of it; that, in short, the dogma was the drama. The explanation was, however, not well received; it was felt that if there were anything attractive in Christian philosophy I must have put it there myself.

Perhaps we are not following Christ all the way or in quite the right spirit. We are likely, for example, to be a little sparing of the palms and the hosannas. We are chary of wielding the scourge of small cords, lest we should offend somebody or interfere with trade. We do not furnish up our wits to disentangle knotty questions about Sunday observance and tribute money, nor hasten to sit at the feet of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. We pass hastily over disquieting jests about making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness and alarming observations about bringing not peace but a sword; nor do we distinguish ourselves by the graciousness with which we sit at meat with publicans and sinners. Somehow or other and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore and this in the name of one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame.

Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious; others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honour by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men but to adapt men to Christ.

It is the dogma that is the drama; not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death, but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen and they may not believe it, but at least they may realise that here is something that a man might be glad to believe.

Bearing Fruit

From “So Great Salvation:
What It Means to Believe in Jesus Christ”
by Charles Caldwell Ryrie, 1925-2016

Every Christian will bear spiritual fruit. Somewhere, sometime, somehow. Otherwise, that person is not a believer. Every born-again individual will be fruitful. Not to be fruitful is to be faithless, without faith, and therefore without salvation.

Having said that, some caveats are in order.

One, this does not mean that a believer will always be fruitful. Certainly, we can admit that if there can be hours and days when a believer can be unfruitful, then why may there not also be months and even years when he can be in that same condition? Paul exhorted believers to engage in good works so they would not be unfruitful (Titus 3:14). Peter also exhorted believers to add the qualities of Christian character to their faith lest they be unfruitful (2 Peter 1:8). Obviously, both of those passages indicate that a true believer might be unfruitful. And the simple fact that both Paul and Peter exhort believers to be fruitful shows that believers are not always fruitful.

Two, this does not mean that a certain person’s fruit will necessarily be outwardly evident. Even if I know the person and have some regular contact with him, I still may not see his fruit. Indeed, I might even have legitimate grounds for wondering if he is a believer because I have not seen fruit. His fruit may be very private or erratic, but the fact that I do not see it does not mean it is nor there.

Three, my understanding of what fruit is and therefore what I expect others to bear may be faulty and/or incomplete. It is all too easy to have a mental list of spiritual fruits and to conclude if someone does not produce what is on my list that he or she is not a believer. But the reality is that most lists that we humans devise are too short, too selective, too prejudiced and often extra-biblical. God likely has a much more accurate and longer list than most of us do.

Nevertheless, every Christian will bear fruit; otherwise, he or she is not a true believer. In speaking about the judgment seat of Christ, Paul says unequivocally that every believer will have praise come to him from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).

What is fruit? Actually, the question ought to be phrased in the plural: What are fruits which a Christian can bear? The “New Testament” gives several answers to the question.

One, a developing Christian character is fruit. If the goal of the Christian life may be stated as Christlikeness, then surely every trait developed in us that reflects his character must be fruit that is very pleasing to him. Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit in nine terms (Galatians, 5:22-23) and Peter urges the development of seven accompaniments to faith in order that we might be fruitful (2 Peter 1:5-8). Two of these terms are common to both lists: love and self-control. The others are joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, virtue, knowledge, endurance, piety and brotherly love. To show these character traits is to bear fruit in one’s life.

Two, right character will result in right conduct, and as we live a life of good works we produce fruit (Colossians 1:10). This goes hand in hand with increasing in the knowledge of God, for as we learn what pleases him, our fruitful works become more and more conformed to that knowledge. When Paul expressed how torn he was between the two possibilities of either dying and being with Christ or living on in this life, he said that living on would mean fruitful labour or work (Philippians 1:22). This phrase could mean that (1) his work itself was fruit, or (2) fruit would result from his work. In either case, his life and work were fruit. So may ours be.

Three, those who come to Christ through our witness are fruit. Paul longed to go to Rome to have some fruit from his ministry there (Romans 1:13) and he characterised the conversion of the household of Stephanas as the first-fruits of Achaia (1 Corinthians16:15).

Four, we may also bear fruit with our lips by giving praise to God and thankfully confessing his name (Hebrews 13:15). In other words, our lips bear fruit when we offer thankful acknowledgement to the name of God. And this is something we should do continually.

Five, we bear fruit when we give money. Paul designated the collection of money for the poorer saints in Jerusalem as fruit (Romans 15:28). Also, when he thanked the Philippians for their financial support of his ministry, he said that their act of giving brought fruit to their account (Philippians 4:17).

To sum up, fruit includes: (1) a Christlike character, (2) a life characterized by good works, (3) a faithfiil witness, (4) a pair of lips that praise God, and (5) a generous giving of one’s money.

The Maidservants Of The Lord

From “Disputed Questions:
On Being a Christian”
by Rosemary Radford Ruether, b.1936

Whether defined as inferior or simply as “different,“ theological and anthropological justifications of women’s exclusion from religious learning and leadership can he found in every period of Jewish and Christian thought. Sometimes this exclusion of women is regarded as a matter of divine law, as in Old Testament legislation. Christian theologians tend to regard it as a reflection of “natural law,” or the “order of nature,” which, ultimately, is also a reflection of divine intent. In addition, women’s exclusion is regarded as an expression of a woman’s greater proneness to sin or corruption. Thus, as in the teaching of Timothy. women are seen as second in creation but first in sin (I Tim. 2:13-14).

The male bias of Jewish and Christian theology not only affects the teaching about woman’s person, nature and role but also generates a symbolic universe based on the patriarchal hierarchy of male over female. The subordination of woman to man is replicated in the symbolic universe in the imagery of divine-human relations. God is imaged as a great patriarch over against the earth or creation imaged in female terms. Likewise, Christ is related to the church as a bridegroom to the bride. Divine-human relations in the macrocosm are also reflected in the microcosm of the human being. Mind over body, reason over the passions, are also seen as images of the hierarchy of the masculine over the feminine. Thus everywhere the Christian and Jew are surrounded by religious symbols that ratify male domination and female subordination as the normative way of understanding the world and God. This ratification of male domination runs through every aspect of the tradition, from Old to New Testament, Talmud, church fathers and canon law, Reformation enlightenment and modern theology. It is not marginal, but an integral part of what has been received as mainstream, normative traditions.

However, as one digs deeper one discovers that this exclusion of women from leadership and education is not the whole story. There is much ambiguity and plurality in the views toward women and the roles women have actually managed to play at different periods. Evidence is growing that women in first-century Judaism were not uniformly excluded from study. Some synagogues included them, particularly in the Hellenistic world. One thinks, for example, of Philo‘s strange description of the Therapeutae, an idealised account of a contemplative Jewish sect that spent its life in the study of Torah. This community consisted of a double monastery of men and women. Philo assumed that the female community spent its life equally in the contemplative study of the scriptures. Where were Philo’s precedents for such an assumption? In this light. the rabbinic dicta against women studying Torah become, not the statement of a consensus, but rather the assertion of one side of an argument against another practice and viewpoint among other jews. Similarly, the teachings of Timothy about women keeping silence now appear, not as the uniform practice of the New Testament church, but as a reaction against the widespread participation of women in leadership, teaching and ministry in first generation Christianity. This participation of women in the early church was not an irregular accident, but rather the expression of an alternative world-view. Women were seen equally as the image of God. The equality of women and men at the original creation was understood as restored through Christ. The gifts of the Spirit of the messianic advent were understood (in fulfilment of the prophet Joel) and poured out on the ”menservants” and “maidservants” of the Lord alike (Acts 2:17-21). Baptism overcomes the sinful divisions that divide men from women, jew from Greek, slave from free and makes us one in Christ (Gal.3:28). The inclusion of women in early Christianity expressed a theology in direct contradiction to the theology of patriarchal subordination of women. In this way, the New Testament must be read, not as a consensus about women’s place, but rather as a conflict of understandings of male-female relations in the church.

This alternative theology of equality, of women as equal in the image of God, as restored to equality in Christ and as commissioned to preach and minister by the Spirit, did not just disappear with the reassertion of patriarchal norms in 1 Timothy; it can be seen surfacing again and again in different periods of Christian history. The strong role played by women in ascetic and monastic life in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages reflects a definite appropriation by women of a theology of equality in Christ that was understood as particularly applicable to the monastic life. Celibacy was seen as abolishing sex-role differences and restoring men and women to their original equivalence in the image of God. When the male church deserted this theology, female monastics continued to cling to it and understood their own vocation out of it. The history of female monasticism in the late Middle Ages and the Counter-Reformation is one of the gradual success of the male church in suppressing this latent feminism of women’s communities. Perhaps then it is not accidental that women in renewed female religious orders in Roman Catholicism today have become militant feminists, to the consternation of the male hierarchy.

In left-wing Puritanism of the English Civil War, the latent egalitarianism of Christian theology again surfaces to vindicate women’s right to personal inspiration, community power and public teaching. The reclericalisation of the Puritan congregation can be seen as a defeat for this renewed feminism of the Reformation. The Quakers were the one Civil War sect that retained the vision of women’s equality and carried it down into the beginnings of nineteenth-century feminism.

Finally. the nineteenth century becomes a veritable hotbed of new types of female participation in religion, ranging from the evangelical holiness preacher, Phoebe Palmer, to Mother Ann Lee, understood by her followers as the female messiah. New theologies that attempt to vindicate androgyny in humanity and God express a sense of the inadequacy of the masculine tradition of symbolism.

Feminists engaged in recovering alternative histories for women in religion recognise that they are not just supplementing the present male tradition. They are, implicitly, attempting to construct a new norm for the interpretation of the tradition. The male justification of women‘s subordination in scripture and tradition is no longer regarded as normative for the gospel. Rather, it is judged as a failure to apply the gospel norms of equality in creation and redemption authentically. This is judged a failure in much the same way that political corruption of the church, the persecution of Jews, heretics or witches and the acceptance of slavery have been so judged. Not that the “bad” history is to be suppressed or forgotten: it would also be an ideological history that tried to “save” the moral and doctrinal reputation of the church by forgetting what we no longer like. We need to remember this history but as examples of our fallibility, not as norms of truth.

The equality of women as one of the touchstones for understanding our faithfulness to the vision is now set forth as one of the norms for criticising the tradition and discovering its best expressions. This will create a radical reappraisal of Jewish and Christian traditions, since much that has been regarded as marginal, and even heretical, must now be seen as an effort to hold onto an authentic tradition of women’s equality. Much of the tradition regarded as mainstream must be seen as deficient in this regard. We underestimate the radical intent of women’s studies in religion if we do not recognise that it aims at nothing less than a radical reconstruction of the normative tradition.

Living A Good Death

From “The Content of Faith:
the Best of all Rahner’s Theological Writings”
by Karl Rahner, 1904-1984

The mystery of death is only distorted if it is viewed on the same level as the end of the animals and is conceived as a biological event which, in a certain way, has only adventitiously anything to do with the human being as such, owing to the fact that his biological end concerns something which is rather more than a purely material living being. The real nature of death as a total and totally human event is completely missed if one takes cognisance only of the traditional definition: a separation of body and soul. For then death is seen only in one of its consequences, instead of in its essence, and we would have to force artificially and retrospectively into the expression “separation of body and soul” those elements which constitute the special character of human death, namely, the personal finality of the end, the fully human and indissoluble unity of act and suffering in death, the hidden outcome of a life which is reaching its full accomplishment, the birth of that eternity, which is not simply added as the continuation of earthly time, but is rather the fruit of a final, free, and absolute decision growing out of time itself, precisely inasmuch as it has been a human time.

