Oct 072008

Yesterday’s class was a whistlestop tour of the main phases of Biblical Interpretation since the first century. Interesting enough but nothing earth-shattering. It was followed, though, by an interesting discussion on more recent approaches to scripture. Much as the traditional historical-critical methods are useful and interesting, I struggle with some of the inherent flaws present in the method.

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Aug 222008

Stewart is currently mulling over a discussion topic for this year’s Church of Scotland National Youth Assembly. Unsurprisingly its focus is on the use of media and technology in a church setting. Unsurprisingly I remain to be convinced of its effectiveness. That’s not to say that I don’t think it’s useful. Rather, I’m not convinced that it’s useful yet.

Web2.0 evangelists would have you believe that by making things, like the web, more interactive and with the ability to contribute then that is ‘a good thing’. Now, in a sense I don’t disagree. The ability to share information and knowledge is, I believe, a very good thing indeed. One of my own personal hobby-horses is theological education (it’s lacking and, what’s more, it’s getting drowned in a sea of voices usurping the language). The ability to educate, through technology has to be a good thing. But the big problem I see is that, whilst we are uneducated we are non-discriminatory. Everything becomes ‘valid’, information overload is a reality and rather than being turned on to education, many are turned off. “Just tell me what to think” becomes their mantra. In a Christian context this means not questioning economic policy, tolerating injustice or marginalising those who can’t cope.

The problem with technology is that it does those very things – it marginalises those who cannot understand or use it; it has an insatiable ‘upgrade’ appetite; it favours those who ‘have’. All of which are, or at least should be, anathema to the Christian community. But that doesn’t mean that technology is, in and of itself, ‘bad’; just that it needs to become more egalitarian and imaginative.

I believe that one of the fundamental works of the Christian church is to build ‘community’. Scripture’s repeated reporting of ‘God’s people’ isn’t an example of exclusivity, but an encouragement to be inclusive as we are, surely, all God’s children? Community means so much and it’s such a huge, all-encompassing term that I wouldn’t even attempt to define it here. In the discussion on Stewart’s blog, he suggest that the members of Second Life do have a sense of community. I’m sure they do, but the question is, is it a model of Christian community? I don’t think it is. It relies on pretending to be something/one else for a start. God accepts us as we are. Where is the irl (in real life) fellowship? Meeting virtually seriously undermines your opportunities to really get to know someone. How do you build a relationship of trust with someone you have never met? (And yes, I do note the implications of that statement with regards to a Christian’s faith in God, but that’s what the Trinity is all about). So, useful, yes. But certainly never a substitute for ‘real’ relationships. (Not that Stewart is suggesting technology should be, I hasten to add.)

But back to the earlier point of information v. knowledge. I was sitting in a waiting room the other day and the radio was on. It was the hourly news bulletin and a lady nearby was showing no particular interest until an report came on about a ‘celeb’ having been recently diagnosed with cancer. At this she cocked an ear, looked shocked and then somewhat sad. World events were of no consequence, but a ‘celeb’ with an illness was earth-shattering. But why was this even news? If you walk down the high street in any town you’ll pass a significant number of people with a terminal illness. None of them make the news. At best, such ‘news’ is information. But because it is presented as ‘news’ then we are trained to think of it as such. We become non-discriminatory and treat all information as of equal value. Then, inevitably, we ignore it because it eventually has no value.

Where’s this going? Stewart also mentioned that ‘tags’ are set to become a major aspect of how we deal with information. They certainly have the potential to be, but are just as readily open to abuse. Tags then become useless and we then rely on technologies to scrape information from web pages. Not so long ago Google got slammed for doing just that and searches for news ended up returning millions of blog pages and feed aggregators talking about the news and not the news itself. Where technology really needs to develop is in the processing of information. Or we have to become more intelligent and discriminatory in our finding and using information. And that brings us back to the point of needing to think for ourselves and to learn through interaction and so we’re back at community again.

As I said on Stewart’s blog, I don’t think technology is wrong, but I think we need to be a lot more imaginative in its use. In this respect I would entirely agree with his comment that it is through the creative misuse of it that will drive future development.

To address Stewart’s question, maybe what the church needs to do with technology isn’t so much jump on existing social media bandwagons but be a lot more creative in its thinking and drive new uses (misuses) of technology. But then that would require the church to be inventive and creative and radical and I think it would need to discover those things first (which it is doing in places). I think it has forgotten, in many respects, just how radical the Gospel is and should be.

Just to end on an ironic note. Earlier this week I was participating in a follow-up survey about e-learning being done by Dr Constantinos Athanasopoulos. He was most enthusiastic when he learned I use a blog for journalling (so if you’re dropping in from there, hello!). So I’m not a luddite really. I would just like to see technology used for the benefit of others rather than the promotion of some.

