Articles for the Month of March 2013

An Evangelical Pope?

Vinodh Ramachandra has produced another excellent polemic.  In Reformed Amnesia? he presents another side of Calvin, even proposing him as “the first liberation theologian” as well as praising the way in which the Catholic Church (for all its failings) has become a voice for justice and peace.

The part of the post most Western Evangelical Christians will find most difficult is his blistering critique of “missions”. The example he gives is distant from most of my readers, but he neatly skewers the arrogant cultural imperialism that stains the story and the present of Western Missionary activity.

I was interested to read Richard, a commenter, claim that Langham is different. I suspect most Christian missionary and aid organisations in the West would swiftly claim to be different. (Though surely they can’t all be out of step ;) From what I have heard and seen Langham1 is indeed less imperialistic. They certainly (like many other agencies) try to minimise the inherent risks. But rather than (as Richard wants to do) seeking to exonerate “our” mission it would be so much better to listen to Vinodh and seek to identify the places and actions where we are in danger of falling back into colonialist ways. (Or in the case of Koreans, neo-colonialist ways ;)

Is it appropriate to point to Vinodh’s post on Good Friday? Surely a time when we remember all that God sacrificed (gave up) to be our saviour is just the time to examine ourselves and ask how far we cling to our petty wealth and the power it gives us? The cross is the ultimate sign of mission as weakness and gift.

  1. I am picking on Langham partly because “Richard” raised their banner in his comment, and partly because I have had direct and indirect contact with their work recently. []

Disbelieving the same god

“Unfortunately I was not able to gain access to the actual site.”

Deane Galbraith was kind enough to link to my podcast Was God married? Part two: the death of the goddess, as you might expect we do not see eye to eye. Deane prefers Stavrakopoulou’s version of things, pointing to a more recent TV show  in the BBC series, Bible’s Buried Secrets, in particular in episode 2.

In the programme Francesca rehearses much the same arguments more fully and in doing so the BBC provide stunning imagery and Stavrakopoulou presents the evidence well. The trouble is, she here also confounds history and theology, what happened in the past with what was written about it in the (more recent) past.

Her agenda is clear, and well-signposted. Near the beginning of the video she says:1

But there’s something about this ancient world that the Bible is not telling us… Hidden in its pages is a secret.

And according to her this “secret”:

Rocks the foundation of monotheism to its core.

Somewhat confusingly as the programme continues She changes her mind and says:

I think there’s evidence that the ancient Israelites also worshiped any gods… yet if you examine the biblical texts you find references to more than one god here in Jerusalem itself.

So, this is a “secret” when that suits her rhetorical needs “to undermine monotheism” but is clearly acknowledged in Scripture when admitting that suits her needs. This sort of fudging the evidence is not worthy of a scholar of her standing, though it does make “good television”.

In short (laying aside the places where Stavrokopoulou misrepresents the Bible, because she herself corrects those!) the facts are not at issue. Except at one point. She claims that biblical monotheism worships a male god, and she does not believe in such a god. I do not believe that the Bible presents Yahweh as a male god, and like her I do not believe in such a god.

  1. All quotations are my own transcriptions of the sound track, if there are any errors in the citations are problems of my hearing and I regret them.  []

Selling Gay Marriage

I have not written much about the Marriage Equality bill, despite having written and podcasted a lot about marriage. My views on the topic are like many other people’s conflicted. I do not like to see people discriminated against. I hate “hate speech” (and much “Christian” commentary on this issue seems sadly willing to flit in this direction). But there seems to me something about the nature of marriage which is lost if it is redefined as merely a social and sexual relationship.

However, if anything was likely to tip the balance of my thinking away from the current bill it was this:

This (from the front page of the NZ Herald online this morning) is as far from unbiased reporting as you can get!

Take first the most prominent feature, the photo. It features two unidentified, but good-looking young women, of the sort used to sell cars, booze and other commercial products that need something more than reason to push people (especially, but not only, men) into buying.

