Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I'm just going outside...

...and I may be some time.

I'm having some holiday after Greenbelt, so this will be the last post for quite a while. God be with you 'till we meet again.


TBTM = The Beach This Morning
TBTE = The Beach This Evening
HBTM = Happy Birthday To Me.....

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Greenbelt 2007

I'm going to Greenbelt this year - for the first time, as I'm a complete 'festival virgin' - anyone else who reads this blog going? I know Dave Walker will be in attendance, and I have a firm intention to buy him a pint as inadequate recompense for all the pleasure he provides on a regular basis (I'm sure I won't be the only one), but is anyone else going? I'd love to meet up if you are...

(Picture is of Heybridge Basin; what is now a teashop was once upon a time a chandlers where a certain Rev Sam lived until he was about 4)


I have come to bring fire to the earth

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Lake House

Really rather good. But then I'd like anything with Sandra Bullock in it.

Something sensible on atonement

In other words, something not written by me.


Some hilarious demotivational posters here. HT +Alan (nice to know that bishops see the value of blogging), but looking through them, I realise that Tim used one the other day.

The Road to Growth (Bob Jackson)

Very good companion to, and update of, his previous 'Hope for the Church'. This one is much more about the wider church, and what, eg, dioceses can do to support church growth, rather than what individual churches can do. Excellent, and encouraging, and affirming. If you meet George Herbert on the road, kill him.


More haste less speed

Friday, August 17, 2007


For, since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, you may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as you indeed do, so without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire. In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.

From the letter to the church in Tralles, Asia, by Ignatius of Antioch (c 37AD - 107AD)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Manna for the inner geek

I haven't watched ANY of the new series yet. I'm waiting until the DVDs get a little cheaper (and I've watched some of the other DVDs I have stacked up behind the TV).

(HT SF Gospel)

Problems with Atonement (Stephen Finlan)

This was principally an excellent discussion of the metaphors used in Paul's writings which the doctrines of atonement depend upon, and as such it was very enlightening. Much more radically, Finlan ends by arguing that Christianity would be better off doing without any doctrine of the atonement at all, and concentrating on theosis instead (sanctification). I find myself in great sympathy with that idea.

I was prompted to get this book (and a couple of others by him) after reading this review, which is worth reading itself if you're interested.

Why reading the New Testament with the Fathers is essential

I'm really enjoying Doug Chaplin's blog, which I only discovered a month or two ago. He's just put up another fascinating post on why it's barking mad (my phrase!) to try and read the New Testament without paying attention to the Fathers, who first read those Scriptures, and indeed decided that they were Scripture in the first place! On the question of the development of priestly roles he writes "...there is nothing clear in the text of the NT that either prevents or criticises the linguistic and theological moves attested in the very earliest of patristic writings, and subsequently developed over the next two centuries. Those who read these texts written in their own language, recognised them as scripture partly through their consonance in the same faith, and collected them and canonised them as part of that same inheritance, are the same people whose reflections on ministry in the light of that slowly forming canon led them to a theology of priesthood dependent on and reflective of the true high priesthood of Christ. They almost certainly offer a surer guide than those who, fourteen centuries later, mined the same scriptures for their own polemic against mediaeval developments."

This quotation applies to the development of the priestly office (indeed the entire three-fold ministry); it also applies, inter alia, to the baptism of children and - though I hesitate to mention it - the doctrine of penal substitution which was virtually unknown in the Fathers. This is an area where I have qualms with the anabaptist arguments, which seem to run together developments post-Christendom with developments in the immediate post-apostolic generations. To my mind it's essential to separate those two things.


Too sick to pray

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Fall of Hyperion (Dan Simmons)

So good I stayed up until 1.15am to finish it. Fulfilled lots of the promise in the first book, leaving enough threads hanging for me to want to pursue the next two. Some astonishing setpieces. If the series continues to build on this foundation it may end up being one of my favourites ever.
Oh yes, lots of good theology in it as well....

Little Miss Sunshine

Wonderful. I particularly appreciated the delicious irony of all the respectable people objecting to the little girl making explicit what had been implicit in all the other contestants. Lots of theology in this film; I'll have to watch it again soon.


Not as the world gives.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

TBTM movie: The River (Blackwater)

This is a work in progress - I want to sync up the transitions, and pictures, more closely with the sentiments of the song - but I thought I'd share it so far.

Inclusively fanatical (August Synchroblog)

This is a bit late. Click 'full post' for text.

Tim asked the very cogent question: what's the difference between fanaticism and radical unconditional commitment? I think this gives a good way in to a brief discussion of inclusivity and exclusivity with respect to Christian faith.

My answer to Tim is: it is all about where your attention rests. In other words, radical unconditional commitment is all about - in the healthy sense - loving God with all of your self: heart, strength, mind and soul. I think the difference with fanaticism is that fanaticism has stopped paying attention to God and has become embedded in the rivalrous process of competition with another human being, or group of human beings. Instead of the wondrous awareness of the presence of God - with consequent humble attention and awe, drawing us onward into the deeper enjoyment of the Truth (who is Personal not Propositional) there is the agon, the painful contest for supremacy. Instead of the emptying out and taking on the form of a servant, there is the dominance of the will and the urge to mastery. Which is of course rooted in fear and spiritual imbalance.

