Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ollie on holiday

The first one is my favourite.


In lieu of TBTM today, some holiday snaps. First some flowers.

Including my eldest flower:
...and some red leaves.
I'm really enjoying the camera now, though I hope to carry on improving what I can achieve with it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Friday, April 27, 2007

The worst theological invention

Ben Myers is stirring up some fun again - here.

I'm with Steve that the doctrine of penal substitution (tightly defined as post-first millenium) is one of the worst. But actually, what I believe is the worst is to do with the Eucharist - the shift in meaning of 'The Body of Christ' in the Western church in the first two hundred years of the second millenium. I think that is responsible for almost all the disasters that have happened to the faith since then - including penal substitution and biblical inerrancy (which is what I voted for). But I'll say much more about that in week 3 of my learning church sequence (Cavanaugh talks about it, but our present understanding stems primarily from the work of de Lubac).


Busy busy busy

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Is Christ Divided? session 2

Week two, beginning Sunday 22 April: 1 Corinthians 1.18 - 2.5
Click 'full post' for text.

Introduction of major theme: the folly of the cross
cross is absolutely counter-cultural - it is the verdict on the culture, judgement on the world (Jn 12.31) - three sections
  • the message (1.18-1.25): a reversal of worldly values - consider Psalm 37.25; Deut 28.1-8 - how does this link with the 'prosperity gospel' (God's rewards are in this life)?
  • the recipients (1.26-31): gospel is for the marginalised and weak, not for the high and mighty; the things which are not - we are the 'nobodies' - are we nobodies who still want to be 'somebodies'?
  • its proper medium (2.1-5): not by worldly power but by spiritual - what is spiritual power or God's power? how do we know what is of God?
what is the 'wisdom' of the Corinthians? wisdom of the world? wisdom of Mersea?
issue of eloquence - what is the effect of Paul's own rhetoric?
what is rhetoric? in philosophy, contrasted with 'dialectic' - big argument in ancient philosophy, which is the background for Paul's own argument here - can truth be discerned solely by logical analysis (dialectic - Plato, 'philosophy') or is it important to consider the context (rhetoric - the poets, the 'sophists')? rhetoric is concern with the form of an argument, the eloquence of the words
was Paul effective as a person (charismatic)? as a speaker? see 2 Cor 11.6

why counter cultural? what is being opposed, ie what wisdom - Greek 'sensibility' (moderation, balance, beauty) - Jewish law(?) 'cursed be he that hangs on a tree'?
in what ways can we see the church pursuing worldly renown? when in history? when today?
1.18 - those who are perishing/ those who are being saved - what does it mean to be _being_ saved? (NB Paul doesn't talk of those who have _been_ saved)

1.23 - the stumbling block - crucial Christian concept - consistency often obscured by being translated in different language each time - we'll return to this!
  • compare Ps 118.22 (quoted in Mk 12.10/Lk 20) Isaiah 8.12-15, 1 Peter 2 4-10
  • literally 'skandalon' in Greek - something which causes offence (scandal)
  • if we can be 'not offended' by the cross - then we are saved
  • Mt 11.6 - "blessed is the one who takes no offence at me" - ie is not scandalised by Jesus
  • Jn 6.53-61 - teaching about communion - "Does this offend you?" - communion shares in the scandal of the cross
  • Mt 5.29 - if your right eye causes you to sin, literally 'if your eye causes you to be scandalised' pluck it out
  • Mt 9.42 - whoever causes one of these little ones to be scandalised....
  • Jn 16.1 - "these things I have told you so that you will not be scandalised" (go astray)
scandal is the expression of worldly values - Satanic - Jn 12.31 - consider the nature of gossip - devil is literally 'the accuser' - contrast with the spirit, the 'paraclete' - the defender (both legal terms)

1.29 - so that no-one may boast - priority of grace - to boast is to boast in the Lord, not in anything human, especially wisdom, power, wealth - in what do we rest our own sense of self? what is it that matters the most to each of us - worldly value, or God's scale of value?

Christian protests....

Having just recommended him, I found this on Peter Chattaway's blog. Very interesting, see especially the links to the discussion. WARNING - crude language and humour at the beginning (though I think he was making an interesting point - all the best humour does).

Thinking blogger

Patrik tagged me/ flattered me with this Thinking Blogger meme.

These are the rules (from here):

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).

I'm glad that the choices aren't restricted to theology, as I'd find that a bit restrictive. Anyhow, five blogs that make me think:

1. Rob Hopkins at Transition Culture - Rob is a bit of a hero of mine, really, in that he has managed to get a community of 8000 people switched on to the implications of Peak Oil and what it means. If I can achieve half of what he has done then I'll be happy. His blog is always a good read.