From these and similar features of human death, which cannot be discussed here systematically in all their interconnections, let us select the one which has a special bearing on the present topic: the voluntary character of death as such. Death is an act. Certainly, it is the extreme case of something undergone, the event in which what is obscure and beyond control disposes of the human being, ineluctably taking him from himself, in the ultimate depth of his existence. Yet at the same time death is an act and in fact the act of all acts, a free act. A person may be unconscious at the moment he is dying. Death may take him by surprise if what we mean by death is the instant at the end, in which the death which we all die throughout our lives oriented toward this moment is manifested. But just because we die our death in this life, because we are permanently taking leave, permanently parting, looking toward the end, permanently disappointed, ceaselessly piercing through realities into their nothingness, continually narrowing the possibilities of free life through our actual decisions and actual life until we have exhausted life and driven it into the straits of death; because we are always experiencing what is unfathomable and are constantly reaching out beyond what can be stated, into what is incalculable and incomprehensible; and because it is only in this way that we exist in a truly human manner, we die throughout life therefore, and what we call death is really the end of death, the death of death. Whether this death of death will be the second death or the killing of death and the victory of life depends completely on us. Hence, because death is permanently present in the whole of human life, biologically and in the actual concrete experience of the individual person, death is also the act of human freedom.

It must, however, be observed that the human person has to die his death in freedom. He cannot avoid this death imposed upon him as the work of his freedom. How he dies his death and how he understands it depend on the decision of his freedom. Here he does not carry something imposed on him, but what he chooses himself. That is to say that in the face of his immortality, the person must freely face death. He is asked how he wills to do this. For when he opens the eyes of the mind at all, the individual inescapably sees the end, sees it all through life, perhaps dimly and not explicitly, perhaps deliberately avoids looking at it, “overlooks” it, but sees it all the same in doing so. And by freely accepting this human life oriented toward its end, the person freely accepts the movement toward the end.

But the question is, how does the human person understand this end toward which he freely moves since he cannot do anything else than run the course of his life in freedom? Does he run protesting, or lovingly and trustingly? Does he view his end as extinction, or as fulfilment? People usually do not express their answer to this problem in abstract statements about death, but they live and tacitly carry out their free conviction through the actions of their life and the deeds of their daily existence, even when they do not know explicitly that by their life they are interpreting their death.

They F**K You Up

I don’t get Fathers’ Day or Mothers’ Day for that matter. Having children is the single most selfish thing people do in their lives. Everything that is born will die and almost everything that is born will suffer great pain in their lives at some point, whether that be physical or emotional or both. The risk of having a child that will suffer from birth is certainly high enough not to risk it. So people have children for one reason only, to satisfy their own instincts and desires. Therefore, I really don’t see why they deserve a special day every year in which the people they have brought into this vallis lacrimarum are expected to thank them for doing it and, on top of that, buy them dinner.

The Redemptive Religion

From “The Idea of the Holy”
by Rudolf Otto, 1869-1937

Christianity, as it stands before us today in present actuality as a great world religion, is indubitably, so far as its claim and promise go, in the first and truest sense a religion of redemption. Its characteristic ideas today are salvation, over-abounding salvation, deliverance from and conquest of the world and from existence in bondage to the world, and even from creaturehood as such, the overcoming of the remoteness of and enmity to God, redemption from servitude to sin and the guilt of sin, reconciliation and atonement and, in consequence, grace and all the doctrine of grace, the Spirit and the bestowal of the Spirit, the new birth and the new creature. These conceptions are common to Christendom, despite the manifold cleavages that divide it into different confessions, churches and sects, and they characterise it sharply and definitely as a religion of redemption par excellence, setting it in this respect on a level with the great religions of the East, with their sharp, dualistic antithesis of the state of liberation and bondage, nay, justifying its claim not to fall short of these in regard to the necessity of redemption and the grant of salvation, but to surpass them, both in the importance it gives to these conceptions and in the richness of meaning it finds in them. It cannot be doubted that here, in these elements, is to be found the inner principle and essence of contemporary Christianity and what we have to ask is whether the wealth of mental and emotional content was in very truth the principle of that plain religion of Jesus long ago, whose establishment must be termed the first and most immediate achievement of Christ.

In answering this question in the affirmative, we would point to a parable which, intended to have reference to the kingdom of God, fits the principle of Christianity equally well: the parable of the grain of mustard seed and the tree that grew therefrom. This parable hints at a change and alteration, for the grown tree is something different from the seed, but an alteration that is no transformation, no transmutation or epigenesis, but genuine evolution or development, the transition from potentiality to actuality.

The religion of Jesus does not change gradually into a religion of redemption; it is in its whole design and tendency a religion of redemption from its earliest commencement, and that in the most uncompromising sense. Though it lacks the theological terms which the Church later possessed, its redemptive character is manifest and unambiguous. If we try to determine as simply and concisely as possible what really characterised the message of Jesus, ignoring what was historically inessential, we are left with two central elements. First, there is the proclamation of the kingdom of God, as no mere accessory, but the foundation of the whole gospel. This is characteristic of his ministry from the beginning and throughout its course. Second, there is the reaction against Phariseeism and, in connexion with this, Jesus ideal of godliness as the attitude and mind of a child when its fault has been forgiven. But both points comprise in principle everything which later became separately formulated in the specifically redemptive doctrines of Christianity: grace, election, the Holy Ghost and renewal by the Spirit. These were possessed by and experienced by that first group of disciples as truly as by any later Christians, though in an implicit form. A closer consideration may make this plainer.

To speak of a religion of redemption is, one may say, to be guilty of redundancy, at any rate, if we are considering the more highly developed forms of religion. For every such religion, when once it has won its autonomy and freed itself from dependent reference to an ideal of merely worldly welfare, whether private or public, develops in itself unique and over-abounding ideals of beatitude which may be designated by the general term “salvation.” Such salvation is the goal to which the evolution of Indian religions has tended ever more markedly and consciously, from their beginning with the notion of deification of the Upanishad-Pantheism on to the bliss-state of the Buddhist Nirvana, which is negative only in appearance. It is also the goal of the religions of redemption, specifically so-called, which spread with such vigour over the civilised world from Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor about the beginning of our era. Further, it is obvious to an examination sharpened by the comparative study of religions that the same tendency to salvation is operative also in the vesture of eschatology that gives form to the religion of Persia. Islam, too, embodies the longing for and the experience of salvation. In this case salvation is not simply in the hope of the joys of Paradise: rather the most vital element in Islam is Islam itself, i.e. that surrender to Allah which is not merely the dedication of the will to him, but also at the same time the entering upon the Allah state of mind here and now, the object of longing and striving, a frame of mind which is already salvation and which may possess and enrapture the man like an intoxication and can give rise to a mystic transport of bliss.

But if the idea of salvation thus lies at the base of all higher religion everywhere, it is manifested quite unmistakably and in supreme fashion, both in intensity and intrinsic purity, in the kingdom of Heaven of Christianity, which is at once a tenet of faith, an object of desire and a present experience.

The Good Laugh

From “The Essential Reinhold Niebuhr:
Selected Essays and Addresses”
by Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971

“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.” (Ps. 2:4)

This word of the Second Psalm is the only instance in the Bible in which laughter is attributed to God. God is not frequently thought of as possessing a sense of humour, though that quality would have to be attributed to perfect personality. There are critics of religion who regard it as deficient in the sense of humour, and they can point to the fact that there is little laughter in the Bible. Why is it that Scriptural literature, though filled with rejoicings and songs of praise, is not particularly distinguished for the expression of laughter? There are many sayings of Jesus which betray a touch of ironic humour, but on the whole, one must agree with the critics who do not find much humour or laughter in the Bible.

This supposed defect will, however, appear less remarkable if the relation of humour to faith is understood. Humour is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and laughter is the beginning of prayer. Laughter must be heard in the outer courts of religion and the echoes of it should resound in the sanctuary, but there is no laughter in the holy of holies. There, laughter is swallowed up in prayer and humour is fulfilled by faith.

The intimate relation between humour and faith is derived from the fact that both deal with the incongruities of our existence. Humour is concerned with the immediate incongruities of life and faith with the ultimate ones. Both humour and faith are expressions of the freedom of the human spirit, of its capacity to stand outside of life and itself and view the whole scene. But any view of the whole immediately creates the problem of how the incongruities of life are to be dealt with; for the effort to understand the life and our place in it confronts us with inconsistencies and incongruities which do not fit into any neat picture of the whole. Laughter is our reaction to immediate incongruities and those which do not affect us essentially. Faith is the only possible response to the ultimate incongruities of existence which threaten the very meaning of our life.

We laugh at what? At the sight of a fool upon the throne of the king, or the proud man suffering from some indignity, or the child introducing its irrelevancies into the conversation of the mature. We laugh at the juxtaposition of things which do not fit together. A boy slipping on the ice is not funny. Slipping on the ice is funny only if it happens to one whose dignity is upset. A favourite device of dramatists, who have no other resources of humour, is to introduce some irrelevant interest into the central theme of the drama by way of the conversation of maid or butler. If this irrelevance is to be really funny, however, it must have some more profound relationship to the theme than the converser intended. This is to say that humour manages to resolve incongruities by the discovery of another level of congruity. We laugh at the proud man slipping on the ice, not merely because the contrast between his dignity and his undignified plight strikes us as funny; but because we feel that his discomfiture is a poetically just rebuke of his dignity. Thus we deal with immediate incongruities, in which we are not too seriously involved and which open no gap in the coherence of life in such a way as to threaten us essentially.

But there are profound incongruities which contain such a threat. Man’s very position in the universe is incongruous. That is the problem of faith and not of humour. Man is so great and yet so small, so significant and yet so insignificant.

“On the one hand,” says Edward Bellamy, ”is the personal life of man, an atom, a grain of sand on a boundless shore, a bubble of a foam-flecked ocean, a life bearing a proportion to the mass of past, present and future, so infinitesimal as to defy the imagination. On the other hand is a certain other life, as it were a spark of the universal life, insatiable in aspiration, greedy of infinity, asserting solidarity with all things and all existence, even while subject to the limitations of space and time.”

That is the contrast.

When man surveys the world he seems to be the very centre of it and his mind appears to be the unifying power which makes sense out of the whole. But this same man, reduced to the limits of his animal existence, is a little animalcule, preserving a precarious moment of existence within the vastness of space and time. There is a profound incongruity between the “inner” and the ”outer” world, or between the world as viewed from man’s perspective and the man in the world as viewed from a more ultimate perspective. The incongruity becomes even more profound when it is considered that it is the same man who assumes the ultimate perspective from which he finds himself so insignificant.

Philosophers seek to overcome this basic incongruity by reducing one world to the dimension of the other; or raising one perspective to the height of the other. But neither a purely naturalistic nor a consistently idealistic system of philosophy is ever completely plausible. There are ultimate incongruities of life which can be resolved by faith but not by reason. Reason can look at them only from one standpoint or another, thereby denying the incongruities which it seeks to solve. They are also too profound to be resolved or dealt with by laughter. If laughter seeks to deal with the ultimate issues of life it turns into a bitter humour. This means that it has been overwhelmed by the incongruity. Laughter is thus not merely a vestibule to faith but also a no man’s land between faith and despair. We laugh cheerfully at the incongruities on the surface of life but if we have no other resource but humour to deal with those which reach below the surface, our laughter becomes an expression of our sense of the meaninglessness of life.

The God Within

From “The Normal Christian Life”
by Watchman Nee, 1903-1972

Do you know, my friends, that the Spirit within you is very God? Oh that our eyes were opened to see the greatness of God’s gift! Oh that we might realise the vastness of the resources secreted in our own hearts!

I could shout with joy as I think. “The Spirit who dwells within me is no mere influence, but a living person; he is very God. The infinite God is within my heart!”

I am at a loss to convey to you the blessedness of this discovery, that the Holy Spirit dwelling within my heart is a person.

I can only repeat, “He is a person!” and repeat it again, “He is a person!” and repeat it yet again, “He is a person!”

Oh, my friends, I would fain repeat it to you a hundred times. The Spirit of God within me is a Person! I am only an earthen vessel, but in that earthen vessel, I carry a treasure of unspeakable worth, even the Lord of glory.

All the worry and fret of God’s children would end if their eyes were opened to see the greatness of the treasure hid in their hearts. Do you know, there are resources enough in your own heart to meet the demand of every circumstance in which you will ever find yourself? Do you know there is power enough there to move the city in which you live? Do you know there is power enough to shake the universe? Let me tell you once more, l say it with the utmost reverence, you who have been born again of the Spirit of God you carry God in your heart!