Jun 282008

Not me, but both daughters. Only problem is that they have to be at Glasgow airport before 4am tomorrow, so it’s a case of grabbing a few hours rest and heading off very early and putting up with the inevitable overnight roadworks.

And where are they off to? Malawi, via Amsterdam and Nairobi, for a 2 week visit to a school that Falkirk High School has links with. You can keep tabs on it all on their website. There’s a group of 12 pupils and 4 teachers going for what, I suspect, will be an eye-opening, life-changing adventure. I’m a little jealous – I’d love to be going but that’s maybe a trip for the future.

The school they are visiting, an all-girls secondary, was established on a mission station by the schoolteacher wife of the missionary. She, Mamie Martin, just happens to be the grandmother of one of the teachers who is going. The school has a very Christian ethos with many meetings often opening with prayers. The group will be expected to attend church on Sunday as well. Not a problem for my two and a few others but it may be interesting to see how the others in the group react to an African church.

Anyway, this is just me killing time. I really should go and do another ‘kit inspection’ and grab some rest.

Jun 152008

Not long back from Crossover.

Although the numbers were well down this year, there was still a great atmosphere and most things went well. Interestingly, even though the numbers were down, the activities were still very busy. It was just that there were fewer groups simply hanging around.

The labyrinth we ran was good, with only one ‘dissenting’ voice. It’s fascinating to hear youth leaders comment on their ‘hyperactive’ kids as they watch them sit through fairly lengthy ‘meditations’. And the reaction from the kids themselves is always encouraging. Even the ones that you’d perhaps label as being ‘uninterested’ come out saying how great it was.

Highlight of the weekend? Quite possibly the thrashy, rock version of ‘How great Thou art’.

Will comment more later after I’ve had some sleep. Although it was a great weekend, there were still a lot of points worth chewing over.

May 292008

On my blog feeds yesterday, my attention was caught by a couple of video clips. They’re of Reggie McNeal, from Fuller Theological Seminary, addressing a Reformed church conference. I do encourage you to listen to all of it, but if you don’t have the time, at least catch the first 10 to 15 minutes of the first one. They obviously have a US bias, but they’re a message, I think, for all of us.

May 092008

I was at a funeral today. I had been asked to help out setting up the sound desk to play some cds through and mic up a singer and guitarist who were doing a tribute song.

You’ve probably already surmised that it was the funeral for a young person and Ross was just over eighteen when his car (which he had been licensed to drive for around 2 weeks) came into intimate contact with a tree, killing him, the sole occupant. The tree was on the other side of a sharp corner after a very long straight on a back road near me.

I can’t remember seeing the church so busy. Pretty much full downstairs and very busy in the gallery. Probably well over 500 people there, mostly young adults. The couple playing the tribute song were, I thought, very brave. Paul, the guitarist, was excellent. Josie is a beautiful singer and only lost it a little towards the end. The song they sang was “Hear you me (May angels lead you in)” (video here) and it was, I thought, a beautiful and fitting tribute. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

There were a couple of traditional hymns as well and one of them provided a major ‘cringe’ moment. The hymn was ‘One more step along the road I go’. The second verse begins:

“Round the corner of the road I turn,
More and more about the road I learn…”

It doesn’t really get any better either. I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of the song given the circumstances of Ross’s death. It’s up there with ‘Colours of day’ at a cremation for cringe-factor (if you don’t know the song, look up the lyrics and you’ll see why).

That said, the whole funeral was sensitively handled with a good balance struck between allowing what friends and family wanted with the recognition that it was still a Christian service. Ross’s grandfather is an elder in our church but I’m not aware of any other church connections in the family.

And a final observation.

Wearing black to a funeral is very traditional and respectful. Given the age group of most of those gathered though, ‘something black’ generally meant ‘little black dress/skirt’.

I’m sure Ross would have approved.

Mar 292008

I’m churning over some sermon ideas at the moment (pulpit supply in my home church on the evening of the 13th of April) and, following through a particular line of thought, a small section of the Beatitudes popped into my head:

Mat 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

It struck me that the balance of these verses is not that we are light so that we may see, but rather that our light is there to be seen. A tiny candle-flame will be seen for miles on the darkest night for all that it does not cause the path before us to be illuminated. For that we need to bring the light to bear in a much more personal way.

Joh 8:12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Mar 292008

It’s a lengthy read, but let me commend a post across at internetmonk.com. I think it presents a very well-balanced view of what, for many Christians, is a struggle to come to terms with – how to deal with the issue of homosexuality. There are no ‘solutions’ offered, just a presentation of the main issues and an appeal to remember our true defining characteristic – imago dei, not our man-made labels.