2. Robert Rapier at R-Squared. I was going to reference The Oil Drum itself, but I decided against that because it is a group project (and full of trolls in the comments). Robert's voice is very sane and reasonable, and he offers a healthy dose of scepticism against some of the more outlandish Peak Oil voices, from a position of significant expertise. He's one of those people who make you feel much cleverer after you've read something he's written.

3. *Christopher, now at Betwixt and Between (previously at Bending the Rule). Christopher's had a big influence on my thinking over the last two or three years, mainly on the obvious questions, but also on liturgical issues more generally. I find him a very congenial thinker, although sometimes I have to save up time to read him as his posts tend to the long side.

4. Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, who comes at church questions from a completely opposite end of the spectrum to me, but ends up arguing for all sorts of things that I believe in. I imagine that loads of people are already familiar with him, but I only discovered him comparatively recently.

5. Peter Chattaway, at FilmChat. I read lots of film sites - one reason why my reviews tend to be so short, I feel that everything has already been said! - but this is my favourite, and he often makes me look at a film differently. I think that what I like most about him is the lack of stridency; he seems to be a man at peace with the world, and that comes through in his writing. He's also writing from a Christian perspective, if that wasn't obvious.

So there we go.

On books

By the way, I also read four 'Dune' books, as I am working my way through them, but I don't think I'll do a further review until I've finished the whole sequence. I'm also half way through 'What are people for' by Wendell Berry, and 'Torture and Eucharist' by Cavanaugh - both of which are extremely good, so they will each get their own post before long.

Neverwhere (graphic novel)

Saw this in a shop in Aberystwyth and had to indulge my Neil Gaiman craving, even if this was originally a novel rather than a comic. Loved it - but will now have to read the novel itself to go into the world more deeply. Wasn't there a TV series as well???

Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)

This was tremendously good - another one that I've been meaning to read for a long time. I'm going to quote it in another post which I plan to write - at some point - but for now let me just say that I agree with all the positive reviews that have been written about it. Lovely, gracious book, deeply human.

The Children of Men (PD James)

I wanted to read the book before watching the film, which does sound good, although the director has apparently departed markedly from the text. Very interesting scenario, and an enjoyable read. Now I'll have to get hold of the DVD...

An acceptable sacrifice

I know it's a cliche, but this really was a curate's egg, in many ways. Variable quality of essays, by various different people, some of which appealed, some of which were worthy but dull. I was most struck by two essays - one on 'intersex', which has significant theological implications, and one on the pluriform and extensive way in which our sexuality is embedded within our wider life.

Recommended for being stimulating; I'm sure other people will like different things.

Promise and Presence (John Colwell)

I had started reading this before heading off on holiday, but only managed to finish it when I was there. It is superb, an excellent exploration of sacramental theology with which I found myself in virtually 100% agreement - which, given that the author is a tutor at Spurgeon's, might strike some as surprising! I'm going to use much of his material in my Learning Church sequence, so there will be more to come about him. I was particularly struck by the way that his sacramental understanding of the eucharist was enabled by his depression - that the reality of God's activity doesn't rest upon how we feel about it!! Quite so.

Very highly recommended.

Preparing to preach (Maurice Burrell)

Picked this up as a quickie to set me up for more profound reflections on preaching, but it didn't do much for me. Bit shallow really.

Everything bad is good for you

Read lots of books on holiday, and this was the first, which was excellent and illuminating. It won't convince me to let the children spend all day in front of the TV (at the moment TV is restricted to Sundays and other special occasions) but it does make me feel less guilty about enjoying Lost and 24 so much!

I did wonder if there were any implications for how preaching is conducted - and how far preaching is culturally conditioned. He takes on Neil Postman's reference to the lengthy debates in the nineteenth century, and makes an interesting, and I think telling point, that some forms of truth are communicated more easily through television. Very interesting and engrossing book.


Now I'm really back.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Believing in penal substitution

Good article from Tom Wright (linked via Dave Walker) here, which contains this summary of Steve Chalke's position:

You could take [Steve] to mean (a) on the cross, as an expression of God's love, Jesus took into and upon himself the full force of all the evil around him, in the knowledge that if he bore it we would not have to; but this, which amounts to a form of penal substitution, is quite different from other forms of penal substitution, such as the mediaeval model of a vengeful father being placated by an act of gratuitous violence against his innocent son. In other words, there are many models of penal substitution, and the vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story is at best a caricature of the true one. Or you could take the paragraph to mean (b) because the cross is an expression of God's love, there can be no idea of penal substitution at all, because if there were it would necessarily mean the vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story, and that cannot be right...I have now had a good conversation with Steve about the whole subject and clarified that my initial understanding was correct: he does indeed mean (a).