All the flippancy of the children of God would cease too if they realised the greatness of the treasure deposited within them. If you have only ten shillings in your pocket you can march gaily along the street, talking lightly as you go and swinging your stick in the air. It matters little if you lose your money, for there is not much at stake. But if you carry a thousand pounds in your pocket, the position is vastly different and your whole demeanour will be different too. There will be great gladness in your heart but no careless jaunting along the road and once in a while you will slacken your pace and slipping your hand into your pocket, you will quietly finger your treasure again and then with joyful solemnity continue on your way.

In Old Testament times there were hundreds of tents in the camp of Israel, but there was one tent quite different from all the rest. In the common tents, you could do just as you pleased, eat or fast, work or rest, be joyful or sober, noisy or silent. But that other tent was a tent that commanded reverence and awe. You might move in and out of the common tents talking noisily and laughing gaily, but as soon as you neared that special tent you instinctively walked more quietly and when you stood right before it you bowed your head in solemn silence. No one could touch it with impunity. If man or beast dared to do so, death was the sure penalty. What was so very special about it? It was the temple of the living God. There was little unusual about the tent itself, for it was outwardly of very ordinary material, but the great God had chosen to make it his abode.

Do you realise what happened at your conversion? God came into your heart and made it his temple. In Solomon’s days, God dwelt in a temple made of stone, today he dwells in a temple composed of living believers. When we really see that God has made our hearts his dwelling-place, what a deep reverence will come over our lives! All lightness, all frivolity will end and all self-pleasing too, when we know that we are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells within us. Has it really come home to you that wherever you go you carry with you the Holy Spirit of God. You do not just carry your Bible with you or even much good teaching about God, but God himself.

The reason why many Christians do not experience the power of the Spirit, though he actually dwells in their hearts, is that they lack reverence. And they lack reverence because they have not had their eyes opened of the fact of his presence. The fact is there. but they have not seen it. Why is it that some of God’s children live victorious lives while others are in a state of constant defeat? The difference is not accounted for by the presence or absence of the Spirit (for he dwells in the heart of every child of God) but by this, that some recognise his indwelling and others do not. True revelation of the fact of the Spirit’s indwelling will revolutionise the life of any Christian.

Opposing Futures

From “By Way of Response”
by Martin E. Marty, b.1928

Utopianism is not likely to remain as strong a theme as it was at midcentury in the West that was its home. The millennial theme is likely to be stronger. The magic of the year 2000 will trigger thought among numerologists about thousands of years. The record of the year 1000 C.E. and its context give no comfort to any who hope to avoid irresponsible apocalypticisms in the years ahead. The fact that earthly dreams have turned into nightmares and that “nothing works” will lead millions to misuse the biblical language about the urgency of the end-time. Like the author and ten million buyers of “The Late Great Planet Earth,” they are likely to use this language for several purposes. They will act like cognoscenti about the future and thus build up their self-centred tribes. Then they will set out to rescue others of the elect to join them. It is likely that their approach will lead to a charter for hedonism, since they may as well enjoy waiting. And, most important, they will be free to be apathetic about changing a world that according to prophecy must get worse if Christ is to come.

Between the departing utopians and the arriving millenarians will be the company of realists who dare not let circumstance overwhelm them. If Christian, they will not underestimate the power of evil. In history, the demonic pervades existence. But they will refuse to believe it has the only word or the last word. In the midst of certain threats and terrors, which are not the first that Christian history has seen, they will try to intervene on the course of history.

Christians and especially Christians of this sort will make up only a small cohort of humanity. While the world will keep its religious dimensions, in our culture secular elements are likely to dominate. While the passional side of human nature guarantees religious vitalities, the operative side finds religion to be in an ambiguous place. It serves to explain ever fewer aspects of existence to the whole population. The recent religious revivals have not to any great extent penetrated intellectual, literary or academic cultures. The amount of energy Christian apologists have to devote to T. S. Lewis or T. S. Eliot only reinforces the point of the rarity of such figures. We are surprised when an author devotes a life to the Christian theme. We know that peers make no special place for them and find their symbols puzzling. The resurgently religious have also not reorganised approaches to knowledge in the university or priorities in the mass media.

Religion has had a free ride during these decades when society was off balance. While the world is not likely soon to get on balance, many in it are growing impatient with the false promises of extravagant solutions. While the sacred cow of science is now crippled, we can expect new warfares of science and religion to break out in the face of challenges posed by sociobiology, behaviourism and the new astronomy. Secular intellectuals who ignored the claims of religion will react more vigorously as they see creationists and single-issue religious interests intrude on realms they consider their own. Tax exemption of such religious groups will face more challenges than before. Publics will expect more accountability from religious agencies since many of them have grown patently irresponsible. And as these agencies compete ever more viciously for the clientele dollar they will have to make claims and promises that will be ever harder to deliver. Expect more reaction. In sum: while the impulses behind religiosity will grow as people seek meaning, the momentum behind secularity will at the same time increase.

That’s good. A clash of doctrines is an opportunity, not a disaster. Such a clash might lead to the reform of the Christian house. After a generation in which personal experience and mindless authority received such high premium, there are signs that the challenges are making some Christians think again. Believers have often been clearer-headed in the face of atheists than at the side of religious fellow-travellers.

Robert M. Hutchins once advised students, “Get ready for anything, because anything is what’s going to happen. We don’t know what it is, and it‘s very likely that whatever it is, it won’t be what we think it is.”

Robert Heilbroner plausibly pictures that after economic collapse and reorganisation Americans are not likely to go far without seizing on an ideology to justify their processes. They would then assent to a statist religion since a complex society could not allow so much diversity as we now have, as it made its transit to a polity of control. This mild Maoism would not be called Marxism. A better prospect would be “Christian Democracy.” The leaders of such a regime would appeal to symbols that already have roots in a pluralist society and then allow for little religious freedom or dissent.

Obvious factors make this script credible. With the rise of terrorism in the nuclear age, citizens may feel or find that a society of total surveillance is necessary. As resources diminish and our present business civilisation falls, they would not tolerate reallocations of goods without a creed that would impel conformity and sacrifices. Some who see the vitality of Christianity in a Poland look forward to such a polity as a test of faith and a spur to dissent. They overlook the price paid in Soviet Russia or the snuffing out of Christianity and other faiths in Maoist China.

The opposite extreme is pure individualism. Heilbroner talks about how citizens devote themselves now to merely “private morale.” As in the civic. so in the religious realm. Ultramodern spirituality, whether conservative or liberal in theology, is invisible and private. Religion in a late capitalist and competitive order is purely consumerist. It then offers more substance than meaning. Advertisers of its benefits, whether in fundamentalist paperbacks, on entrepreneurial television, among fashionable therapies or with do-it-yourself Eastern religious techniques, have to make ever more egregious claims in order to gain clienteles and customers.

Such religion gives no more than lip service to the organised church or religious institutions that are its real rivals. Gone are even the positive values of the tribe and the family. Tradition is packaged for instant consumption. There are no deferred benefits, only instant gratifications. The cross of Jesus Christ remains a symbol for Christian versions of this new faith, but its original meanings are gone. No hint of Jesus’s cry of abandonment by God is heard. This religion does not help devotees cope with the problem of evil. In place of calls for sacrifice, there are promises of rewards in dollars and cosmetic appearance, physical perfection and athletic achievement, political success and new popularity. Such religion lacks social power. No two adherents agree on what to transmit to a new generation. There is no room for judgment or admonition of others in the company, for mutual consolation, for the republic or the “oikoumene.” It helps create the void that totalitarianism would fill.

The Ultimate Call

From “The Humility of God:
Christian Meditations”
by John Macquarrie, 1919-2007

The theme of God’s standing with his people and sharing with them the adventures of history finds expression in a whole series of incidents in the Bible, in which God calls men and women to some task or mission. The pattern of calling, hearing and responding recurs again and again. God does not govern the world from outside or by arbitrary decree. He seeks the service and co-operation of men and women and makes them his agents. Again, his activity in the world is not just of a general or abstract kind. He calls particular men and women and works through particular situations. According to the Bible, he chose a particular people to attain to the knowledge of himself, and within that people, he chose particular individuals to be leaders and interpreters. Some people have difficulty with this “scandal of particularity,” as it has sometimes been called. But history is compounded of the universal and the particular, and it seems to be in particular individuals that the decisive initiatives are taken.

Abraham is the first great figure to receive the divine call. He is summoned to turn his back on the settled life of the affluent cities of Mesopotamia and to go out into the unformed wilderness to build up there a new nation. At a later time, Moses was called to go down into Egypt and to undertake the apparently impossible task of liberating the tribes and leading them out to a new life. Many other heroes and prophets of Israel received their calls. These calls came in various ways. With Abraham, the call seems to have been some inner constraint. With Moses, it was a vision of a burning bush and the hearing of a voice. With Isaiah, it was a vision in the Temple. Sometimes the person receiving the call was moved at first to resist it, for such a call upsets the whole pattern of life and leads into ways that are unknown and that may well be filled with suffering.

How can we try to understand this calling of God? Were these men and women not just deluding themselves when they supposed that God was calling them? When, how, where does God speak to us? How could we ever be sure that it is God who is calling, and that we are not just deceiving ourselves into thinking that our own prejudices are in fact God’s will?

Some people would brush away all these stories about the calling of God, and would say it is just so much superstition; God, if indeed there is a God, does not speak to men or call them. There do seem to be times when God is silent, and perhaps our time is one of them. God seems to be absent. But there have been times like this in the past too. The story of how Samuel heard God calling him in the sanctuary at Shiloh begins by saying that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (I Sam. 3.1). But even at any time, there is an elusiveness about the voice of God. It is a still small voice, even a humble voice, not a loud and strident one.

Because the voice of God is a quiet and elusive one, we do right to be hesitant when either we ourselves or others think that the voice has been heard. We must be suspicious of those who are too forward in claiming to know what God is saying to our times or what he is doing in the world today. Churchmen and, even more, statesmen, who claim to be familiar with the counsels of God and with his plan of action in the world, are a dangerous breed. In these matters, a measure of reticence and even agnosticism is always in order.

And the reason for counselling this caution is, that when God speaks, there must always be a measure of ambiguity. His communication is not direct, but indirect. He does not speak to us with an unmistakable, audible voice, as our friends do. When Samuel heard the voice in the sanctuary, he thought at first that it was the old priest Eli who was calling him.

Three times he ran to the old man and said, “You called me!”

After the third time, Eli said, “No, it must be God.”

Was God’s voice then different from Eli’s voice? Was it not through Eli‘s teaching that Samuel had learned about God so that in a very real sense God had called him through Eli? When he heard God’s voice, it sounded just like Eli’s voice, just as when Bernadette saw the vision of the Blessed Virgin, she looked just like the statue in the local church. These things could not happen in any other way. We hear God’s voice in and through human voices. He speaks to us through them, and in turn, he is calling us so that he may work through us.

Why then do we say it is the voice of God? Is not this supposed perception of faith a mere superstition? Is it not enough to recognise a human voice, a human conscience, a human experience? Why bring God into it?

We say that this is God who is calling in order to express the ultimacy of such moments. I call these moments “ultimate” because in them persons are addressed in the very depth of their being, at a level that seems to lie beyond that of our everyday experiences. It is a matter of life and death, of the making or breaking of the person addressed, a question of to be or not to be. To be sure, it is my heart, my conscience, my neighbour that speaks. Yet in and through and with that human address there can be heard the note of ultimacy, the claim of the holy and we know that here we have to deal with that which is most real, most binding, most compelling; in brief, with the mystery of God.

As we think of all those callings in the history of Israel, we see how they build up and form a coherent pattern, so that we can say that through them God is calling the human race to the destiny he has prepared for it. Yet this universal call has its origin in highly particular calls, calls directed to individuals who were usually very obscure persons but who through their calling became men and women of destiny.

We can understand what Paul meant when he wrote to the Christians of Corinth: “Consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (I Cor. 1.26—29)

The humility of God is seen not least in the fact that he sought the co-operation of these obscure individuals to give voice to his universal call, the scandal of particularity, indeed!