Mar 182008

Warning – this may well turn into a rant (but, hey! it’s my blog).

For the last few years my church has combined with two others in the area to share Holy Week services. One church is Baptist, the other Brethren – all three evangelical. The services are often a bit hit or miss when it comes to quality but I wonder if I’m getting too critical. I find myself picking up on ‘little things’ that irritate me – or rather, I hear something that makes me think, “wait a minute!” and that sets the tone for the rest of the sermon. The shame of it is that I end up focussing on the negative and sidelining the positive.

Tonight’s one combined my pet hates of dodgy theology and poor Powerpoint use. To be honest the Powerpoint wasn’t too bad, but it could have been a lot better. But there’s no excuse for dodgy theology. But, to be fair, it wasn’t too bad unless, like me, you’re a bit nit-picky. It’s not so much what was said, but what wasn’t said. The sermon theme was “Why the cross?”. One of the points made was that the cross shows God’s love for us. God, Himself (as God), suffers on the cross to show us that He’s prepared even to suffer for us to show His love. What’s wrong with that? you may ask. My issue with it is that it’s all God – by which I mean that there’s no humanity. Jesus is portrayed as entirely divine. That has all sorts of implications for the meaning of the cross. It has all sorts of implications about the nature of Jesus and God and the Trinity. Had it been counterbalanced by a consideration of the humanity of Jesus then I wouldn’t be having this rant now, but it wasn’t. Maybe liking systematic theology is a bad thing after all.

And while I’m on the subject of these services, one of them has communion. But it’s on Friday! I feel that that sets the entirely wrong tone. Holy Week is about reflecting on the journey to the cross and on to the resurrection. We ‘stop’ at key events during that journey. One of them is the Last Supper and that happens the day before Good Friday. The Last Supper and its communion commemoration is not the culmination of the week. The cross should be the focus for Good Friday. If I was being really harsh I could suggest that having communion on Good Friday gives passing credence to an RC understanding of the Eucharist as a ‘re-enactment’ of the sacrifice of the cross. Then again, communion is a remembrance of the body broken and the blood shed on the cross, so, in a sense, Good Friday is an appropriate day to remember. But it still doesn’t ‘feel right’. It misses out on the significance of the meal the evening before (although, maybe we could do some foot-washing instead). It conflates too much into a single day. I think the sense of ‘time’ needs to be maintained – that it didn’t just happen all at once; the whole sequence of events was purposeful, not some mad rush to fit everything in.

Anyway, rant over and having got it out of my system, maybe I do need to be less critical, or at least avoid having the ‘hmmm’ bits overwhelm the rest.

Mar 122008

After my last foray into hell, David Reimer kindly pointed me to an article by Tim Keller reproduced from Christianity Today. I’ve finally had a chance to look it over and, rather than tag it on to the other topic, I though it merited separate discussion.

I think I can see what the article is getting at – contextualise how you speak about hell. Keller identifies two groups – traditionalists and postmoderns – who need to have hell explained differently. For traditionalists, the focus is on the horror of hell, but used as a demonstration of God’s love for us. Jesus endured hell so that we don’t need to. He says, “When Jesus was cut off from God, he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. And he did it voluntarily, for us.” I have one major issue with the phrasing of this – “when Jesus was cut off from God…” Is the Trinity separable? Setting this aside though, I can see what he is getting at. A traditionalist will accept the hellfire and brimstone image, but the point they need to take away is not the fear of hell, but the love of God. Which raises the following question – “Is our preaching of the love of God adequate to overcome the fear of hell?”

For postmoderns, Keller has an interesting characterisation – a ‘vague’ belief in God and little sense of moral absolutes. I’m not sure that that’s an altogether accurate characterisation or more of a caricature, but again, setting that aside, his approach here is very different. Keller seems to be suggesting that hell is not the fire and brimstone place of the traditionalists at all, but rather a ‘state of mind’ or perhaps more accurately, a ‘state of soul’.

So, the big question is, is it a place or a ‘state’. The answer seems to be, “that depends”. Do we create our own hell?

I also think Keller makes a major omission here. He speaks of traditionalists and postmoderns, but I don’t think I fall into his characterisations of either group, so where would I fit? Modern perhaps? Or something else? Either way, moderns are a pretty major grouping who, arguably, need yet another approach. They want the rational, the scientific, the explicable. But then, where does God fit into that lot?

Overall I think I found Keller’s article ‘unsatisfying’. But maybe that’s because I’m a postmodern looking for definite answers.