So what does it mean to claim the truth for a particular position? Which is a different way of saying - who is included, and who is excluded? One of the things I've pondered recently was the story of the American priest who claimed to also be a Muslim. Clearly the particular truth of that situation can't be gleaned from a long distance away (and I note with interest that her Bishop has intervened) but it raises issues of principle. Is it possible to be a Christian and a Muslim at the same time?

It might help if I outline my own answer to the 'problem of other faiths'. I'll do this through some summary statements (which I'm not going to argue for here - pressure of time and all that):
- I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him;
- I don't believe that this is a matter of the words that we say; it is a matter of the shape of life that we act out (Mt 7.21) (and this doesn't undermine the priority of grace, but that's a whole other argument);
- that shape of life is incarnate in Christ; that is, he shows us what it means to be human and what we are called to be like (he embodies the standard of judgement);
- I believe it is possible for people using different language to live out that life. In other words, given that all things are created through Christ, I believe that Christ is present throughout the world, and that people of other faiths can exhibit the Christ-life;
- what I mean by the Christ-life is pretty much what St Paul describes: "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another."

I agree with Rowan Williams (not a surprise): "While we cannot accept Islam as the final revelation, it is nonetheless possible that God has given great gifts to individual Muslims and that through their devotion, we may yet learn something of what obedience to God looks like." I think it is perfectly possible for a Muslim or a Buddhist - or an atheist! - to display the fruits of the Spirit and to 'do the will of the Father'. The difference, I would argue, is that we acknowledge Christ; in other words, what is implicit elsewhere is explicit in Christianity.

Is this exclusive? Classically, the discussion about other faiths leads to three possible positions: exclusive (my truth is the only truth); inclusive (my truth includes other truths); or pluralist (the different truths are equivalent). What I'm arguing for falls pretty clearly into the middle option. I don't have much time for pluralism (or syncretism) simply because I think there are real and concrete differences between the faiths on some things. But I want to round off these remarks by saying something more about the exclusive position - for it is the exclusive position which is fanatical, in the bad sense with which this discussion began.

To my mind there is all the difference in the world between:
- claiming the truth, pursuing the truth, and admitting 'I could be wrong but this is where I'm walking'
- this is the truth and if you don't agree then you're wicked, evil and have smelly breath as well.

The difference is that the former recognises the inescapable logic of radical commitment to something (which is what pluralism avoids, or cannot see), yet remains open to insights from outside its own sphere of expertise; the latter is closed and has lost sight of what is most important - in believing that it has captured "the Truth" for its own exclusive possession it has in that very act lost touch with it.

This is the trap into which I fell when discussing the atonement last week. I don't recant from what I said, but the tone was all wrong - I had been dislodged from my spiritual centre and was starting to mud-wrestle. In particular, I was tempted to remove post #3 - but I'm now minded to leave it up as an honest record of my state of mind at the time. One conclusion I've reached is that, principally because of my spending quite a lot of time researching evangelicalism (with the desire to build common ground and unity) I'm quite a long way out of my comfort zone spiritually. Going to the monastery yesterday was a real infusion of light and peace and oxygen. I need to remember that when I become aware of the warning signs.

Anyhow, there will be more on that in due course, no doubt.

In the meantime, I'm going to finally pick up on Sally's tag about three apologies. There are three things for which I'd want to apologise as a [Western] Christian:

- embracing imperial culture under Constantine;
- embracing a scientific attitude in the Middle Ages, thereby distorting communion and the faith and initiating every mistake that then followed; and
- all the ways in which Christianity fed the Holocaust, which I see as the fruition of the foregoing, but the evil is so large it deserves a specific repentance.

How can Christianity claim it has sole access to the truth when it has a record like that?

Other synchroblogs this month:

David Fisher asks Why are we exclusive?
Steve Hayes is blogging his thoughts “Christianity inclusive or exclusive?
It’s a family affair comes Jenelle D'Alessandro
John Smulo will be adding his thoughts
Cobus van Wyngaard is contemplating Inclusivity within claims of heresy

Erin Word shares some thoughts on The Politics of love
As does Julie Clawson
Mike Bursell asks the question Inclusive or exclusive: you mean there's a choice?"
And Sally shares her thoughts here

And while we're on the subject, have a read of this.


It's a middle earth trap but I won't complain

Monday, August 13, 2007


I was privileged to spend some time today in a nearby Orthodox monastery, which did my soul the power of good, on all sorts of levels. The above is a photo that I took in their refectory (one of their refectories!) I plan to go back before too long. I was very struck by a quotation in an icon of St Nicodemus about humility, which I now can't find, but I found this instead, which will serve:
Fanaticism can appear on two levels, individual and collective. On an individual level, fanaticism is bold in sick minds and psychologies. It stems from personal pride, lust for power over others. It says 'I am right', and therefore cuts itself off from all others in sectarian self-righteousness. It uses its supposed exclusive truth as an axe to grind, as a stick with which to beat others. It loves laws, behind which it can conceal its own insecurities. In saying that he alone is right, the fanatic is automatically wrong. The Saints never said that they were right. The signs of absence of fanaticism are peace, humility and love - not saying that one is right. Fanaticism and intolerance stem in fact from a weak faith, insecurity, and often affect neophytes, recent converts. True religion does not admit of fanaticism.
(found here, my emphasis)


I'm listening Lord!

(There's a bit of a spat going on at the moment - this one was taken from here. Some replies (with which I tend to have more sympathy) are here).


