Archive for May, 2012

Here are a few moving tributes posted over the weekend.


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Late last night I heard the news that Walter Wink had died.

Today is a sad day. Like many others around the world Wink’s scholarly work has had an impact way beyond the typical academic reactions of interest, engagement, antithesis or synthesis. Wink’s work is a great example of scholarship in service of the Kingdom of God, good writing and teaching as a medium of human transformation by the Holy Spirit.

Wink is best known for his “Powers” trilogy, which are books that I have read over and over again. His writing style is clear and easy to read, and his writing content is relentlessly bold and challenging as he faces up to his own transformation under the lens of scripture and offers the possibility to the reader of a similar transformative experience.

When I came to Wink from a strongly charismatic background I had already met some very other-wordly interpretations of the language of power in the NT. Yes I remember all night prayer meetings to “bind the principalities and powers”. Wink’s contribution to the subject was two fold. First of all he uncovers the thoroughly political and institutional nature of the powers language, but secondly and vitally he does not let the demythologising move be the conclusion. No, he then goes back into the gospels and Paul to revisit the mode of engaging with the powers, and via some Jungian psychology and modern non-violence praxis he finds Jesus and Paul’s very spiritual promise and challenge that the powers may be overcome. This brings the NT from a flat, monochrome text into a dazzling three dimensional vision of God’s work in history paradigmatically through the life and execution of Jesus and by the power of the resurrection / Pentecost through the life and witness of a radical new transformed community of fully human beings.

I recently preached on two thirds of the well known Winkian exegesis of the three-fold examples of enemy-love in Matthew 5. I will dedicate the final third to the memory of this truly great follower of Jesus and whole Human Being. I do not know June Keener-Wink, but his widow is today in my heart.

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Born this way

One of the least helpful aspects of the current debate on the legalisation of same-sex marriage concerns the level of uncritical thinking around the issue of sexual orientation.

One side, lets call then side A today, argues that sexual orientation is a genetic predisposition to romantic feelings towards a particular gender. They assert that this predisposition is present at birth and usually finds expression around puberty. There is lots of scientific evidence for side A in humans and animals. The corollary of side A is that orientation is just like race or gender and should therefore be protected or at least not discriminated against.

The other side, who today will be side 1, argues that sexual behaviour is a choice of the free will, which when repeatedly exercised forms habits and enduring preferences. They assert that these choices / habits are influenced by environmental factors from birth and usually find expression around puberty. There is lots of scientific evidence for side 1 in humans and other sophisticated mammals. The corollary of side 1 is that orientation is just like a religion or an ethical belief such as vegetarianism and should fall outside of the scope of the protection or prohibition of the law.

There are Christians who hold side A and side 1 positions on the science. Their positions, not unstrangely, typically coincide with their theological presuppositions on sexual morals, although they do not coincide cleanly with their hermeneutical stances, as you can find both pro- and anti- arguments in the Bible.

My beef with this whole set-up is that when it comes to most other issues in life we have come to realise that nature and culture, genetics and experience come together in irrational ways to construct our beliefs, preferences, choices and identity. The idea of free will has taken quite a bashing in the academia of psychology in recent decades. How much am I really making choices every moment of every day, and to what extent am I doing (a) what I have always done, (b) what the advertisers want me to do, (c) what I see my peers doing, (d) what I was born to do, (e) what I have come to like doing, (f) what I’d rather not do, but have got into that habit of doing, (g) what I explicitly think I chose to do, (h) what seems to me to be the only thing to do, (i) what my nation regards as normal,(j) what I do after having a really sugary meal, (j) what I do when I hear a really provocative comment …etc.

Our choices, actions, preferences and orientations are not some robotic code which were written into our hard drive when we were programmed. Nor are we making thousands of balanced informed choices every day. We just get through life carried along by the big tides and smaller currents and occasional swimming a few strokes in one direction or surfing a wave in another. Most of the significant events in my life arose from some pretty flukey coincidences. Certainly the chances of my meeting with Katie shortly before we fell in love were highly improbable. The chain of events that lead to my current job were a mixture of chance, my own efforts and the preferences of others (they liked me more at interview etc).

Anytime I hear someone polarise the debate into “I was born this way” or “You chose this”, I feel we have lost something significant. Life is a muddle of strong and weak forces. I don’t hold that free will is a complete illusion, but I do think that most of us overestimate the extent to which we are in control of our lives.

The final point on this post for now is that in the modern west, whether it “exists” or not, sexual orientation has become a thing. It is a thing that people feel is important to them. As such we should tread carefully before relabeling their thing as something we think it is rather than something they feel it is. To do otherwise is an act of violence, and unworthy of the followers of the Man of Peace.

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Well the North Carolingians voted yesterday to further ban something that was already illegal under NC state law. I guess I’ll never understand US politics. The blogosphere has lit up with some great posts and some emotional comments in reaction. Rachel Held Evans is typically incisive with hers http://rachelheldevans.com/win-culture-war-lose-generation-amendment-one-north-carolina, in which she laments the damage done in waging cultural war on these issues. She particularly highlights the generational gap in attitudes on the issue. It leads me to think that even if the conservatives are in some theological or moral way “right” on the issue, they have already lost the debate by the way they have used dominating power over their opponents and used such a bullying (and un-Christlike) tone.

Brian Le Port gets it right on Near Emmaus with his three questions that seek to separate the ethical, hermeneutical and political elements of the debate.
http://nearemmaus.com/2012/05/09/christians-homosexuality-and-the-president-of-the-united-states, I like his take on it and have joined in with some thinking about the primacy of the political when it comes to an issue such as Amendment One, even though Christians may have need for a different answer on the ethical and hermeneutical aspects when it comes to issues such as personal conduct or local Church polity.

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Acts 16:30-31 has the well known couplet “What must I do to be saved” Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”

I suppose many of us have heard these words wrenched out of their context, to lend support to a soterian sermon, that posits the utterance of a “sinners prayer” to secure the deliver of an eternal “get out of hell free – live forever in some Olympus-like afterlife with all your favourite relatives”.

I like Tom Wright’s jaunty paraphrase of the dialogue. He reminds us that the scene takes place at midnight in a jail. There has just been an earthquake so violent that doors flew open (cue Michael Caine exclamation from Italian Job), The jailer, seeing this draws his sword and is about to kill himself, when he hears Paul calling out from the dust and rubble that they were still there. Wright’s rendering of the next line went something like “Gentlemen, will you please tell me how to get out of this mess?”

We later learn that the jailer does not go through with his suicide and is therefore in one very practical sense saved. We also learn that the next day Paul and Silas stand before the magistrate, and the jailer probably thereby keeps his job – he and his family are saved the destitution and risk that would have followed his dismissal. We also learn that the jailer and his family are filled with joy when an impromptu night of prophecy, baptisms and feasting broke out between midnight and the small hours!

The Reformers took this verse as a starting point for a thoroughly sixteenth century answer to a really dreadful late- medieval question. What I would like to do is two things. Firstly, think about what Luke meant by the exchange and what his first audience would have heard by it, and secondly think what that means for a 21st century audience. So the questions might include – “saved from what?”, “why do we need to be saved?”, “do we all have identical needs for salvation?”. “to what are we being saved and for what purpose?”, “ is it about be saved (perfect punctiliar) or be being saved (present continuous)?”. And then we come to the kicker. “Believe on the Lord Jesus…” yes, of course Jesus is the answer. The answer’s always Jesus (cue cute Sunday School joke about the Zebra). But what does it mean?

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So starting blogging was trickier than it looked. I think have a new plan, so lets see how it goes second time around…

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