The call came at last to an obscure maiden of Nazareth. This time, according to the tradition, it came in the form of an angelic vision. The spark of original righteousness that had been preserved and nursed in Israel was ready to burst into flame. The common grace that had never failed had done its work of sanctification. The successive callings had brought Israel in the person of Mary to a new level of responsiveness. It was the fullness of the time when mankind was ready to receive the gift of God’s presence in a new way.

And the response was not lacking: “Be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1.38).

But although God bestowed his presence in a new way through Jesus Christ, whom we call the incarnate Lord, this was also a confirmation that he continues to speak through the human reality. The elusive voice of God which men and women had heard fitfully and ambiguously in the voice of the neighbour or the voice of conscience or in visions or in some other way has found a new and fuller expression in a human life, the life of Jesus Christ the living word of God.

Of course, the ambiguity is still not wholly removed, and it never can be in our earthly existence where God’s self-communication is of necessity indirect and mediated. Many people saw and heard Jesus Christ, but were far from believing that he came from God. Even those who were waiting for a word from God had their doubts.

“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1.46).

Surely, if God were going to speak a word, especially a word that would sum up and universalise the many fragmentary callings of the past, he would not choose an obscure man from Nazareth, an obscure town in an obscure province. Yet this is how God always had uttered his call, using the foolish, the weak, the low and despised, to confound the wise and the powerful. If some saw in Jesus only another prophet or rabbi, there were others who found in him an ultimacy that they found nowhere else. I have used the word “ultimate” to designate that which we meet in human experience, yet that which has a depth stretching beyond our grasp and speaking to us of what is finally real and binding, the holy mystery that we call God. The life of Jesus Christ was a life lived in this world, as you and I have to live, but a life in which we meet ultimate freedom, ultimate creativity, ultimate love, ultimate moral authority, so that with the first disciples we confess that in him we have beheld the glory of the Father.

Jesus Christ is the word made flesh, and it is in and through hint that we hear most clearly the voice of God calling us. That voice has never been silent. It was calling men and women in the ages before Christ and is still calling today. But now as then, the voice does not call in any dramatic, shattering way, but quietly, hidden in and with the human realities of daily life, Modern life is so hurried and frequently so superficial that one can easily miss the overtones of God’s calling. But his voice is still addressing and summoning us.

England Turns Its Back On The Summer Game

The UK is hosting the Cricket World Cup at the moment. This is a big thing. I remember the time when most of the country would have been following it and it would have been one of the main topics of conversation, whichever nation was staging it. But, it is as if it is not happening. The lampposts in my local town are draped with Cricket World Cup banners because I would guess, one of the matches is to be played at County Durham’s home ground which is down on the riverside. But I have no idea which teams will be playing and when it is happening.

The reason for this national ambivalence is simple; it is not being shown on the BBC and in England, at least, if it is not on the BBC, it is not real (think of it as a Schrödinger’s cat sort of thing). I assume that one of the commercial satellite franchises has bought the rights to screen it and, in doing so, has destroyed the sense of communal ownership that used to be attached to such important sporting events back in the days when all major competitions were televised on one of the universally available terrestrial channels. People often complain about the lack of community in England in the present day. The tribalisation of television on paid-for special interest channels (that are far too expensive to watch for a huge chunk of the population) is not the only explanation for our increasing isolation from each other, but it is one of the most insidious and pernicious ones.

Mind you, Auntie is getting her revenge and in doing so is changing the national zeitgeist. The BBC has won the rights to broadcast the Women’s Football World Cup and it is really bigging it up in a way that the woman’s game has never been bigged up before (at least, not since the Football Association banned it in 1921 because it had become too popular for its patriarchal liking). I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that as football is the far more popular of our two national games, more men will be watching the Lionesses’ skilful performances of the beautiful game on the BBC than watching the cricket even if they subscribe to whichever satellite channel is showing it. It could easily be a case of jam today, Marmite tomorrow for the greedy blighters who run men’s cricket and it will damn well serve them right. Howzat!

Dr John

Old age is almost every day waking up in the morning and the last item on the radio
news update is the announcement of the death of one of your musical heroes.

Malcolm John Rebennack
November 20, 1941 – June 6, 2019
May he rest in peace

The Big Easy has lost a great big chunk of its heart. It will recover,
it always does, but it will never be quite the same again.

This is my absolute favourite Dr John tune:

The Christ Event

From “Christianity and Liberalism”
by John Gresham Machen, 1881-1937

It is perfectly clear that the first Christian missionaries did not simply come forward with an exhortation; they did not say: “Jesus of Nazareth lived a wonderful life of filial piety, and we call upon you our hearers to yield yourselves, as we have done, to the spell of that life.”

Certainly, that is what modern historians would have expected the first Christian missionaries to say, but it must be recognised that as a matter of fact, they said nothing of the kind. Conceivably the first disciples of Jesus, after the catastrophe of his death, might have engaged in quiet meditation upon his teaching. They might have said to themselves that “Our Father which art in heaven” was a good way of addressing God even though the one who had taught them that prayer was dead. They might have clung to the ethical principles of Jesus and cherished the vague hope that the one who enunciated such principles had some personal existence beyond the grave. Such reflections might have seemed very natural to the modern man. But to Peter, James and John they certainly never occurred. Jesus had raised in them high hopes; those hopes were destroyed by the Cross, and reflections on the general principles of religion and ethics were quite powerless to revive the hopes again. The disciples of Jesus had evidently been far inferior to their Master in every possible way; they had not understood his lofty spiritual teaching, but even in the hour of solemn crisis had quarrelled over great places in the approaching Kingdom. What hope was there that such men could succeed where their master had failed? Even when he had been with them, they had been powerless; and now that he was taken from them, what little power they may have had was gone.

Yet those same weak, discouraged men, within a few days after the death of their master, instituted the most important spiritual movement that the world has ever seen. What had produced the astonishing change? What had transformed the weak and cowardly disciples into the spiritual conquerors of the world? Evidently, it was not the mere memory of Jesus’ life, for that was a source of sadness rather than of joy. Evidently the disciples of Jesus, within the few days between the crucifixion and the beginning of their work in Jerusalem, had received some new equipment for their task. What that new equipment was, at least the outstanding and external element in it (to say nothing of the endowment which Christian men believe to have been received at Pentecost), is perfectly plain. The great weapon with which the disciples of Jesus set out to conquer the world was not

1 Compare History and Faith, 1915 (reprinted from Princeton a mere comprehension of eternal principles; it was a historical message, an account of something that had recently happened, it was the message, “He is risen.”

But the message of the resurrection was not isolated. It was connected with the death of Jesus, seen now to be not a failure but a triumphant act of divine grace; it was connected with the entire appearance of Jesus upon the earth. The coming of Jesus was understood now as an act of God by which sinful men were saved. The primitive Church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also, and primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event. And with the event went the meaning of the event, and the setting forth of the event with the meaning of the event was doctrine. These two elements are always combined in the Christian message. The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine.

“Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried,” that is history.

“He loved me and gave himself for me,” that is doctrine.

Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church.

“But,” it may be said, “even if the Christianity of the primitive Church was dependent upon doctrine, we may still emancipate ourselves from such dependence; we may appeal from the primitive Church to Jesus himself. It has already been admitted that if doctrine is to be abandoned Paul must be abandoned; it may now be admitted that if doctrine is to be abandoned, even the primitive Jerusalem Church, with its message of the resurrection, must be abandoned. But possibly we can still find in Jesus himself the simple, non-doctrinal religion that we desire.”

Must we really take such a step as that? It would certainly be an extraordinary step. A great religion derived its power from the message of the redeeming work of Christ; without that message, Jesus and his disciples would soon have been forgotten. The same message, with its implications, has been the very heart and soul of the Christian movement throughout the centuries. Yet we are now asked to believe that the thing that has given Christianity its power all through the centuries was a blunder, that the originators of the movement misunderstood radically the meaning of their master’s life and work and that it has been left to us moderns to get the first inkling of the initial mistake. Even if this view of the case were correct, and even if Jesus himself taught a religion like that of modern liberalism, it would still be doubtful whether such a religion could rightly be called Christianity; for the name Christian was first applied only after the supposed decisive change had taken place, and it is very doubtful whether a name which through nineteen centuries has been so firmly attached to one religion ought now suddenly to be applied to another. If the first disciples of Jesus really departed so radically from their master, then the better terminology would probably lead us to say simply that Jesus was not the founder of Christianity, but of a simple, non-doctrinal religion, long forgotten, but now rediscovered by modern men. Even so, the contrast between liberalism and Christianity would still appear.

But as a matter of fact, such a strange state of affairs does not prevail at all. It is not true that in basing Christianity upon an event the disciples of Jesus were departing from the teaching of their master. For certainly Jesus himself did the same thing. Jesus did not content himself with enunciating general principles of religion and ethics; the picture of Jesus as a sage similar to Confucius, uttering wise maxims about conduct, may satisfy Mr H. G. Wells, as he trips along lightly over the problems of history, but it disappears so soon as one engages seriously in historical research.

“Repent,” said Jesus, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

The gospel which Jesus proclaimed in Galilee consisted of the proclamation of a coming kingdom. But clearly, Jesus regarded the coming of the kingdom as an event, or as a series of events. No doubt he also regarded the kingdom as a present reality in the souls of men; no doubt he represented the kingdom in one sense as already present. We shall not really succeed in getting along without this aspect of the matter in our interpretation of Jesus’ words. But we shall also not get along without the other aspect, according to which the coming of the kingdom depended upon definite and catastrophic events. But if Jesus regarded the coming of the kingdom as dependent upon a definite event, then his teaching was similar at the decisive point to that of the primitive Church; neither he nor the primitive Church enunciated merely general and permanent principles of religion; both of them, on the contrary, made the message depend upon something that happened. Only, in the teaching of Jesus, the happening was represented as being still in the future, while in that of the Jerusalem Church the first act of it at least lay already in the past. Jesus proclaimed the event as coming; the disciples proclaimed part of it at least as already past, but the important thing is that both Jesus and the disciples did proclaim an event. Jesus was certainly not a mere enunciator of permanent truths, like the modern liberal preacher; on the contrary, he was conscious of standing at the turning point of the ages, when what had never been was now to come to be.

A Unified Christianity

From “The Fourth Gospel and the Life of Today”
by Mary Redington Ely Lyman, 1887-1975

Just as in the first century A.D. in the Mediterranean basin, Christianity in America today is living in a world in which the old standards of authority have broken down. Today, as in Hellenistic times, people are seeking for guidance in life through new channels, because the standards both of thought and of conduct which prevailed in the previous generation have lost their significance for us. Just as in the first century A.D., Christianity in our Western world today is undergoing rapid change, because of a fusion of cultures which is bringing diverse elements of thought together. Just as in the Christian world to which the Gospel of John originally offered its message, specialised religious interests are receiving stress in different quarters, but few people are able to take a view of the whole which is able to unify or harmonise those interests. In the first century this specialisation was seen in the stress on the ethical aspects of religion by those with Jewish background and sympathy, in the desire to philosophise about Christianity on the part of those who represented the Greek intellectual tradition and in the attempt to make of Christianity a redemption religion with mystical experience at its centre, on the part of those with the popular religious interests of the contemporary world at heart. Today, although the incentives to specialisation are different from those which operated in the first century, we find it far easier to analyse our religious life than to synthesise it and the same tendency to the specialisation of interest is common to our time.

The ethical appeal of Christianity has stirred our age deeply. Perhaps the most characteristic role in which Christianity appears in our time is in its summons to us to build a better world. Some of the finest prophets of our time are those who are urging us in season and out of season to order our social life so that the oppressions of race, war, capitalism and industrialism shall no longer fall upon our people. But those who are committed most deeply to these ethical tasks of Christianity in our time look wistfully for help from the directions of philosophy and individual religious experience. They know well that an aggressive attack upon the evils of society cannot go forward without both an adequate philosophy behind it and a religious experience to be its dynamic.

Parallel with this social movement in our Christianity today, we recognise another tendency equally characteristic of our time, but not yet drawn into a close and helpful relationship with it. This is the interest among Christians today in relating their religious faith to the world of scientific discovery. It is all very well to say that the conflict between science and religion is a thing of the past, but actually, new problems are continually arising. Not only is the new physics asking for a new cosmological theory, in a way that brings a philosophical challenge to Christian thinkers, but new psychological theories are offering us views of human personality that compel us to weigh again the validity of Christianity’s view of human life. The attempt to relate the Christian gospel to the present-day world of scientific thought is one of the major interests of our religious world.