But I'm not afraid of the Lord in that way.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


This might seem paradoxical, but I suspect part of my drive in digging into PSA is a desire to find common ground with evangelicals. It's one aspect of how and where I've grown in my understanding of the faith over the last few years because in person (and I accept that this may not come across on the blog!) I do seek consensus and common ground. I just find PSA virtually impossible to swallow. So it becomes like a pebble in the shoe - I just won't get comfortable until I know what to do with it.

A different image: I feel like I am emerging out from underneath a heavy rock as I get stuck in to understanding evangelicalism. I still carry some wounds from early exposure to bad theology (bad evangelical theology). The trouble is, I see PSA as part of the rock and I still have to do some heavy lifting to get the rock off my back.

If PSA isn't part of the rock then that is a good thing. But clearly - as at least Tim has realised ;-) - some of the issues at stake in all this aren't simply about PSA! Ho hum. This blog - and my life - are works in progress.

Or: it's not enough to be right, I have to be loving. I have become precisely that which I was criticising; I am mirroring the spirituality.

I am cursing the darkness when what I actually need to get on with is lighting candles.


Sometimes the search for the truth can become overbearing and oppressive, both internally and externally. A sign that the sense of proportion has been lost, and idolatry has been entered into.

Which is a way of saying I might change the direction that I was going in with my PSA posts...

Friday, August 10, 2007

A bit too much PSA

For today - too much PSA. Maybe a bit more tomorrow. In the meantime, two youtube video clips of tracks from the new Martyn Joseph album. He's coming to Colchester soon!!! Yeah!

For I am God, not man (IV)

An interlude, giving a few more 'big picture' points.

What most drives me in my rejection of PSA is the pastoral consequences of the doctrine. That is, the insistence on PSA as 'the heart of the gospel' seems to me to elevate divine wrath and punishment, and therefore the notion of justice and rule following, above the elements of gracious forgiveness within the gospel - and this has very damaging consequences in the life of the faithful. This isn't just an abstract thing for me - a not insignificant part of my ministry is precisely picking up the pieces of souls that have been smashed by this insistence. The healing is difficult, and takes a long time, and both those parts testify to the depth of the damage done

I don't have a problem with an acceptance of PSA which sees PSA as a minor element of the gospel, as one image - one METAPHOR - with which to ponder the mystery of salvation. That seems to me to accord moderately well with the importance given to it in Scripture and Church History. In this understanding it is essentially adiaphora - it is something on which Christians may disagree, whilst being united by the much more crucial doctrines (creation, incarnation, resurrection, redemption, trinity...).

The problem to my mind is when that single image is raised up and reified as the defining theory for understanding the work of Christ. When the wider testimony of Christianity and Scripture is conformed and constricted around a metaphysics built upon that image. Hence my remark that penal substitution is what happens when you take a metaphor and turn it into a metaphysics. I had two people in mind influencing that statement - James Alison, who criticises PSA precisely because it is a theory and not something that of itself changes lives, and Wittgenstein, with his criticisms of metaphysics more generally. Sometimes the whole weight is in the picture.

It is rather ironic that PFOT begins with a Foreword from John Piper saying precisely the opposite to this - but for the same reasons. That is, John Piper also sees this as a pastoral issue, and he references Jesus' criticisms of the Pharisees as an example of how importantly we can take this issue. Piper goes on to say "...if God did not punish Jesus in my place, I am not saved from my greatest peril, the wrath of God."

That is precisely what I object to, and which I see as a distortion of Christian faith. It is an attitude which has raised up God's wrath into the determining feature of reality and existence.

To sum up my position:
- I would accept that there are some comparatively minor passages in Scripture which can be construed as referring to something like PSA; however
- I believe that Scripture has many more full and explicit passages which undermine PSA and give a much more healthy and liberating understanding of God and his most gracious favour;
- I believe that PSA is virtually unknown in the early church, and hardly more known for the first thousand years of Christian history;
- I believe that Anselm paved the way for PSA, but that Calvin was the first theologian to give it something like its modern form and place weight on it; more crucially I think Charles Hodge is the thinker with most influence on the way that it is presently portrayed;
- I think the doctrine is intimately tied together with a Modernist understanding of faith; it is a very good example of a 'doctrine of men'; and I think that as we progressively move away from a Modernist culture so too will PSA lapse first into irrelevance and then it will be forgotten;
- I believe that PSA is a factional and party issue; that is, it is virtually unknown in orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism; it is not actively central in mainstream Protestantism; it is principally pursued by those who are already committed to a Calvinistic perspective on Christianity. It has become a shibboleth separating one Christian from another, and that, in itself, is one of the things most wrong with it.

For I am God, not man (III)

Continuing the sequence on penal substitution, this time wondering - if there are some who support the sort of doctrine that I am objecting to, what would we expect them to look like? Click 'full post' for text.

I should say right up front that I have specific examples from my own personal experience in mind as I write this, but the truth of what I say isn't dependent on that.

I've outlined what I object to in the doctrine of penal substitution, viz:
the doctrine is believed in wholeheartedly and the consequence drawn from the doctrine, within the life of the believer, is that the character of God is fundamentally one of inexorable justice; that the response to any transgression is 'there must be punishment'; and that the life and witness of Jesus Christ is conformed to this controlling narrative, rather than all other narratives being conformed to the life and witness of Christ.

