Friday, January 28, 2005


The apostle Paul starts many of his letters with the phrase 'grace and peace', but most Christians are perhaps more familiar with grace than peace.

One of Ekklesia’s partners, the Anabaptist Network has produced a study guide for churches that explores what it would mean to take peace as seriously as grace - in worship, church life, work, witness and engagement with social issues.

This is not a booklet about pacifism but about the call of Jesus to be people of peace. What would it mean to become 'peace churches?' What resources might such churches offer a violent world that struggles with conflict?

The guide accompanies a booklet Becoming a Peace Church, which the network recently published, and is one of a number of short courses for local churches that have been developed by the Anabaptist Network.

You can view the study guide in a pdf format by clicking here and download or print off your own copy.

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Thursday, January 27, 2005


This from Margaret Killingray in the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity newsletter:

"Because Auschwitz was liberated 60 years ago [this] week, we are asked to remember how an urbane, civilised, Christian, European nation murdered intentionally, with planned and systematic efficiency, millions upon millions of men women and children. It is a haunting memory that raises many tormenting questions.

"But for Christians one important and significant question has to be why the large and influential churches of 1930s Germany, both protestant and Catholic, did not play a far more dramatic role in opposing the plainly evil programmes that were enacted. In an article in the Church Times in April 1995, Professor John Conway of the University of British Columbia, attempted to answer this question.

"He mentioned the pervasive sense of fear, the over-developed habit of social control that led to a deep reluctance to oppose authority. He showed that the churches were overwhelmingly swept up by the expectation of national renewal and deeply anti-Semitic.

"However, his main contention was that ‘the German churches did not possess the kinds of theology adequate to sustain any critical attack on the actions of their political rulers’. It may be wishful thinking to believe that the churches could have forced Hitler to act differently, but if only they had tried.

"That failure and other 20th century failures that have shamed Christians (Rwanda, racism in the USA, apartheid in South Africa) have made our witness that much more difficult. To ensure that such things are not repeated, we, the church of Christ, have a deep responsibility to make our voice heard and to stand up to inhumanity and racism from any kind of power, including the state.

"Above all, we need a profound understanding of the gospel. At the cross Jesus was crushed for our iniquities and there is no evil that humans can do that cannot be forgiven. However, those who have been forgiven in Christ are called to challenge wickedness in his name, and that can be very costly as those who did challenge Hitler found."

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Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy…

William Shakespeare
from The Merchant of Venice

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005


One recent correspondent expressed surprise "that a theologian should link to the news reporting of the National Secular Society." I can't think why. It's a rich source of material. Why NSS were even decent enough to plug my Jerry Springer piece a couple of weeks ago. And I'm content to stand with others against "the stifling censors of the religious right", even if their reasons for doing so are differently-shaped to mine.

Of course I know some 'secularists' behave as if they had a vested interest in portraying all religious thought as irrational, and faith as an irretrievable antonym of reason. Frankly I don't think they do themselves any favours when they do this. But it's their call. And I can well sympathise with the anger and frustration that religion can cause, because I've experienced it myself. It's still more productive and honest to challenge each other in our best guises rather than our worst, though I know how easy that is to say and how difficult to do.

But none of our problems in hearing each other as we would like to be heard should be allowed to detract from the fact that a serious, well-tempered conversation between thoughtful Christians and thoughtful humanists can only be enriching, though not easy -- given the politics of religion and public life and the way it encourages us to stack our arguments in 'opposing camps'.

Much the same applies in terms of theology and atheism, it seems to me, where the people keenest to bang on in the God-Notgod 'debate' are usually people in some odd time warp of analytical philosophy and pre-Heideggerian metaphysics. They're either blissfully unaware of how things have moved on in philosophy through phenomenology and narrative/linguistic thinking, or they hate "continental thought" because it doesn't allow them to 'win' in the way they think they ought to.

Meanwhile, free-thinkers on all sides who prefer an exchange-of-difference to a war-of-position can go on thinking freely. And, I’d suggest, working together to take on those who seem to want to take the responsibility of freedom away. But for this we will need something a lot tougher than 'tolerance'. Do we have the courage and willingness to talk about it?

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People sometimes ask me what criteria I use for including something in my links. Usually the question comes when someone who knows me finds a comment on a page pointed from this site that they think I won't agree with. Well, so be it. Thankfully (if painfully, on occasions) the net is difficult to police for ideological purity.

Mainly I enjoy passing on to readers of FaithInSociety websites, blogs, places and portals that I've found stimulating. Which is anything "worth arguing with", not just stuff that makes me feel cosy... though there's plenty of that, naturally... ;-)

At their best, weblogs reflect and create a micro community of learning -- a zone of commitment, debate and dialogue within which faith can be reasoned, reason can be faithed, and the search for Good News and for a just peace can be continued. I find that neighbours who share this task, this conversation and this quest wear different labels and none.