I find this really interesting because I pretty much accept (a) - but I wouldn't call it penal substitution at all! Hmmm. Much to explore - particularly his own book Jesus and the Victory of God, which has sat on my bookshelf for about 18 months now.

As it happens, on holiday I bought the book which Tom Wright castigates so thoroughly as being "deeply, profoundly, and disturbingly unbiblical." I also have on my shelf the book by Hill and James called 'The Glory of the Atonement' which Michael Jensen rates. Once I've finished this next learning church sequence (on the Eucharist) I'll be digging in to them thoroughly. I'll also pursue the links that Peter gave in his comment. In the meantime, I still stick with those four points that I wrote before....

It's definitely time to abandon blogging

See Dave Walker for the full story...


For the first time in a while I didn't take my laptop, so managed to read even more than usual, which was excellent. Also slept a lot, ate a lot, drank a lot, thought a lot. Great holiday; glad to be back.

Oh yes, I also took lots of photos.... I'll try and catch up on the comments as well soon, especially the penal substitution ones.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Just to say...

...I'm now on holiday until the end of the month, so you won't hear *much* from me!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

2 Richards discussing God

I've put this in here to remind myself to watch it...

I'll sleep when I'm dead

I watched this expecting a 'by the numbers' revenge thriller, but what was interesting was that at least half the numbers were missed out. I'm sure that was in large part deliberate, but it meant that there was a great deal of talent (and presumably plot) that was wasted.
Clive Owen is always great though.


Proba est amicitia calamitate.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A peak oil prognosis (part one)

A post explaining to someone who doesn't know anything about Peak Oil why it is important, and what I think will happen. Just my opinion, of course, and I don't really go into the religious aspects of things - it's mainly an economic analysis. Click 'full post' for text.

The industrial world runs on oil - in a literal sense, in terms of the transportation system, which has been built around the ready availability of cheap liquid fuel - but also in a more fundamental sense, in that so many of our industrial products are derived or dependent upon petroleum as a raw material, in clothing, chemicals, food production and so on. This is why the maintenance of this particular energy supply is of strategic importance to all nations, not least the United States. At the end of the 1970's President Carter committed the United States to guaranteeing the flow of energy from the Middle East, with consequences that we are all familiar with. There are no known alternatives to oil, in terms of its density, ease of use, and quantity available.

The issue about Peak Oil is that for any particular oil field, there is a point of maximum flow (the 'peak') after which, no matter what happens in terms of the technological expertise and financial muscle deployed, the output of oil from that particular field will decline. This was first described by a geologist working for Shell named M King Hubbert, and he described this process using a graph which has become known as the 'Hubbert Curve', and looks like this:

Just as one particular oil field will have an initial rise in production before peaking, and then declining, so too will areas of oil fields. For example, the British section of the North Sea has been declining in output since 1999, at an extremely rapid rate.

This is likely to have significant consequences for the UK economy, particularly the balance of payments, as we move from being an energy exporter to an energy importer.

The real issue of present concern is found when considering the world as a whole. When previous areas have 'peaked' in terms of the flow of oil - for example, when the United States peaked in 1970 - then other producers came along who were able to 'take up the slack' and this allowed the process of industrial development to continue more or less unhindered. The most important producer at the moment is Saudi Arabia, who took from the United States the role of 'swing producer' - that is, they were able to modulate their production of oil in order to preserve overall economic stability. When there was a shock to the system, for example after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, then the Saudi government was able to increase their own production to compensate. However, there are now strong indications that the Saudi oil fields are hitting their own 'peak' - and that, as one analyst has put it, 'When Saudi peaks, the world peaks'. In other words, we are now very close to - if not just past - the moment of peak flow of oil for the world.

To get an understanding of the implications of this epochal event we can consider the problems that the United States will face over the next few years. The largest oil field in the Western Hemisphere is called Cantarell, and is found in the shallow water off the Eastern coast of Mexico. Its peak rate of production was well over 2 million barrels per day (MBD) - this in the context of a current worldwide production of oil (and oil equivalents) of around 85mbd (this graph gives the context).