In other words - there is a distortion in belief, in terms of the prominence given to punishment when describing God's character (a form of idolatry), and there is a distortion in christian behaviour consequent to this, which (to summarise in advance) becomes a form of 'law not grace' - guilt is prominent, and fostered, and forgiveness is underemphasised. Where rules and punishment are given excessive emphasis in the presentation of salvation there will be consequent harm done to the listeners. Where there is paradox - God is a God of justice and mercy/forgiveness - then much depends on how things are presented, if one isn't to eclipse the other.

I'll unpack that, as it's quite dense, and begs lots of questions.

1. The character of God
Advocacy of this form of PSA would emphasise the holiness of God, understood as the utter incompatibility of sin with God's existence. Such sin would be seen in personal and individualistic terms, and much would be made of the offence given to God. There would be less emphasis upon the gracious and forgiving aspects of God's character, along with the corporate side of sin.

2. The character of Scriptural witness
PSA would be seen as either the sole or the determining way in which Scripture talks about redemption. Texts referring to PSA would be given the highest possible prominence; texts which give different models would be addressed less; arguments about the character of Scripture as a whole would be downplayed. The teaching of Jesus, eg about the Kingdom, would be considered much less important than the achievement of the crucifixion - understood through the lens of PSA.

3. The nature of preaching and the call to repentance
Emphasis would be given to the way in which humanity has sinned and broken the laws of God; PSA would be explained and the guilt provoked would, instead of being eliminated, be nourished as a healthy response to 'the truth'. The important thing for a disciple would be to understand the way in which 'Christ died for you'.

4. The nature of church behaviour
Consequent to the consistent emphasis upon rules and the breaking of rules, there would be an excessive concern to establish and police the boundaries between the rule keepers and the rule breakers, in order to prevent further provocation of God.

5. The tone of advocacy
There will be a shrillness of tone (eg "damn this diabolical doctrine to hell" ;-) associated with discussions on the topic; this will be directly linked to the level of fear of punishment felt by the advocate. There will be little concern to understand the objections to PSA, and there will be a comprehensive rejection of the possibility of Christianity without an acceptance of PSA.

6. The most important: the pastoral character of doctrine
The sheep pastored under this understanding of PSA will remain bound up in guilt and sin; they will not be enabled to experience forgiveness; they will remain emotionally crippled and not enjoy the abundance of life promised. Aware of their own sinfulness they will be reminded of it on regular occasions and not encouraged to affirm their original blessing of being made in the image of God.

Now - obviously! - these are very broad brush strokes, but I think they will serve for the time being. The question is: do such places and advocates exist? That's for the next part.

For I am God, not man (II)

Continuing a slightly more reasoned out - rather than 'ranted out' - discussion of penal substitutionary atonement. This one is looking at wrath. Click 'full post' for text.

I want to flesh out the distinctions that I made in the last post, especially the difference between the second and third ways of believing in penal substitution. (BTW It may help to give more specific labels to these two alternatives (the first is largely irrelevant, and for my purposes simply collapses into the second). Let's call the first the 'Tom Wright interpretation of PSA' (TW), and the second the 'Pierced for our Transgressions interpretation of PSA' (PFOT)(PSA = penal substitutionary atonement!))

Now there is a way in which 'penal substitution' makes sense to me, and it will help to delineate what I don't like about the PFOT approach. The idea of substitution itself is a noble one - "greater love hath no man than this than that a man lay down his life for his friend". There are myriad examples of this, and I am very happy for this to be used to describe what Jesus is doing, that Jesus is a substitute for us in this way. A bullet is headed in our direction - Jesus pushes us out of the way and takes the hit on our behalf, out of love for us, and by this we are set free. [I think the most recent example of this I came across was in the last X-Men film which I re-watched recently, when Mystique saves Mysterio]. Indisputably, PSA does not describe a form of this.

The difference between this and PSA is the status of the bullet fired in our direction, which is seen as the direct consequence of our sin, ie it is a punishment for our sin - it is a 'lex talionis' applied on the cosmic scale. God's holiness and justice cannot allow sin to go unpunished - for this to be the case then God would cease to be God. Tom Wright puts it like this: "if God does not hate the wickedness that happens in his beautiful world, he is neither a good nor a just God, and chaos is come again". This is God's wrath. How should we understand it?

A few years ago I attended a conference on the atonement, and I wrote up my notes here. At the end of it I outlined an analogy for understanding God's wrath that I think is worth bringing up front again:

In studying various species, biologists and zoologists distinguish the genotype from the phenotype. The genotype is the DNA sequence which is found in every cell of the life-form. The phenotype is the expression of that DNA sequence in a specific context, eg the wing of a bird as opposed to the beak, where both have the same DNA but the end-result is very different. In the same way, it seems to me that we must understand 'God is love' as referring to his essential nature, his 'genotype', whereas we must understand God's wrath as something which derives from the interaction of that nature with a particular context (our sin), and so is derivative or 'phenotypical'. The problem that I have with the notion of penal substitution is that it makes God's wrath part of his genotype (and therefore part of the fabric of His creation), rather than being a reflection of human sin. If we are called to work towards a 'peaceable kingdom', as I believe we are, then I don't think we will achieve it by worshipping a God whose fundamental nature is violent.