But again, those who take this interest most to heart know that it must not isolate itself as an intellectual movement from the practical interests of religion. Challenging as the intellectual problems of the Christian life are, we know that the pursuit of them cannot fulfil the whole function of religion. Christianity, if it is to meet the needs of our time, must not only have regard for the intellectual relationships that it sustains with the scientific world but must function actively in the world of practical human relationships and must minister to the inner life of the heart of man. The effort to relate Christianity to the present-day world of science is one of the finest activities of religion in our time, but it must go forward hand in hand with the more practical work of building a better world for human society, and of ministering to the inner life of the heart. The hungry sheep will look up and will not be fed unless these interests come into a harmonious relationship with each other.

And so it is also in a third clearly marked tendency of the Christianity of our time that which stresses the values of mystical fellowship with God. That a real revival of mystical religion is taking place today is quite apparent. That the heart of religion lies in the direct experience of God by the individual is the contention of this school of religious thought. The popular response that has come to this interpretation of religion is in itself testimony to the fact that there was need of this return to the more intimate and personal values of religion. But again we know all too well by the experience of the past how necessary it is to the healthy development of mystical religion that it should maintain its balance by constant reference to its intellectual foundations and its expression in ethical living.

In all three of these tendencies in our Christian life today the need for balance is apparent. We know that ethical Christianity should have the dynamic of personal religion and the satisfactory working base of a self-respecting theology. We know that theological speculation ought to be saved from barrenness by the warm accompaniments of inner religious experience and outward moral expression. We know that mystical religion needs to be safeguarded from excesses by keeping its relationship true both to sound theological thinking and the outlets of ethical living. But in actual practice, this balance is hard to preserve. Dean Inge, one of our most noted advocates of mystical religion, looks with disfavour on democracy. Christian social workers often distrust both theological speculation and the emphasis on personal religion, because they seem to be diverting interest from the immediate and desperate needs of the poor, which to the social worker are the supreme concern of religion. Theologians stand always in danger of becoming too rationalistic and of being so much preoccupied with the explanation of things, that they neglect that side of religion which concerns itself with changing wrong social conditions or with deepening the inner life.

So it is that practically speaking, our present-day religious world is a divided world. However much we realise our need for wholeness of view, we fail actually to achieve it. What we need most today is a Christianity that gives full place to the intellectual quest for truth, that satisfies the demands of the human heart for an inner experience of God and that at the same time gives full expression to those impulses in us that reach out for the making of a better world. We want our Christianity to be theologically sound, at home in the present-day world of science and philosophy. We want our Christianity to be dynamic with a sense of the reality of God. We want it to take seriously to heart the task of building the city of God on earth. Not until these three have come to dwell together in unity shall we realise the abundant life in Christian experience.

Rediscovering The Faith

From “Paradoxes of Faith”
by Henri de Lubac, 1896-1991

Before it can be adapted in its presentation to the modern generation, Christianity in all necessity must, in its essence, be itself. And once it is itself, it is close to being adapted. For it is of its essence to be living and always of the time.

The big task consists then in rediscovering Christianity in its plenitude and in its purity. A task which is always and ceaselessly called for, just as the work of reform inside the Church itself is called for always and ceaselessly. For even though Christianity is eternal, we are never once and for all identified with its eternity. By a natural leaning, we never cease losing it. Like God himself; it is always there, present in its entirety, but it is we who are always more or less absent from it. It escapes us in the very measure that we believe we possess it. Habit and routine have an unbelievable power to waste and destroy.

But how should we rediscover Christianity if not by going back to its sources, trying to recapture it in its periods of explosive vitality? How should we rediscover the meaning of so many doctrines and institutions which always tend toward dead abstraction and formalism in us, if not by trying to touch anew the creative thought that achieved them? How many explorations into distant history such research supposes! How many painful reconstructions, themselves preceded by long preliminary work! In a word, how much “archaeology”! The task is not for everyone, obviously, but it is indispensable that it be done and forever done again. Let us not think that it is possible to reach the goal cheaply: to try that would be a kind of fraud, and when it comes to essential goods, the crook is never successful.

It took forty years in the desert to enter into the Promised Land. It sometimes takes a lot of arid archaeology to make the fountains of living water well forth anew.

Being In Love With God

From “A Second Collection”
by Bernard Lonergan, 1904-1984

Being-in-love is of different kinds. There is the love of intimacy, of husband and wife, of parents and children. There is the love of one’s fellowmen with its fruit in the achievement of human welfare. There is the love ofGod with one’s whole heart and whole soul, with all one’s mind and all one’s strength (Mark 12.30). It is God’s love flooding our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us (Romans 5.5).

It grounded the conviction of Saint Paul that, “There is nothing in death or life, in the realm of spirits or superhuman powers, in the world as it is or the world as it shall be, in the forces of the universe, nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Being in love with God, as experienced, is being in love in an unrestricted fashion. All love is self-surrender, but being in love with God is being in love without limits or qualifications or conditions or reservations. It is with one’s whole heart and whole soul and all one’s mind and all one’s strength. Just as a total openness to all questioning is our capacity for self-transcendence, so too an unrestricted being in love is the proper fulfilment of that capacity.

Because that love is the proper fulfilment of our capacity, that fulfilment brings a deep-set joy that can remain despite humiliation, privation, pain, betrayal, desertion. Again, that fulfilment brings a radical peace, the peace that the world cannot give. That fulfilment bears fruit in acts of love for one’s neighbour, a love that strives mightily to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth. On the other hand, the absentee of that fulfilment opens the way to the trivialisation of human life in the pursuit of fun, to the harshness of human life that results from the ruthless exercise of power, to despair about human welfare springing from the conviction that the universe is absurd.

The fulfilment that is being in love with God is not the product of our knowledge and choice. It is God’s gift. Like all being in love, as distinct from particular acts of loving, it is a first principle. So far front resulting from our knowledge and choice, it dismantles and abolishes the horizon within which our knowing and choosing went on and it sets up a new horizon within which the love of God transvalues our values and the eyes of that love transform our knowing.

Though not the product of our knowing and choosing, it is not unconscious. On the contrary, it is a conscious, dynamic state, manifesting itself in what. Saint Paul named the harvest of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22).

A Bad Week For Boris

Such a bad week for Boris Johnson. The one person in the world who takes what politicians say literally has initiated criminal proceedings against him through the Crown Court which could end up with him being sentenced to life imprisonment. Then Donald Trump all but endorses his bid for leader of the Tory Party which is like being given the thumbs up by Jack the Ripper.

It never rains but it pours, as they say round these parts.

The Saint Laika Summer Appeal 2019

I will be sixty years old on the twentieth of June, this year.

Back when I was learning to be a priest at college, I occasionally peered into the future to discern my career in the service of Jesus Christ. I am not an ambitious person and I certainly have never craved high office. I never wanted to be anything other than a parish priest but I did have hopes and dreams. One dream was that, by the time I got to sixty years old, I would be the incumbent of a small, medieval, quaint village church somewhere very rural and very pretty, looking forward to retirement but still happy serving a congregation I love and care for and who love and care for me. Sadly, due to my suffering from clinical depression and the bigotry of Church of England bishops, this is not how things worked out. I was demoted, placed on short period contracts and finally sacked and thrown out of my home by a bishop who told me that a person with mental health problems should never be a parish priest. All my subsequent attempts to get my job back have failed and I have now been unemployed for nine years.

However, throughout my illness, the following years of insecurity and ever since, I have continued to believe that I was called by God to be a priest, just as the Church insisted I was convinced of when its representatives were testing my vocation. So, I had to find a different way of being a priest, outside of the Church and without its support.

That different way was to become an internet priest, originally through my blog, “Of Course, I Could Be Wrong…” and then, also on Facebook. I launched an online Christian community called Saint Laika’s (after the Russian dog sent into space to die alone) and with the help of a few excellent colleagues, its Facebook page has been liked by nearly fifty thousand people and enjoys a truly international readership.

However, such pioneering ministry does not come with a salary, not even a small stipend. Fortunately, since starting out on the Saint Laika project, I have been supported by regular monthly donations from an exceedingly loyal and generous group of friends. This has given me about five hundred pounds to live on every month ($637). I survive, day to day on this, but I do have to also pay for the running costs of Saint Laika’s as well as the big or unexpected bills that come along all too regularly. Therefore, twice a year, I run an appeal to raise funds to cover my debts and also provide me with a bit of spare cash for Christmas and summer holidays (which are always on British campsites with my wife and two border collies). 

Therefore, my friends, I beg you (because I support my online ministry through what is nothing other than begging) to consider making a donation to help me continue my work. It is not what I anticipated doing at the age of sixty but, I am told, it is appreciated work and, at least, I am still being faithful to my calling.

Donations can be made via the PayPal widgets below either in U.S. dollars or British pounds. Just click on the relevant button and follow the instructions. You do not need your own PayPal account to do this.

Thank you so much for reading this far. God bless you, my friends.



A Trip To The Farne Islands During The Nesting Season

The first and second photographs are of Longstone Lighthouse from which Grace Darling set out with her father to rescue a group of shipwrecked sailors stranded on the nearby Hawkers Rocks. The third photograph is of the old lighthouse on Brownsman Island where the Darlings lived before moving to Longstone in 1826. The fourth and fifth photos are of seals lazing on the rocks of Big Harcar. The rest of the gallery features various species of seabird that nest on the Farne Islands at this time of year. Some are taken on Inner Farne where Saint Cuthbert lived as a hermit before and after his stint as bishop of Lindisfarne.

Total Salvation

From “The Presence of the Future:
The Eschatology of Biblical Realism”
by George Eldon Ladd, 1911-1982

The presence of the messianic salvation is also seen in Jesus’ miracles of healing for which the Greek word meaning “to save” is used. The presence of the Kingdom of God in Jesus meant deliverance from haemorrhage (Mark 5:34), blindness (Mark 10:52), demon possession (Luke 8:36) and even death itself (Mark 5:23). Jesus claimed that these deliverances were evidence of the presence of the messianic salvation (Matt. 11:4-5). They were pledges of the life of the eschatological Kingdom which will finally mean immortality for the body. The Kingdom of God is concerned not only with men’s souls but with the salvation of the whole man.

The limitation of these physical deliverances illustrates the nature of the present Kingdom in contrast to its future manifestation. In the eschatological Kingdom, all “who are accounted worthy to attain to that age” (Luke 20:35) will be saved from sickness and death in the immortal life of the resurrection. In the present working of the Kingdom, this saving power reached only a few. Not all the sick and crippled were saved, nor were all the dead raised. Only three instances of restoration to life are recorded in the Gospels. Men must come into direct contact with Jesus or his disciples to be healed (Mark 6:56). The saving power of the Kingdom was not yet universally operative. It was resident only in Jesus and in those whom he commissioned (Matt. 10:8; Luke 10:9).

However, not even all who came into contact with Jesus experienced the healing life of the Kingdom; this physical salvation required the response of faith, it did not work ex opere operato.

“Your faith has saved you” (Marl: 5:34; 10:52).

A spiritual response was necessary to receive the physical blessing. The miracles of healing, important as they were, were not an end in themselves. They did not constitute the highest good of the messianic salvation. This fact is illustrated by the arrangement of the phrases in Matthew, chapter eleven, verses four to five. Greater than the deliverance of the blind and the lame, the lepers and the deaf, even than raising the dead, was the preaching of the good news to the poor. This “gospel” was the very presence of Jesus himself, and the joy and fellowship which he brought to the poor.

That salvation from physical sickness was only the external aspect of spiritual salvation is shown by a saying about demon exorcism. While this miracle was one of the most convincing pieces of evidence of the presence of the Kingdom (Matt. 12:28), it was preliminary to God’s taking possession of the vacant dwelling. Otherwise, a man is like a house which stands in good order, clean but empty (Matt. 12:44, Luke 11:25). Unless the power of God enters that life, the demon can return bringing seven other demons with him and the man will be worse off that he was at first. Healings and demon exorcisms were the negative side of salvation; the positive side was the incoming of the power and life of God.