Generally, I do like to link to people who are generous enough to link to me. Sometimes I forget. Often, in fact. This has been the case until recently with Dan Walters, whose site includes valuable musings on the Gospel and justice, emergent church, post-evangelicalism and more. Also Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Texas. And others you'll discover if you trawl a bit. Incidentally, Dan has a good links section himself.

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Monday, January 24, 2005


Recently I went to see the English National Opera staged version of Michael Tippett's haunting oratorio, A Child Of Our Time. For those who don't know it, it is based on the events leading up to Kristallnacht during the Nazi terror. In place of the traditional Bachian chorales there sit five Africa-American Spirituals, wonderfully orchestrated into a piece of Western art music that pays more than lipservice to vernacular forms.

Tippett was not a Christian in any conventional sense. He was a Jungian-influenced humanist mystic, you might say; someone of humanity, courage, humour, faith and hope -- politically committed to the dispossessed, a pacifist imprisoned for his concientious objection, and a person of extravagent and intense artistic vision.

From such people we often get far more profound theological remarks than from those of self-regarding piety. An article by Dennis Marks in the ENO programme (see also my music weblog, NewFrontEars) drew my attention to an incredibly powerful comment Tippett made to his friend David Ayerst shortly before the completion of Child.

I have of course not the slightest idea where healing will come [from] because the moment of complete dereliction for the Christian civilization has probably not been reached and so the moment of God's voice from the whirlwind has not come. Though perhaps the whirlwind has come! And that is the only kernel of truth I see - that God will be found in the refuse bin as of old - the stone that has been thrown away.

Goodness. I am considering the possibility of a book on 'God After Christendom'. This will certainly be its opening quotation. Strong echoes of Bonhoeffer, among others.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005


Via St Matthews-in-the-City in Auckland, New Zealand, I recently discovered Tui Motu magazine, an independent Catholic publication with ecumenical instincts. Its editor is Michael Hill.

It describes itself thus: "Tui Motu is an exciting and challenging journal. We invite readers to question, debate and reflect on spiritual and social issues in the light of gospel values with the aim of creating a more just and peaceful society. 'Tui Motu' is a Maori phrase meaning 'stitching the islands together'... bringing different races, faiths and opinions into relationship."

Unfortunately only the leading article is available on-line at the moment. Perhaps it will in future consider offering back-material to web viewers in order to meet an international audience -- in keeping with its fine ethos.

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Friday, January 21, 2005


As well as news about heroic deeds and passionate pleas, there has been some dreadful material on the tsunami up on the web from many religious quarters. Some tunnel-visioned Christians, Muslims, Hindus and others are eager to portray the tragic events as a divine judgment, or to seek religious capital for some of their more outrageous doctrinal claims.

How sad this is. I've ventured into the field myself, with an article about the theological questions (Is God A Disaster?), a comment on Christ and suffering, a news statement on behalf of CCOM about exploitative proselytism, and, of course the tsunami prayer page - which seeks to pull together a range of the good resources that are out there in cyberspace.

I was much cheered yesterday by a fine, forthright journalistic piece from the pen of E. Allen Campbell, Tsunami theology for dummies. This rightly lacerates the 'theological gobbledygook' that's around on the subject. I hope my stuff doesn't count for that, but I'm happy and willing to stand corrected.

Anyway, Campbell, whose entertaining Wolverton Mountain articles I'm linking under my 'godBlogs' section (hope this isn't too much of a misnomer), says this, inter alia:

"In spite of cutting across all religious beliefs, the truly dumbest theological statement that I heard in the wake of the tsunami was made by a white, American woman in her mid-twenties who avoided being counted with the tens of thousands less fortunate. Upon her return to the States, she ascribed her escaping the fate of so many others to her God saving her.

"While we don't normally make the soundest theological statements having just avoided such a traumatic event, she and her listeners need nonetheless to reexamine her theology. It is way off the mark.

"Think about how that statement sounds. Here is a young, white Christian, affluent, American tourist, who believes that God hovered over the raging tower of cascading water, spotted her amongst the hundreds of thousands facing drowning, and intervened on her behalf to rescue her. What is wrong with that belief? Do you really think that God selected this one gal for rescue? I'd like to know what she did or believed to have this special deus ex machina treatment from God.

"What does that theological picture paint for us? God rescues someone who can afford to vacation in some Asian paradise and allows tens of thousands of others to perish- mothers who couldn't save their children or fathers who couldn't protect their families already on the lowest rung of the poverty ladder. Get real."

Absolutely. See also Giles Fraser on this subject.

Archbishop Rowan Williams' attempts at straightforward communication about things like the tsunami are often said to be 'above the heads' of people in the pews. If that's so it is surely a terrible commentary on the illiteracy that passes for Christian learning in many of our churches, not least those where people who are apparently capable of erudition in their professional fields suddenly turn to intellectual jelly when it comes to their faith.