This remains my perspective: what I dislike about PSA is the way in which it makes the wrath of God something essential to God's character rather than something which is a response to our action - that is, a secondary phenomenon. The problem is the idea that 'there must be punishment' - that this is an essential, indeed THE essential attribute of God's holiness. My concern is that in the doctrine of PSA this is the irrevocable point around which the world turns. To quote Tom Wright again, "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and all because of the unstoppable love of the one creator God." In other words, it is the love which is primary.

(Note - I don't have any worries about the use of wrath to describe God's activities as such; what is at stake for me is the core character of the God whom we worship, and whose image we seek to cultivate). I doubt that PSA advocates would suggest that this is an obligation placed upon the Father by some outside force, for what is at stake is the character of God himself, unconstrained by any external pressure. The core question might be phrased: what is the character of God's holiness? In what way is God holy?

There is one way of understanding God's holiness which is manifestly pagan, and that is the sense in which God is simply an irritable human being on a large scale, with a well developed sense of social propriety and honour. Consider - an example I've used before - the story of Andromeda from Greek mythology, as dramatised in the film 'Clash of the Titans'. The driver of her story is that her mother has praised her beauty excessively, and therefore offended the Gods, who lay down a curse upon her city until she is offered up as a PAGAN sacrifice to the Kraken. What makes this pagan is the scale of values employed - the people are the playthings of the Gods and there is nothing noble or humane about the divinities involved. They are simply monstrous human beings. (Note well the role of offence here! I suspect that Anselm's account partakes more than a little of this pagan approach, but discussing him would take me away from where I want to go.)

Clearly there is Scriptural support for a frightening sense of God's holiness. Consider Moses on the mountainside, and the way in which even goats who trespassed had to be stoned to death. Yet that has to be placed in juxtaposition with the babe of Bethelehem, born into the animal's feeding trough and kept alive by their breath. The issue is: which is the determining image? Which account takes us closer to the holiness of the God revealed in Scripture (as opposed to the holiness of the God of the philosophers)?

I would want to argue that the God of the Scriptures revealed and known in the person and work of Jesus Christ is one who seeks repentance and offers forgiveness, who is always reaching out to us in mercy, but who allows us to embrace a wrathful destruction if we so choose. The classic source for this is the story of the prodigal son. I was reminded by my visitor the other day that one of the crucial aspects of the story is that the society in which the father lived would have poured shame and scorn upon the father for acting in the way that he did. The Father absorbs the 'punishment' that would otherwise have fallen upon the son; he accepts the loss of his own social standing, his own 'loss of face' in order to re-establish a loving relationship and home with the prodigal.

For me, that is the heart and transformative good news of the gospel. God is like that; God is not like Zeus or any other pagan deity. This is what I see as the distinction between the two senses of PSA. Tom Wright worships the Christian God; PFOT is worshipping a pagan deity.

Continued in part three.

For I am God, not man (I)

I want to develop my position on penal substitution in a more rational manner than last week's stream of consciousness. Tim commented that the issue has become a 'King Charles' Head' for me - lovely image, derivation explained here - and I wouldn't want people to think I was tilting at windmills too much. I want to narrow down more precisely what it is that I object to - what I really do consider damning and damnable - and explain why. In this first post I want to make some preparatory remarks about the nature of doctrinal belief and clear away some potential misunderstandings. Click 'full post' for text (not very long).

I have often commented (and preached) that there are two forms of belief. One is a purely intellectual and rational construct; the other is embedded within our patterns of life and - crucially - both reflects and structures our emotional commitments, ie what we give value to. (In practice there is a spectrum, but run with the dichotomy for the sake of argument!)

To quickly grasp the difference, consider the difference between 'Mrs Jones is committing adultery' and 'your wife is committing adultery' - the second is, other things being equal, much more embedded in a person's patterns of life and will likely have much greater emotional impact when heard and understood.

Theology as I understand it is about the second form of belief, not the first. (Interestingly, the common perception of 'theology' is the exact opposite - 'angels dancing on the head of a pin' etc - and I'm sure this underlies much rejection of Christianity, the idea that it has no relevance.)

Theology is about the second form of belief because it is the study of ultimate value - it is the language that we use about God, that which is ultimate. Consequently, debate about doctrine is essentially a debate about what is most important in our lives. What is at stake in the question of whether penal substitution is an adequately Christian account of salvation is the nature of the God that Christians worship, what it is that is most important to us - and as a result, the nature of the discipleship and formation that we follow as we seek to reveal the image of that God within us. That is why it is so important.

Peter Kirk put me onto this post by 'Theo Geek', well worth reading in full, who wrote:
The difference between "a God who is loving and forgives sins out of love" and "a God who demands justice be repaid but removes this need from himself by Jesus and thus forgives sins out of love" lies only in the semantics, logic and character of God depicted within this statements and not at all in the resultant functionality of these two doctrines or how they relate to our everyday experience of life.

I have a great deal of sympathy with this perspective. It reminds me strongly of Wittgenstein's discussion of private language. I think it is perfectly possible for someone to believe in penal substitution in two ways with which I would, in principle, take no objection (I think Tom Wright falls into the second of these categories):
- the doctrine might be believed purely as an intellectual matter, ie something which is abstracted from daily life, has no emotional consequences in terms of life lived, is simply seen as a coherent way of understanding the process of salvation etc etc; or
- the doctrine is believed in wholeheartedly but the consequences drawn from the doctrine are precisely those outlined above by TheoGeek: God forgives our sins out of love, and thus the ultimate value preserved by the doctrine in the life and witness of the believer is that of a loving and forgiving Father, revealed in the life and witness of Jesus Christ. Jesus remains the controlling witness and revelation of the nature of God.