The bond between physical salvation and its spiritual aspect is illustrated by the healing of the ten lepers. All ten were “cleansed” and “healed” (Luke 17:14 f.).

To the one, a Samaritan who returned to express his gratitude, Jesus said, “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 17:19).

These are the same words used elsewhere of healing. Are we to suppose that the other nine were not really healed? Many commentators suspect confusion in the test. However, in view of the fact that these same words are clearly used of “spiritual” salvation (Luke 7:50), we may agree with those expositors who see a greater blessing bestowed on the Samaritan than on the nine. His “salvation” or wholeness was more than physical healing. It implied a sound spiritual state.

Passing Thoughts Of A Mad Priest ( On Football )

It strikes me that flying two English football teams and thousands of their fans over to Spain to play each other and then fly them all the way home again the next day, is not exactly contributing in any positive way in our battle to halt global warming. Seriously; one Tottenham fan had flown all the way from the west coast of the United States, not to attend the match, but to simply watch it on TV with other ticketless fans in a north London pub, “for the atmosphere.”

International sport is not necessary. Until we sort the earth’s atmosphere out sport should be restricted to the local, national at the most and all air travel to games should be prohibited, even for the teams. Long distance car travel to matches should also be discouraged.

Of course, all unnecessary air travel should be banned. For example, that rude man who is running the United States at the moment most certainly does not need to fly to England this week. Our beloved queen is old and it is not worth risking even the faintest possibility that the last thing she gazes upon in her long and noble life is Donald Trump’s orange-hued visage. Mrs May has suffered more than enough recently as well, even for a Tory.

Practising What Jesus Preached

From “The Problem of Poverty”
by Abraham Kuyper, 1837-1920

In ancient times, because of corruption and poverty, the Roman Empire, following Greece, sank away. But before it sank, a light arose in Bethlehem, a dying cry was heard from Golgotha and through them, a new hope was awakened for all peoples. A new hope, not as might be felt by those who today degrade the Christ of God by casting him as a more social reformer, but the kind of hope inspired by the Saviour of the World, which was his higher, richer and more honourable title. The blessedness that he brought to humanity contained a promise not only for the future but also for the present life (I Tim. 4:8), although Jesus always emphasised the primacy of man‘s eternal welfare.

If then you ask what Jesus did to bring deliverance from the social needs of his time, here is the answer. He knew that such desperate needs grow from the malignant roots of error and sin, so he placed the truth over against error and broke the power of sin by shedding his blood and pouring out his Holy Spirit on his own. Since rich and poor had become divided because they had lost their point of union in God, he called both together back to their Father who is in heaven. He saw how the idolising of money had killed nobility in the human heart, so he held up the service of Mammon before his followers as an object for their deep contempt. Since he understood the curse that lies in capital, especially for the man of great wealth, he adjured him to cease his accumulation of capital and to gather not treasure on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break in and steal (Matt.6:19). He rejected the rich young man because he could not decide to sell all his goods and give to the poor. In his heart, Jesus harboured no hatred for the rich, but rather a deep compassion for their pitiable condition. The service of Mammon is exceedingly difficult. Sooner would a camel go through the eye of a needle than would a rich man enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt. l9:16-24).

Furthermore. Jesus did not limit his work to moral motivation. He also preached by the way he lived. When rich and poor stood opposed to one another. he never took his place with the wealthier but always with the poorer. He was born in a stable: and while foxes have holes and birds have nests, the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. His apostles were to give no consideration to the accumulation of capital. Powerful is the trait of compassion, imprinted on every page of the Gospel where Jesus came into contact with the suffering and the oppressed. He did not push aside the masses who were ignorant of the law. but drew them to himself. He extinguished no wick that was even barely smouldering. He cured the sick. He did not shy away from touching leprous flesh. When the crowds were hungry, even though as yet they did not hunger for the bread of life, he broke the loaf into many pieces and gave them an abundance of precious fish. Jesus practised what he preached.

If we have food and clothing then the holy apostle demands that we should content ourselves with that. But where our Father in heaven wills with divine generosity that an abundance of food grows from the ground, we are without excuse if, through our fault, this rich bounty is divided so unequally that one is surfeited with bread while another goes with an empty stomach to his pallet (bed) and sometimes must even go without a pallet. If there are still some who, God forgive them, try to defend such abuse by an appeal to the words of Jesus, “For you have the poor always with you” (Matt. 26:11), then out of respect for God’s holy word I must register my protest against such a misuse of the scriptures. I invite those who so judge first to trace through the same scriptures to see how the condition of the poor in Israel was almost luxurious compared to the misery in which our proletariat lies sunk.

If then you ask me whether still more ought to be given, I answer without hesitation, most certainly. But I hasten to add that a charity which knows only how to give money is not yet Christian love. You will be free of guilt only when you also give your time, your energy and your resourcefulness to help end such abuses for good. and when you allow nothing that lies hidden in the storehouse of your Christian religion to remain unused against the cancer that is destroying the vitality of our society in such alarming ways.

Passing Thoughts Of A Mad Priest

So, it is more than likely that Newcastle United (a well-known soccer team in the north-east of England) will be bought by a billionaire Arab prince. With Manchester City already the vanity project of another aristocratic Arab with lots of American dollars in the bank, it is only a matter of time before the rules of English football become subject to Sharia Law; then, woe betide any player who is caught handling the ball!

The Highest Shall Be The Servant Of All

From “Women in Christianity”
by Hans Küng, b.1928

According to present-day research, there can no longer be any question that women played a considerably more important role than is directly indicated in the “New Testament” sources, not only among the disciples of Jesus but also in earliest Christianity. We are above all indebted to the German-American “New Testament” scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza for having investigated the “New Testament” material from a “feminist theological perspective.” Her investigation confirms that in the early Jewish-Christian Jesus movement there was a praxis of equality and the involvement of all, both male and female disciples:

“The majority of them were not rich, like the Cynic philosophers who could reject property and cultural positions in order ‘to become free from possessions’. Rather, they were called from the impoverished, starving and ‘heavy laden’ country people. They were tax collectors, sinners, women, children, fishers, housewives, those who had been healed from their infirmities or set free from bondage to their evil spirits. What they offered was not an alternative lifestyle but an alternative ethos: they were those without a future, but now they had hope again; they were the ‘outcast’ and marginal people in their society, but now they had community again.”

How far, though, women were active as charismatic itinerant preachers in the early Jewish-Christian community can only be conjectured. Historically this can no more be verified than the thesis that women were decisive for the extension of the Jesus movement to non-Jews. So we should be very restrained in concluding historical leadership roles or even leading positions for women from individual texts (eg. the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7.24-30). This also applies to the role of Mary Magdalene, who might have been the most significant female figure from Jesus’ immediate circle.

None of this, however, detracts from the important recognition that the activity of Jesus called to life a community of disciples who were equals, and this also represents a criticism of the situation in the church today. And if explicit criticism of patriarchy was no essential concern of the Jesus movement, Elisabeth Schiissler Fiorenza is still right:

“No one is exempted. Everyone is invited. Women as well as men, prostitutes as well as Pharisees. The parable of the ‘Great Supper’ jolts the bearer into recognising that the kingdom of God includes everyone. It warns that only those who were ‘first invited’ and who then rejected the invitation will be excluded. Not the holiness of the elect but the wholeness of all is the central vision of Jesus. Therefore, his parables also take their images from the world of women. His healings and exorcisms make women whole. His announcement of ‘eschatological reversal’ (many who are first will be last and those last will be first) applies also to women and to their impairment by patriarchal structures.”

That Jesus himself relativised the ‘fathers’ and their traditions, called women, too, into his group of disciples, and even expressed his high esteem for children, shows that patriarchal hierarchies cannot have appealed to him. Nor did he make, for example, celibacy a condition of discipleship. The church of the Jewish-Christian paradigm could have been called democratic in the best sense of the word (at any rate it was not aristocratic or monarchical): a community in freedom, equality and brotherhood and sisterhood. For this church was not a powerful institution, not a Grand Inquisition, but a community of free people; not a church of classes, races, castes or ministries, but a community of those who in principle were equal; not an empire under patriarchal rule with a cult of persons, but a community of brothers and sisters.

However, we should note here that although all members of this early church in principle had an equal status, and in principle had the same rights and duties, this did not mean a uniform egalitarianism, a coordination and uniformity which levelled out the multiplicity of gifts and ministries. On the contrary, the earliest Jerusalem community in which, according to Luke, people were of “one heart and one soul,” showed individuals opposed to one another, a variety of positions, differentiated functions and provisional structures.

On the basis of the texts we cannot ignore the fact that from the beginning, despite the apocalyptic expectation of an imminent end, there were provisional structures in the community: above all the group of Twelve, but also the group of Seven whom the “Acts of the Apostles” calls “Hellenists.” From this, we can conclude that the community which followed Jesus will by no means have consisted only of Aramaic-speaking Jews, but also in no small degree of Greek-speaking Hellenistic Jews.

At any rate, the conflict over the daily care of widow s reported in “Acts,” chapter six, verse one, seems to reflect a marked division in the earliest community between Hellenists on the one hand and Hebrews on the other. This division is further underlined by the fact that to all appearances other Jewish-Christian groups had their own synagogues and their own house communities in which scripture was read at worship in their own language (Hebrew or Greek). These Jewish-Christians who had Greek as their mother tongue (socially and culturally they came from the urban milieu of Hellenistic Diaspora Judaism and, because they were educated, were probably also more active in thinking about the implications of their faith) may have been led by the Stephen group (the Seven, all of whom have purely Greek names). They were probably relatively independent of the group of apostles representing the Hebrews (the Twelve, who represented the twelve tribes of Israel). At the same time, that means that the Seven may well have been much more than simply welfare officers subordinate to the Twelve, as Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles” reports a generation later. We should see them more as the governing body of an independent community which was already engaged in active mission in Jerusalem at that time.

Not just the Twelve, nor even the Seven, were apostles, but all those who were regarded as the original witnesses and messengers: those who proclaimed the message of Christ and founded and led communities as the first witnesses. We cannot tell whether the title apostle was also given to women in Jewish Christianity; things would be different in the Gentile-Christian sphere. But it is certain that right from the beginning in Jewish Christianity (and this is easily overlooked) there were not only prophets but also prophetesses: in addition to Agabus, Judas and Silas, mention is explicitly made in “Acts” of the four daughters of Philip. Alongside them were evangelists and helpers of very different kinds, here too both men and women.

And what about offices in church? These various church ministries and callings were not given that name at this time. In fact in the “New Testament,” secular terms for office were avoided and with good reason. ‘Why? Because such terms expressed a pattern of domination which the Christian community did not want to take over. Instead. another general term was used, a quite ordinary religious word with a rather inferior tone, which could in no way conjure up associations with any authority, rule or position of dignity or power: ‘diakonia’, service. This originally denoted serving at table. Here it was evidently the way in which Jesus himself served his disciples at table that set the irrevocable standard. That is the only explanation of the frequency of the saying which has been handed down in six different variants: “The highest shall be the servant of all (at table).”

Passing Thoughts Of A Mad Priest ( Brexit )

There appear to be two distinct understandings of what the “people’s vote” will be.

The first is that the electorate will get to vote “yes” or “no” to any deal that the government agrees with the E.U. and that Parliament will then either pass the deal into law or not, depending on the result of the vote.

The second understanding is that there will be another referendum in which the electorate will, once again, be asked if they wish to leave or stay in the E.U. and that the result of this second referendum will overrule the result of the first referendum. Although I am certain that if such a second referendum gives a “remain” result the U.K. will remain in the E.U., I am uncertain that another “leave” result will in the U.K. leaving the E.U. My guess is that if the latter happens then Parliament will kick its heals for a year or so and then we will have a third referendum and that this will continue happening until a “remain” result is achieved.