The women being used here to sell “gay marriage” are unidentified because, apart from representing the Herald’s preferred image of “gay marriage”, they seem to have nothing to do with the story.

Now take the second most prominent feature, the headline: “Gay marriage: Shock poll”. The word “shock” is chosen to suggest that something dangerous or otherwise undesirable has happened, and that it was a surprise. In what way is it a “shock” that there is an indication that people may be changing their minds on this issue? It’s been discussed quite a bit, featured in print and TV quite a bit… why is movement in public perception a “shock”? Quite simply because the movement is in the opposite direction to the one the media (almost without exception in my experience) has been suggesting we go. The early coverage, when the bill was announced, featured a “conversation” between another good-looking (though probably away from TV lights and makeup not so young TV presenter and my colleague Laurie Guy. Well-known personality versus unknown scholar, experienced TV presenter versus rank amateur… somebody wants to influence us! I wonder in which direction?

I don’t take kindly to people in power telling me what to do and think!

That’s why my schooling was such a mess, but that’s another story… this “debate” has been stacked by the media from the start. They have pushed a clear and consistent message: “Gay marriage is good”. Now they are “shocked” to find people might be thinking differently. So shocked that the only explanation can be: “scaremongering by religious groups”.

Come on NZ media moguls! I don’t know what I think about “marriage equality” but I do know what I think about people with power using that power to push their agenda. And the stink of dying journalistic ethics is dreadful! as a professional homepage

First stack of a presence seen on a phone screen

I was struck by the claims being made for, I’ve seen people mention its ease of use, and the strikingly (pun I am sure intended) good-looking “sites” that can be produced in minutes.

As an inveterate tinkerer it took me more than minutes, and I am not sure that’s own description “Gorgeous, mobile-optimized sites in minutes” is true. What I made, and what you can easily make for an individual or organisation is not a website, but a “homepage”, a brief summary of who you are and what you do.

But given that limitation (small content and few links) it does enable a good-looking and impressive initial web presence to be built very quickly. My experimental page is here I think it is better than my previous effort, here using that you can see here.

The equivalent on an small laptop is more visual, more informative and also gives more help in projecting yourself (useful for an introvert). It does only have a limited number of templates and even less “looks”, but it is “responsive” (i.e. it adjusts to small screens and so is mobile ready out of the box – a vital feature I’ll be returning to in future posts).

Do you bother with a “homepage” what do you see as its purpose?
What tool (if any) did you use?

Thoughts on Alpha

For a long time I’ve had ambivalent feelings about Alpha courses. They seem from all the figures and accounts to be very effective tools for evangelism. But, some people suggest the scheme works best in places with a residual Christian Culture (like the UK) or for Anglicans in NZ (who have a higher pool of people with a nominal or loose family connection). When our previous church ran Alpha we were way too busy to be involved, so my only impression was from the short promo videos. These gave the impression of something like Open Air Campaigners with ardent Christians being encouraged to accost strangers on park benches and ask “If you died tonight would you go to heaven?”

Now South City are running Alpha (and I’m running Know and Love Your Bible alongside so there is something for newer Christians as well) I’ve been going to the training sessions. The way these sessions present Alpha is quite different. The only “hard sell” is the video people watch and if Nicky Gumbel’s style there is anything like the training videos that will hardly be OAC stuff. Then in the small groups the host and helpers are asked/expected to keep quite and respond to questions and even rabid atheist attacks with things like “That’s interesting, what do others think?” Basically as the training videos present it Alpha is a scheme to allow and encourage a bunch of seekers and atheists to persuade each other with the help of the Holy Spirit into faith.

But, I imagine you asking, about the need to either badger my friends into attending, like some spiritual Tupperware party, or hardly better jumping on unsuspecting strangers? Basically Alpha NZ (at least) recommends a much lower key approach, a low demand we are doing this would you like to try the first week…

Operation Starfish: Tessa’s Story, Inviting Friends To Alpha from Alpha New Zealand on Vimeo.