My concern is not with either of these two interpretations. My concern is with a third possible interpretation of penal substitution, viz:
- the doctrine is believed in wholeheartedly and the consequence drawn from the doctrine, within the life of the believer, is that the character of God is fundamentally one of inexorable justice; that the response to any transgression is 'there must be punishment'; and that the life and witness of Jesus Christ is conformed to this controlling narrative, rather than all other narratives being conformed to the life and witness of Christ.

I believe, and my so far not radically wide experience confirms, that this third form of understanding
- is prevalent within segments of the Christian church;
- upholds patterns of behaviour and belief which are destructive of Christian life;
- is in direct opposition to the gospel of Christ; and
- needs to be identified as a problem and struggled against.

In other words, it is this third way of understanding the doctrine of penal substitution that I consider damning damnable. Hopefully this narrowing down will lower the temperature a little, although I don't expect the discussion ever to be particularly cool!

More in part 2.


sub specie aeternitatis

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A thought about paedobaptism

Partly provoked by Tim's stuff on anabaptism.

If Anabaptism is about discipleship more than belief, what's wrong with infant baptism? That is, a child can be discipled into the faith - initiated into their practices and commitments and language - and I know many people who have been raised in the church, have always been members of the church, and are perfectly sincere in their declarations of faith. It seems that the insistence on an adult baptism has behind it some sort of Modernist experiential bias, you've got to have had some sort of conversion in order to be a real Christian, the corollary of which is that a child cannot be a Christian. They are not part of the household of faith unless they have had a particular specifiable experience.

Which is a way of saying: is discipleship really as core to anabaptism as all that?

I'm just thinking out loud here.


Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

LUBH 9 - A Vain Deliverance

Session nine of my talks; this one dealing with Islamic terrorism and related issues

LUBH 9 - Vain deliverance

We are going to be looking today at the roots of Islamic terrorism - for want of a better description - and what a Christian response might be. I have structured the talk slightly differently to the previous two despite my best laid plans but you will see why. I think you will be quite interested in the story. Now I have called this "A Vain Hope for Deliverance" and that comes from Psalm 33, which says this, "No king is saved by the size of his army, no warrior escapes by his great strength, a horse is a vain hope for deliverance, despite all its great strength it cannot save, but the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those whose hope is in His unfailing love to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine." Hence the picture at the beginning. An aircraft carrier is a vain hope for deliverance, a tank is a vain hope for deliverance, anything other than God is a vain hope for deliverance. So that's my theme .

Now remember the three prongs that I'm using to analyse different issues, idolatry, wrath and living in the Kingdom or living in the light of the end. Now I think there are two aspects, just to rush over this quite briefly, two aspects to the way in which foreign policy can be affected by idolatry. And the first is precisely that we trust in our own strength to overcome problems. This is exactly what happened in Old Testament times and what the prophets chastised the kings of Israel and Judah for doing, they trusted in their own strength and then they were destroyed. But there is another side to the idolatry, which is I think to exaggerate the size of the problem. In this case terrorism. Because I think in both instances what's missing is trust in God. In the first instance what's missing is trust in God because there is too much trust in oneself, and on the other hand there is not enough trust in God, there is despair. "Oh woe are we, because these things are terrible." So I think this is how our present understanding of relating to Islamic terrorism is compromised. Two forms of idolatry.

As I say, compare with Jeremiah's warnings for example, or pretty much any of the Old Testament prophets who continuously criticised the ruling authorities for not trusting in God and then consequently bad things will happen to the country. Now wrath, remember, which I'm using in the sense that we experience the consequences of our actions, God's grace doesn't come in and save us. Well God uses the kingdoms of this world. We cannot read Isaiah or Jeremiah without this looming very large in our understanding. He uses Nebuchadnezzar to take all the people from Judah off into exile and he uses Cyrus to conquer them. And one of the great insights in the theology of the Ancient Israelites after the exile was realising that God wasn't just the God of the tribe, He was in charge of everything, and this is precisely the insight that I want us to hang on to. That God is in charge of all the kingdoms, and that God can use, foreign kingdoms to chastise His chosen people in order to bring them back to faith in Him. It's pretty much what I think will be happening. So chastisement from outside.

And then just briefly, living in the Kingdom, the phrase in the prophets, "Come let us return to the Lord for He has torn us and He will heal us." That's Hosea, we will be doing him in morning prayer. And also another quotation from the Psalms, "Do not place your trust in princes". Tony Blair will not save, and it's not just because he is Tony Blair, but John Major, Margaret Thatcher, whoever, President Bush, President Clinton, President McCain, Hilary Clinton none of them, none of them will save.

Right, so that's really a rapid canter through of some background context, because really what I want to talk about today is this man named Sayyid Qutb. Now he was born in 1906 in Southern Egypt and very, very bright. He had memorised the entirety of the Koran by the age of ten. And he joined the Egyptian Ministry of Education and he was sent to the United States between 1948 and 1950, which seems to have completely unhinged him, or at least given him an insight into Western society, which I think has all sorts of grains of truth running through it. But he was radicalised by this experience and on his return to Egypt he joins the Muslim brotherhood, OK, which is one of the - I want to avoid using the word terrorist at this point because it is not necessarily, it is a movement of strict Islamic observance. Let me put it like that.