What makes the people’s vote thing extremely confusing is that politicians and the media are using the two understandings interchangeably, often in the same article, interview or speech. I was reading a piece in the Guardian this morning about how Jeremy Corbyn has agreed to back a people’s vote, but I was left with no clear understanding of which of the two types of people’s vote Corbyn was hitching his wagon to. No doubt this lack of clarity is deliberate on his part.

Crucified Resourcefulness

From “No Handle on the Cross:
An Asian Meditation on the Crucified Mind”
by Kosuke Koyama, 1929-2009

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt.l6.24)

Jesus demands self-denial from us if we would come after him. The image of self-denial, given without any hesitation, is the cross. Self-denial must express itself through a socially recognisable symbol. What a thing to carry, of all things! What a heavy, badly-shaped, demoralising object it is to take along as we follow him! Will it not slow down our pace? Will it not produce a persecution complex within us? Will it not make us too serious, too nervous, too sensitive, too emotional to fit into the normal run of every-day life? Picture the image of a man carrying the cross and following a man who goes ahead with his cross! What a procession! What a spectacle!

“I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (I Cor.4.9)

In following him, why is it necessary to take up a cross? In following him, why is the outward sign and inner mind to be a cross? Why not a lunch-box?

Why not a nourishing lunch-box in which are found boiled eggs (devilled eggs preferably), sliced Swiss cheese, a piece of New Zealand lamb chop and green lettuce and a thermos of hot coffee? How about such an over-developed, caloried-salaried, international, technological, carefully-packed lunch-box for the sake of Jesus Christ? It is an attractively shaped box with a neat handle for carrying. It is not heavy. How psychologically and physically strengthening to carry such a lovely and substantial lunch-box! You know how our souls, let alone stomachs, are peacefully tranquil when our hands feel the comfortable weight of a lunch-box? Food is essential for any man. It must be essential in the matter of following him too. How dare we follow Jesus with an empty stomach? Does not a Japanese proverb say that “you cannot fight with an empty stomach?”

With a nourishing and well-filled lunch-box in our hands, we can whistle and light-footedly follow Jesus from “victory unto victory.” The lunch-box symbolises our resourcefulness, spiritual and mental energy, high-powered substantial theology, good honest thinking, careful (international and technological) planning and sacred commitment to our faith. Why not, then, “let him prepare himself and take up his lunch-box and follow me?” We can be and will remain energetic and resourceful. If necessary, we can even walk ahead of Jesus instead of following him.

The contrast is between the cross and the lunch-box: an extremely inconvenient thing to carry (without a handle) and an extremely convenient thing to carry (with a handle); an ugly thing to carry and an attractive thing to carry; slow movement and fast movement; inefficiency and efficiency; insecurity and security; heavy-footedness and light-footedness; pain and glory; self-denial and self-assertion.

The cross does not have a handle. The lunch box has a handle. May I invite you to meditate on this image?

“Handle” stands for a means of efficient control. Automobiles with powerful engines obey us because we control them through the handle (steering wheel). Doors can be efficiently controlled if we operate them by their handles. It is through switches that we control electric appliances of all kinds. Developed technological devices give us engines (power) and handles (control). Uncontrolled power is not technology. Technology is a controlled power. In that sense, it is not dangerous. In contrast, theology has a danger signal. The signal will be switched on if man yields to the strong temptation to control God.

The prayer of King Solomon, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee,” (II Chron. 6.18), represents a right theological perception.

The basic difference between technology and theology is that the former gives us both an engine and a handle, whereas, the latter has an engine but no handle. Theology that puts a handle to the power of God is no longer a theology but a demonic theological ideology. Theology must refuse to handle the saving power of God. It tries to speak about it. It tries to sing “Magnificat” about it. It meditates about it. But it does not handle it as we handle our car or washing machine. Theology, then, must not handle people either.

The technological mind is, in short, handle-minded, while the theological mind is non-handle-minded. Technology aims to control physical power. Theology does not aim to control the power of God. Theology, then, must not be approached with technological handle-mindedness. It is said that in the India of ancient Vedic times one of the reasons for the ascendancy of the Brahmin priestly class in the community was their claim that they alone knew how to officiate in elaborate sacrificial rites to appease and control the gods. There is a touch of technological handle-mindedness here.

I notice the presence of such a mind in the prayer: “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” (Luke 18.1 1,12)

The mind which is trained under the weight of the cross without a handle is called the crucified mind. The mind which is trained in carrying essential resourcefulness with a handle is called the crusading mind.

The Pharisaic prayer makes a contrast to the prayer of the tax collector: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.

I do not intend to reject the crusading mind. The lunch-box-carrying crusading mind must be carefully and kindly dealt with in the community of faith. I believe that it has a God-given role to play in our mission. But I maintain that the crusading mind must not function by itself. It must be guided and illuminated by the crucified mind. The lifestyle of the Pharisee is commendable. The religious dedication and spiritual resourcefulness of the Pharisee are of high value.

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5.20)

His theological lunch-box is full of high-protein foods.

The famous parable ends, however, with this devastating conclusion: “I tell you, this man (the tax collector) went down to his house justified rather than the other (the Pharisee).”

Does not this mean that such a dedicated religious and spiritual resourcefulness as the Pharisee exhibited is unable to create the right kind of relationship with his God and with his fellow-men? Why is the Pharisee’s dedication misguided? Why is the world today, in every area of human existence, full of the tragedy of mutilated resourcefulness? Why does not the New Testament draw a quick and assuring connection line between justification and resourcefulness?

The crusading mind must be placed in the light of the crucified mind in order to be crucified and risen.

I understand this to be the reason why Jesus did not say, “let him assert himself and take up his lunch-box and follow me.”

Resourcefulness (that over-developed lunch-box) must be theologically judged and contextualised in order to become genuinely resourceful. Resourcefulness must then be crucified. When it is resurrected it will become a theologically-baptised resourcefulness. Asian church history is telling us today that often missionaries’ resourcefulness has resulted in the impoverishment of native participation in the mission of God. Resourceful persons do not seek help from others. They know exactly what to do. They have “better ideas.” They have “better strategies.”

“God, I thank thee that I am not like other men who are not resourceful.”

In the perspective of mission together in the six continents, we urgently need ecumenical meditation on the theology of crucified resourcefulness.

All Have Sinned

From “The Validity of Religious Experience”
by Albert C. Knudson, 1873-1953

There is, then, no dispute as to the feeling of dependence on God. It is basal in Christian experience. There is also no dispute as to the consciousness of sin. It too is a fundamental element in Christian experience. In the abstract, there may be a question as to whether sin is absolutely universal. Theoretically, it may be, and I believe is, possible that a responsible human being here and there may have lived for some time wholly free from sin. But for all practical purposes, this possibility may be disregarded.

“All have sinned, and. come short of the glory of God.”

This Pauline word finds an echo in virtually every Christian heart. It expresses a profound Christian conviction and is a presupposition of the Christian doctrine of redemption. Redemption in Christian thought is primarily redemption from sin. It means also ultimate redemption from suffering and death. But redemption from natural evil is from the Christian point of view secondary. Moral redemption comes first, and it implies a state of sin from which we are to be redeemed.

But how is the state of sin to be conceived? Is it to be regarded as the result of voluntary acts or as a condition inherent in our finitude or in the present structure of our being? Are we sinners by virtue of the fact that we are human, and are we on that account under the divine condemnation? Or are we sinners only in so far as we have actually done that which is evil in the divine sight? To these questions, the answer of Christian experience is not altogether free from ambiguity. We judge ourselves from the standpoint of the ideal as well as from the standpoint of merit and demerit. From the standpoint of the ideal, we feel ourselves utterly condemned. We are all “miserable sinners,” sinful by nature, “dead in sin,” and wholly unable to do anything ourselves to merit the divine favour. Everything good within us is the gift of the divine grace. Such is our feeling in prayer, as we stand face to face with the ideal. We are all Calvinists when we pray.

But however natural this emotional attitude toward Deity is, it is only one phase of Christian experience. We are dependent beings, but we are also responsible beings. We are summoned to obey the divine will, and exhorted to believe in the divine grace and the assumption is that both the belief and the obedience are acts that lie within the range of our capacity. In believing and obeying we may be aided by the Divine Spirit, but the acts are nevertheless our own and as such, they point to a different conception of human nature from that which we have just described. We are not so totally sinful as to be devoid of any capacity for good. Merit as well as demerit, when properly understood, has its place in the ethical vocabulary of the Christian.

The extraordinary confusion which has appeared at this point in Christian thought, and which still prevails, has been due largely to a failure to distinguish the language of emotion from that of theology. In the presence of the greatness and holiness of God, we inevitably feel our own littleness and sinfulness, and we feel them so keenly that we naturally express ourselves in unlimited terms of self-abasement. But this does not mean that we actually regard ourselves as totally depraved and wholly devoid of the power of contrary choice. Such an extreme view may be suggested by the language that we employ in prayer. But it runs counter to the sense of responsibility and makes of sin a subvolitional state of the soul, either inherited or acquired through some mysterious participation in the sin of Adam. The attempts that have been made in the past to harmonise a subvolitional conception of sin with personal responsibility, represent some of the most extraordinary intellectual contortions that have appeared in the history of Christian thought. And it is no mitigation of their fallacious and self-contradictory character that similar attempts are at present being made in influential theological circles.

Sin on a subconscious or subvolitional level is not sin in the proper sense of the term. It has no ethical or unethical quality. It is a hypothetical entity that serves as a kind of metaphysical basis for the feeling of absolute dependence and for the belief in man’s moral helplessness. According to this conception of sin, we are all sinners through and through, and hence of ourselves can do no good thing. But no such extreme doctrine is necessary as a theoretical basis for our Christian experience of dependence on God. This experience is emotional, it varies in degree, and even in its most absolute form is not inconsistent with a limited degree of independence on our part. We may feel an absolute dependence upon God without surrendering the consciousness of our own freedom. Feeling is one thing and a metaphysic a quite different thing.

Christian experience does not require belief in the absolute impotence and absolute sinfulness of man in order that its sense of dependence upon a divine power may be adequately grounded. Indeed, such a belief logically cancels freedom and responsibility and transforms a personal trustful dependence on God into fatalism. It thus undermines the consciousness of sin. Joseph Wood Krutch has said that “the modern man cannot sin.” This is true if the modern man is a determinist. Determinism, both naturalistic and theological, destroys the possibility of sin in the ethical sense of the term and in any other sense the term is misleading and confusing. We gain nothing by extending sin into the subvolitional realm. We do not in this way deepen the sense of sin. We distort and disintegrate it. Sin to be real, to be a ground of self-condemnation, to be a condition of repentance, must have its root in human freedom. Subvolitional sin is not sin and no attempt to deduce such a conception of sin from Christian experience is warranted either by conscience or reason.

Our need for God grows out of our actual weakness and sinfulness, not out of theories with respect to them. To argue, as the strict Barthians do, that our weakness and sinfulness must be absolute and that the recognition of any independent strength of our own leads to godless pride, is a piece of closet theologising. It is not based on fact. On the contrary, it leads to self- contradiction and general befuddlement. If we are to think clearly on the subject of sin, we must distinguish between sin itself and the material of sin or what Paul calls ‘‘the passions of sin.” The passions of sin are not themselves sinful. They become such only when the will consents to their excessive and evil expression. It is also important to recognise that our need for moral redemption does not depend upon the traditional theory of original sin. It depends on the fact that as spiritual beings we have the task of moralising the nonmoral impulses, desires, and interests with which we are endowed by birth, and that this task is enormously difficult, so difficult that it can be accomplished only through the transforming and redeeming power of the Divine Spirit. The need for redemption is thus factual, not theoretical. It is based on our own moral experience and no other basis of the Christian doctrine of sin and redemption is necessary.

A Case Apart?

Religious leaders in Western Australia will be compelled to reveal knowledge of child sexual abuse, but the Catholic church is resisting the inclusion of secrets gained through the confessional.

The WA Labor government plans to expand mandatory reporting laws to include all recognised religious leaders who are authorised to conduct worship, services and ceremonies. This includes priests, ministers, imams, rabbis, pastors and Salvation Army officers. The laws already apply to doctors, teachers, nurses, midwives, police and school boarding supervisors.