What a huge challenge this is.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005


From time to time people ask me what theologians I'm inspired by or interested in. I'm tempted to say that it depends on what I'm reading at the time! But there are some voices that reach me regularly and consistently. From the past that has to include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the much-missed John Howard Yoder, and the revolutionary-philosopher-Christian mystic Simone Weil.

These days it would be voices as diverse as Rowan Williams, Sharon Ringe, John D. Caputo, Walter Brueggemann, Merlod Westphal, Jean-Luc Marion, Stanley Hauerwas, Charles Winquist, Alasdair MacIntyre, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Douglas John Hall and Keith Ward.

This set me thinking. I should include some permanent links to these people. So here they are (see left). I've also included some friends and colleagues - Nick Adams, Chris Rowland, Giles Fraser, Bert Hoedemaker and Peter Selby... but sadly others (like Ruth Page, Martyn Atkins and Ken Leech) don't have a centrifugal web presence yet, in spite of their significance.

Three obvious reflections: First, there's no dominant 'school' in any of this. I'm moved by creative biblical theologians, by unsystematic-systematisers and by writers operating on the borders of theology and continental philosophy. Second, a number of these people would find it difficult to agree on many things if they were in the same room! Third, women and non-Western writers are underepresented: though actually that's not true in my library overall, thankfully.

I've stuck with the discipline of including only writers whose work I've read pretty widely... and who seem to me to have something distinctive and important to say in contemporary debates.

As for the diversity: well, the divine economy is indeed broad, rich, stimulating and challenging. Deo gracia.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2005


As the ineluctable appeal of the car-crash reality TV that is Channel 4's 'Celebrity Big Brother' traces itself across our screens, an acute comment (below) from Andrew J. McKenna from a fabulous review article on Derrida and Barth. It's about the fake transcendence that resides at the heart of "amusing ourselves to death" (Neil Postgate). Not nearly as fusty as the curious journal First Things can be, either. Thank goodness.

Incidentally, I was hooked by CBB during the glorious five days when, astonishingly, feminist theorist and critic Germaine Greer appeared on it -- only to attempt a failed revolution and then disappear from the ether.

Now Greer is no Susan Sontag (as someone uncharitably but accurately pointed out on BBC2's 'Newsnight Review'), but I still love her for her passion, wit, obstinacy and angularity. As she rightly said to critics of the Big Brother phenomenon: "It isn't the end of the world, it is the world."

Germaine hasn't got anything like as firm a grasp on the true meaning of the "churning shod" of modern cultural detritus as someone like Charlie Brooker (his Screen Burn: TV with its face torn off, Faber/Guardian Books, 2005 is quite the most excruciatingly funny read you'll ever come across) ... but she messed up the BB agenda for a bit. Which was fun.

Anyway, back to McKenna...

"Nietzsche may have had philosophical reasons for rejecting belief in God, but the relentless shrillness of his references to Christianity and Judaism does not derive from philosophical reason. By the time Nietzsche wrote at the end of the nineteenth century, it was no big deal to sneer at God and his churches (though Baudelaire had regarded it as a churlish audacity only a generation earlier). But those who celebrate God's death are left with a purely worldly transcendence. And this worldly transcendence - expressed in the unforgiving competition for public recognition and celebrity - has no antidote to rivalry, precisely because rivalry is its operating principle. Signing himself "the crucified" in his final correspondence, Nietzsche was at last drawn into an insane attempt at rivalry with Jesus and the Gospels."

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Monday, January 17, 2005


This from Roy Dorey of Heythrop College, University of London, about the Philemon Group. It was wonderful to connect with Roy again after a number of years -- at the British Liberating Theologies Now gathering in Crewe last year. Also Bruce Stokes of Brandon Baptist Church.

"The letter to Philemon is one of the most radical books in the New Testament. It is about changing attitudes and changing behaviour. Philemon, through his experience was having to face up to being a Christian in his world. This website is committed to that same radical way of looking at things. All change is difficult and the Christian faith demands changes that can be very difficult indeed. We believe that God not only demands this of us, but gives us the help and the grace to make it all possible."

The first meeting took place on Friday 13 September 2002 at Queen's College, Oxford, hosted by Professor Christopher Rowland, who is a specialist in liberation theology and Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford. The next meeting will be on Friday 22 April 2005.

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The advent of Martin Luther King Day creates the opportunity of this apposite quotation:

"We are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside. But one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

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Saturday, January 01, 2005


This resource page added to my site. Hope it's useful.

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This, from Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches USA, just about sums up the mood.

"We are deeply shocked and grieved at the unprecedented death and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunamis in South and Southeast Asia. Our hearts are with those whose loved ones perished, homes were destroyed, and futures left in a precarious balance.

"Despite the horror of the events, we remind ourselves that we are in the season of Christmas when we are particularly aware of the peace of the Christ-child. In that spirit we extend ourselves to our sisters and brothers in Asia and seek to stand in solidarity during this time of great tragedy."

One heartening factor is the massive response from the churches and other agencies of other faith and good faith.

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