Well, he, the Muslim brotherhood helped Nasser to come to power in Egypt and then Nasser turns on them because he thinks that they're not being supportive enough and Qutb ends up imprisoned on a regular basis and tortured under the Nasser regime. And this is profoundly important for understanding his philosophy. This experience of having been in the United States, and seeing Western society, and I'll come on to what he didn't like in Western society in a moment, but he had seen up close what Western society was like, and then he had supported a change of regime in Egypt, so an Egyptian comes to power and then that Egyptian turns on, the faithful Muslim community, and they end up torturing him. which is an inhumane result.

Well when he's in prison he writes a commentary called "In the Shade of the Koran", which is now I believe, the single most widely read commentary on the Koran, according to my sources. And he also wrote a little book called, "Milestones", which has some extracts from his commentary, plus his letters from prison and other similar writings. And it's that book "Milestones", which has actually been incredibly influential. I'll come on to that. Now he was actually in the end hanged in 1966 and the understanding is that when his verdict was announced he smiled because he realised that he was going to be a martyr. His understanding was that he was not going to be someone actively working to change the outside world, he was the prophet. And what he does is establish an ideology and "Milestones" in particular was designed to be used by the vanguard of the Islamic revolution. That's a bit of a Western phrasing but that's what it's designed for. So he is really the thinker underlying much of the Islamist terrorism that we are experiencing. So he is a very, very important thinker in terms of understanding what's going on and why. He is not the only source. But he is possibly the major one.

A quotation, "Mankind today is on the brink of a precipice because humanity is devoid of those vital values for its healthy development and real progress." The overall heading for my talks is "Let us be Human", that being human is what we were created for and there are various ways in which we are prevented from being human by idolatry and that's exactly what Qutb is saying. There are some significant differences but there is a profound degree of overlap. Much of what I've said in previous weeks, he would heartily concur with.

Anyhow, he went to the United States 1948 to 1950 and there's this one episode which he describes where he went to a dance and there were men and women dancing together, and worst of all, this took place in a church hall. And this was a sign of the utter decadence that Western society had collapsed into, through things like the idolatry of personal freedom and personal choice. Now more deeply, he objected to the way that in the West you have this division between Church and State. OK, and the way in which religion had become something privatised, something which didn't have any necessary impact on how you lived your public life. Now this was absolutely anathema to him, because for him, for Qutb, if your declaration of faith had no practical out-workings in your life, it wasn't faith. It wasn't real, Now those of you who have come to some of my talks before will realise that I completely agree with that. It's one of the ways in which Western understandings of Christianity have completely compromised its nature, that we have privatised it, that its fine, its all just a matter of personal opinion, and this theme, is one of the very, very important ones that I think which we as a community, not just in here but the wider Western community need to really think about and come to a decision over, because the criticisms which Qutb is placing against us and which are fuelling the terrorist approach to us, can't be answered with our present understandings. But I'll come back to that theme.

Another one, he felt that the family is destroyed by sensuality. Going back to this dance in the church hall, he has got this very lurid description of what American women were like in 1948, flaunting their sexuality and trying to manipulate men and play on their desires, and so forth. You know, what he would make of the situation sixty years on rather beggars the imagination. But it is interesting that his main point was that because the West had ignored, the givenness of male and female roles, men and women were prevented from fulfilling their basic true nature. What they were called by God to be. And one of the main results of this was that the family breaks down. Because the family can only continue if there is this specialisation of roles with the mothers concentrating on thesentimental and emotional formation of children and the men concentrating on dealing with the wider world, etc., etc..

And again, if you look at what's happened in over sixty years with the profound breakdown of marriage and the raising of children, you know it's not obvious that he's wrong. You know we could have all sorts of debates about ways in which he is wrong, but it's not immediately apparent that he is talking nonsense. This is one of the themes. And of course that material wealth is idolised which leads to social injustice. This is one of his major criticisms. In his understanding, all wealth belongs to God, and that although it is perfectly possible to have private ownership, the ownership carries with it certain duties and obligations, that the wealth is there to be used for the service and the good of the community, if you ignore that then you lose the right to possess the wealth. In other words it is the health of the community that has to determine what is done with the wealth. You know, what I was saying last week was rather similar, that we have these institutions which are simply geared around the reproduction and maximisation of wealth, which have been allowed to go off on completely their own track, without any regard to the wider human community within which they are embedded. Remember I was talking about it, you can understand it as a form of cancer. So again, lots of overlap.

And there is this word, and again it's one of those words which I have only read I have never heard it pronounced - Jahiliyah, which means something like being trapped in slavery. It's being trapped in a dehumanised condition. So if you are a Jahilee then you are dehumanised. And this is his word describing Western society. That Western society had turned away from God and therefore Western society was dehumanising and corrupt - it destroys people. And the response to Jahiliyah is to return to principally the Koran which is God's commands to human beings. And at the core of this is an understanding which is profoundly compatible with the major segment of Christianity, the Augustinian strand, which is that submission to God gives us our freedom. You know, Augustine says "In God's service is our perfect freedom," it's the same theology at root. That it is only by being centred on God and obedient to God that we become most fully ourselves.