To be honest, I find this proposed law both untidy and illogical. Although emotionally I regard the sexual abuse of children to be a particularly heinous crime, intellectually I have to conclude that it is just sexual assault like any other and a that a crime is a crime. If priests are to be compelled to report a particular crime made known to them in the confessional then, logically, they should be compelled to report all crime. At the very least, they should be compelled to report any crime which might be committed again, leading to the victim being hurt again or another person being hurt. Basically, I am saying there is no intrinsic difference between, for example, the sexual abuse of children and the sexual abuse of adults, or between the sexual abuse of people and the non-sexual physical abuse of people.

On whether or not the sanctity of the confessional should ever be broken, I have not yet come to a conclusion. It’s a difficult one, both from a philosophical and a practical point of view. For a start, a case could be made that a priest hearing a criminal’s confession has been given the opportunity of persuading him or her to change their ways and that this opportunity would disappear if they were compelled to report to the police authorities anything they are told in confidence, for the simple reason that nobody with a guilty secret would go to confession anymore. On the other hand, people who take advantage of the vulnerable are scum and should not, in a just and caring world, be allowed to get away with it, let alone continue to do it with impunity.

A Union Of Bigots

Scripture Union, an international evangelical Christian charity which, among other things, runs Bible study groups in schools across Scotland, has made changes to its “values statement” that is allowing it to discriminate against LGBT people.

According to a report in “The Times,” the Rev David Young, minister at Helensburgh Parish Church, told the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly in Edinburgh: “A member of my staff was told she would not be welcome in helping to lead a Scripture Union group because she is in a same-sex marriage.”

He said the incident he mentioned was not an isolated one.

The assembly agreed that the changes to the charity’s values statement would “adversely affect volunteers”, and voted to hold “meaningful conversations” with Scripture Union to address it.

Andy Bathgate, chief executive of Scripture Union Scotland, was reported as saying: “Recently Scripture Union Scotland has clarified its ethos statement for staff and volunteers, which does not mark a change in approach. We have always been open about the fact that we are a Christian charity.”

Many churches in the UK support Scripture Union and use its resource materials. On the whole, these are congregations of a broadly evangelical faith but also, on the whole, they will not be as rabid in their hatred of gay people as the fundies who now control the charity. I hope that the members of these congregations who are not comfortable with the charity’s lack of charity will not allow its excluding policies to continue by their silence but will take their concerns to their church councils with the recommendation that their church distances itself from the S.U. and withdraw all financial support.

Networking In Truth

From “On the Mystery:
Discerning Divinity in Process”
by Catherine Keller, b.1953

What, then, of the tortured figure under interrogation in Pilate’s palace? In the messianically supercharged atmosphere of the “Gospel of John,” we might presume that he utters, indeed that he is, the truly absolute truth. We might also presume that when Pilate gives the great shrug of relativism, he gives it in response to Jesus’ absolute truth-claim. But we are seeking understanding, not presuming it. So let us back up just a couple of verses, to see what elicited the famous rhetorical question in the first place.

“So, you are a king?” demands Pilate.

This question is also little more than rhetorical.

Let us listen with fresh cars to the too-familiar reply: “You say that I am a king.”

Thus deflecting the projection of imperial rivalry, Jesus (not the taciturn witness of the other Gospels) continues: “For this, I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”

Testimony: this metaphor signifies truth as an activity in language, appropriate to a testament.

“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

He attests to a truth to which he belongs; others who also belong will listen. This is itself testimony, making a claim at once messianic only in its humility.

We do well to hear what he is not claiming. He does not say those who belong listen to the truth; or, they hear that I am telling the truth. This is a more mysterious claim. This truth doesn’t seem to be something that could be simply said. It does not propose a propositional belief or a correct position. Jesus (unlike many Christians) is not claiming to have the truth. Truth is not eternal information processed by God and revealed in timeless sentences. Jesus doesn’t seem to think truth belongs to anyone.

One could, however, belong to the truth. Indeed, we will shortly explore how we are invited in this Gospel to “worship in spirit and truth” or to abide in the “Spirit of truth.” Jesus before Pilate does not ask that the other obey, or believe, or even recognise: but only “listen.” Give him a hearing. Enter a relationship. Truth seems to be an interaction, an interactivity. It is what he has been doing all along. The Johannine truth is an action: “do the truth” (facere veritatem). We don’t simply know it; we have to make it happen. Even in the high Christology of John, truth does not signify a timeless or abstract absolute. At the same time, by the same token, this Jesus will not play imperial mirror games with the dissolute: Pilate cannot make him accept the title of “king.”

The Jesus portrayed in the other three Gospels hardly mentions “truth,” whereas John’s Gospel is radiant with it. Testify to it, belong to it, do it, dwell in it, even in Jesus’ case to enflesh it: John gives truth multiple metaphors. Far from any abstract absolute, each sign of Johannine truth touches off a happening, a revealing interaction, a step on an open-ended way.

Earlier in the same Testament, along a dry and dusty way, by the side of an ancestral well, this relational space had bubbled open. The parched traveller just wanted water.

But the woman resists her own instrumentalisation: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman?”

This gets his attention. He liked this sort of chutzpah in women. Yet the truth-process has here, too, the character of a trial, one infinitely more gentle. If she tests Jesus with her first question, he responds with a playful courtesy:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

“Living water” has the double meaning of running rather than stagnant water and of a more mysterious liveliness. When she points out his lack of a bucket, he releases the water, “ gushing up to eternal life.”

In response to this sudden welling-up of metaphor, the woman displays a disarming honesty about her own life. A reader now may not fathom the unimaginable pain of all those husbands, lost presumably to death, the inevitable sense of curse, social marginality and finally unmarriageability. She displayed no shame and he wanted none. Later preachers may moralise about her life, but the text does none of it. It is her honesty, not any sin, that interests the thirsty rabbi: what she has said, in risky trust, “is true.” Within its patriarchal context, this interaction should not have happened at all (“They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman”). Yet it comprises one of the longer dialogues in the “Bible.”

In its improper reciprocity, Jesus initiates a radically mobile sense of truth. It moves like living water. The way is a truth-flow. It bursts out of the territorialism of religion, of worship fixed here or there, mountain or Jerusalem, my group or yours, my church or your temple, mosque or yoga mat.

“God is spirit,” announces Jesus by the well.

This is one of only two definitional propositions about God in scripture. The other is “God is love.” These are not accidentally correlated proposals: they proposition us to and from a bottomless well of compassion. This fresh sense of spirit Jesus offers does not deny divine presence in local sites and practices. Rather, it resists the dispiriting absolutisms that would lock the mystery into a single venue. God the spirit is in all of these places and containable in none. The manna will not keep. Those who would worship this spirit must “worship in spirit and truth.”

That preposition “in” is revelatory. What is this space of spirit, this truth-space? Surely not something that we find ourselves in, as in a jar or a house.

“You have set my feet in a broad place.” (Ps. 31:8)

“If God‘s Spirit,” comments Jurgen Moltmann, “is experienced as this broad, open space for living conferred on created beings, then it is easy to understand the spatial designations which declare that people live ‘in’ God’s Spirit, and experience God spatially as ‘breadth.’ ”

This is a “way-ward spirit.” Its mobile, animating spatiality is comprised not of territories to be guarded or invaded, but of a process of interactivity. Not just any interactive process, but one characterised by the flow of truth.

Process theology has shown that we do not exist outside of our relationships. We become who we are only in relation: we are network creatures. But how often do our relationships radiate the unexpected honesty of this well-side dialogue? To “worship in spirit and in truth” is to be in our world of relationships, but differently. Worthily. Our word “worship” comes from the Old English “weorthscipe,” “weorth” (worthy), and means: “to attribute worth to someone, to esteem another’s being.”

As a leading preacher and liturgical scholar has taught us, “If “weorthscipe” is grounded in the relationships that sustain our lives as worthy.”

Such worship is not a cringing genuflection before an alien power but an intimate interaction that endows all participants with worth. A long-shamed woman by a well glows with worth in the exchange, knowing herself valued and glimpsing the bottomless source of all value. Our often edgy and unsatisfactory relations to each other get touched by a meaning beyond themselves. Our limited networks suddenly seem to open into that which infinitely exceeds them. The touch of truth may not cure our losses. It can, however, redeem them for the open future. For that future, if it’s truly open, opens into the God within whom all process happens.

The Johannine narrative betrays traces of a way beyond the mirror-play of absolutism and relativism. It wells up from within, it flows between, it blows from without. But this truth is not to be had. To own the truth is to lose it. The flow of truth is in this text the movement of the holy spirit in the world. Spirit and truth together name the fluidity of a process that we cannot possess, neither in propositions nor in practices, neither in creeds nor in prayers. We belong within it. It does not belong to us. This testimonial truth is a relation, not a possession. It is a way, not an end. It is not a processed proposition but a proposal for an endless process. Are you and I not taking part in it even now? Do we begin to go dry when we cease to realise it within and among us?

Vicious Conversation

I am getting really depressed about the bitter discourse between people of different views in the world today. The name-calling is childish.

For a start, with respect to the ongoing debate about abortion, it is obvious that the majority of those who hold to the “pro-life” position are most definitely not the evil “life-haters” that some who hold to the “pro-choice” position are calling them on social media and elsewhere. They have thought about the issues just as much (or as little) as their opponents have thought about them. If you agreed with them you would regard them as good people of integrity and applaud their dedication and tenacity. If you cannot see that then bitterness has rendered you blind.

Secondly, partially in respect of the same matter, if someone was to talk about black people, gay people, the disabled, women or any other group, in the same way many of my female friends are talking about men at the moment, that person would be reprimanded severely by all those with even a basic attachment to the politically correct. They would end up as Billy No Mates in the online neighbourhoods I hang around.

Yesterday somebody on a thread I was following commented that “men” thought “women do not matter.” Well, bollocks, that is simply not true. I have spent my whole life believing that women matter very much indeed and I am no feminist saint. If I think women matter, then most men do, because I am no different to most men. There is also much insistence around the place that men are all sexual predators who force themselves upon women. Again, nothing is further from the truth. Most men are actually fearful of coming across as too pushy and even more men are terrified of being rejected to the extent that their initial sexual advances are very tentative, to say the least.

Of course, there are men that think women do not matter and there are men who do not take no for an answer when pursuing their lustful inclinations. However, I would bet my second to bottom dollar that these same men do not believe anyone matters except themselves and regularly abuse other people, whatever their gender, to get what they want. I would bet my absolutely bottom dollar that there are women in the world who behave in a similar way.

We have gone well past becoming what we once hated. Nastiness rules everywhere.

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

From “The Way”
by Jones E. Stanley, 1884-1973

We come now to the question of guidance. The Way is the way of the God-guided life.

Usually, men are guided by one or more of these things:
(I) By what others do.
(2) By chance happenings.
(3) By superstitious’ beliefs.
(4) By impulses.
(5) Sometimes by conscience.
(6) Occasionally by God.

But the one who is on the Way is on the way to God. God has direction of his life.

How does God guide?

Obviously, God must guide us in a way that will develop spontaneity in us. The development of character, rather than direction in this, that and the other matter, must be the primary purpose of the Father. He will guide us, but he won’t override us. That fact should make us use with caution the method of sitting down with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper to write down the instructions dictated by God for the day. Suppose a parent would dictate to the child minutely everything he is to do during the day. The child would be stunted under that regime. The parent must guide in such a manner, and to the degree, that autonomous character, capable of making right decisions for itself, is produced. God does the same.

When our daughter was married, I wrote her: “I hope I shall never be in the way and never out of the way.”

I would be there when needed.

And yet, having said that, I hasten to add that the guidance of God is more intimate than God standing by in case of need. It is willing co-operation. God gives us autonomy and then we deliberately choose to cooperate with him on the basis that he is the managing director. He has the first, middle and last word and we are glad to have it so. For his will is our highest interest.

“Thy hands made and moulded me, to understand thine orders.” (Ps. 119:73, Moffatt.)

We are inwardly made to “understand” and to do the “orders” of God. And when we do them, we are free; free because fulfilled. Guidance then is guidance into our highest development and achievement. It is also guidance into liberty, for when we do the will of God, we are free. The will of God is always our will at its best.

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