Cantarell is now in very steep decline, of the order of 20% in the last year. Graph:

The consequences of this are profound. Firstly, the oil company in charge of Cantarell is a nationalised utility (state-owned) and the revenues from the oil are responsible for some 40% of the Mexican government's budget. There will be political consequences proportionate to the decline in revenues. Secondly, Mexico is a significant source of the oil imported to the United States - third largest after Canada and Saudi Arabia. As oil production from Mexico's fields declines the Mexican government will face the dilemma of whether to continue to sell the oil that they are producing northwards, in order to maintain revenue, or whether to allow their own citizens to access that oil for their own purposes.

The United States economy is highly dependent upon the easy availability of petroleum - to the extent that the US consumes around 25% of all the oil produced in the world. The United States is also a very rich economy, and has, at present, very cheap petrol. Undoubtedly, to begin with, the US will pay whatever is needed to ensure the continuity of its oil supplies. The question is: from where will that oil come?

The standard answer offered by the authorities is 'Saudi Arabia'. The Saudis assert that they have vast quantities of oil waiting to be tapped and brought into production. However, over the last year or so, their own production has been declining, despite the incentive of high prices and their own rhetoric. It is possible that Saudi production has itself peaked; we will know to a very high degree of certainty by the end of this year - if Saudi Arabia has not increased its production this year then it has almost certainly peaked. Graph:

The issues raised above have been implicit within the economic system for some time; that is, the constraints of supply have caused 'demand destruction' as people have been priced out of the system over the last five years, as the oil price has hugely increased. Graph:

This is the first problematic: as demand continues to outstrip supply and the price rises, an economic recession will ensue. In previous periods where this has applied (1974, 1979, 1990) the supply of oil has in the end been adequate to meet the renewed demand, following the recession. The point about peak oil, as a geological phenomenon, is that without a thorough-going restructuring of our economic assumptions OIL WILL NEVER AGAIN BE ABLE TO MEET DEMAND.

There are some related issues to consider, which will add into this fundamental problem and make the overall problem swifter and more challenging to deal with.
The first is the assumption that the present worldwide market in oil will be maintained. China, whose government has been aware of the phenomenon of peak oil for some time, and has absorbed the implications of it, has been making bilateral agreements with oil suppliers around the world (eg Venezuela, several African countries) which effectively takes this oil off the market. However much the West may offer for this oil, it will not be available.

Second, as the economic environment produced by peak oil changes, it will become apparent to oil producing states that it is in their direct economic interest to keep the oil in the ground. Both Russia and Kuwait have been discussing this openly, and undoubtedly other producing countries have been discussing it behind closed doors. Given the precarious state of the US finances, it makes no sense to exchange an incredibly valuable raw material for US dollars which will sooner or later become worthless.

The final wild card is political; that is, the developing and widening crisis in the countries of the Middle East, especially with regard to the Iranian government's pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Some 40% of the world's oil is transported through the Straits of Hormuz at the outlet of the Persian gulf.

The US military believes that Iran has the capacity to shut off tanker traffic through the Straits, albeit - in their opinion - for only a short period of time. It would be best if we did not have to find out if that confidence is misplaced.

To sum up the foregoing:
- Peak Oil is a geological phenomenon that has been observed throughout the world;
- it appears that the flow of oil from all the oil fields in the world is now at its peak;
- this will have major economic consequences;
- these consequences are likely to be exacerbated by the interplay with political factors.

What I expect to happen is twofold:
firstly, oil will become more and more expensive, leading to more and more economic actors being taken 'out of the game'. This will mean an ongoing and deepening recession that will continue until our economies have been reconstructed on a 'steady state' basis (ie an abandonment of the ideology of economic growth). The potentially positive aspect of this is that once the crisis has been generally realised there will be a huge amount of effort devoted to developing alternative sources of energy. I am optimistic that much of the 'domestic' demand can be sustained; I am convinced that the commercial demand, particularly that for individual commuting and transport, will fail, permanently;
secondly, following the period of high prices, there will develop a situation of permanent scarcity, wherein human society will either have adapted to a form of life less dependent upon easy energy, or else there will be no recognisable human society at all. To my mind the issue is the speed at which the transition from that first stage to the second takes place, and therefore how much of our present civilisation can be preserved. With enlightened political leadership and widespread popular understanding and support this crisis could be an immensely positive gift for humanity. However, it is precisely my contemplation of the absence of such leadership that persuades me that we are facing a generation of struggle and crisis, and much of humanity will not make it to the other side.

The last word can go to the Hirsch report, which was commissioned by the US government to explore the nature of the crisis which Peak Oil would provoke:
"The world has never faced a problem like this. Without massive mitigation more than a decade before the fact, the problem will be pervasive and long-lasting. Previous energy transitions (wood to coal and coal to oil) were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and discontinuous."


and by his wounds we are healed