And so for Qutb the Koran is God's final word to humanity, it comes down dictated by God to us and so it cannot be improved upon, this is the final revelation, and human institutions which are not based upon the Koran are necessarily dehumanising, because they are imperfect, they rest upon human choices rather than the divine choice, so the only forms of human institution which leads to a flourishing of humanity are the ones based on the Koran. In other words Sharia law. And anytime a Muslim is obedient to one of these alternative authorities, think back to the link between the private faith of the heart and actually working it out in practice, which is very much a dominant theme for Qutb. If in practice you are forced to live your life under an authority which isn't from the Koran, then that is in practice not being faithful. And so obedience to any non-Sharia form of authority, a Queen or a President for example, is itself un-Islamic and a betrayal of faith. Make sense?

Now Qutb is a direct influence on, the leading figures on Khomeini, Bin Laden was taught this by his brother, there is a very direct link, and Al Zawahiri I think I'm right in saying had been imprisoned with him. I'm pretty sure Al Zawahiri is also high up in Al Qaeda was also imprisoned at the same time. I think there is a big age difference but there is a direct link. And as I say, much of what he says is true. And this is a quotation from him, "Islam cannot accept any compromise with Jahiliyah either in its concept or in the mode of living derived from this concept, either Islam will remain or Jahiliyah.

And of course what flows from this understanding is Jihad. Now he has a distinct reading of Jihad and it's to do with reforming the external situation before you reform your internal soul. Whereas Khomeini for example actually said the reverse, the first Jihad is inner reform, purifying the soul from which you engage with the outside. But for Qutb, you have to engage with the outside first, because if you don't engage with the outside then that in itself will corrupt you.

There are two strands that Qutb emphasises - there is the preaching which is teaching the Muslim faithful how to understand the world correctly, which is what he is engaged with, and then there is what he calls the movement, and the movement is actually engaging with the external world in such a way as to challenge it and to destroy those things which are inhumane. Now it's worth emphasising that it is understood as a movement of hope and liberation. That it is a way of removing oppression. Think back to Qutb being tortured in prison, by brother Muslims as he would see it, and he interprets that as the Egyptian authorities having been infected with this Western mindset which prevents full humanity from being expressed. And this he experiences directly because he is being tortured, and so the process of being tortured captures in essence what Western society, you know the world of inhumanness is doing to the community of the faithful. Make sense?

And so Qutb emphasises that it's violence against the institutions which is imperative, it is not essential to attack people, although within some of the currents of thought people have pursued his logic. But he says that dying for Islam is a triumph. If you understand it - that you are fully human if you are faithful to the Koran and follow the Koran - and the world outside which is hostile and dehumanising, is destructive of life. If you give your life in the conflict between the two, for that which allows the most fully human, then you are assured of paradise, that is the ultimate statement denying Jahiliyah. You are denying what is inhuman. And this is the root or one of the roots of suicide bombing. This is what gives the ideological justification. But it's violence against the institutions which is the key bit.

Just briefly some criticisms. For obvious reasons there are many, many, but just from a Christian point of view really it is very much about controlling the external forms and that control being driven by human choices. That God has spoken in the Koran and after that He is not really as engaged as He was because what humans have to do is simply live it out and act accordingly. So there is no sense of, something evolving or growing, something new being born which is a real difference between this concept and the Christian concept of the Kingdom. You know the Christian concept of the Kingdom is not finally under human control, it's under God's control and God will succeed in accomplishing it, you know, whatever we do, even though we are called to co-operate with the process and to live in the light of the Kingdom, God's will shall be accomplished. And therefore it's God driven. The final responsibility for achieving it doesn't rest with human choice. And that seems to me a very big difference between Christian understandings of the Kingdom, which would otherwise have a lot in common with what Qutb is arguing for, and Qutb's argument. And of course there's no sense of play, no sense of God enjoying the process. And of course because it's focusing on the externals, reshaping the external world, it is primarily an ethic. And one thing to add to that which is a wider expression of difference between Christianity and Islam is that with this understanding you can't have God being humiliated on a cross. The idea that God can achieve things through weakness, through vulnerability, through being broken is completely outside the realm of this approach.

Now 23 February 1998, and there were some preceding ones to this but this is one to quote, Al Qaeda's declaration of war, long before the invasion of Iraq and so forth, and it took the form of a Fatwa, an Islamic juridical declaration, so the ruling, the Fatwa, "To kill the Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it." You are familiar with that? So this is dead serious and the consequences we are all familiar with.

I just want to run through areas of strength of this position. One is that it is an ideology, we are engaged in this war against terror but you can't destroy an ideology with bullets. Every time the West acts militarily it can't change the way that this interpretation is working. It confirms this interpretation. Whenever you see the Abu Graib pictures, or you get the stories from Guantanamo and so forth, this is reinforcing this perspective. You know this perspective sees the West as inhuman. And so when the West displays itself being inhuman, it is confirming the ideology, it's reinforcing it. So this is not an argument to say don't ever use military force, but it is to say that military force won't win. The ideology is coherent and attractive, it's meaningful, it draws people to it, it offers an explanation of the world which allows people to understand what is going on and do something about what they wish to resist. And of course, success breeds success.

Second strength as it is an underlying theme of the entire series of talks, oil. This is where the oil is, the green is what has been used up, the blue is what hasn't been used up although in practice I think you can chop it off about here. This is propaganda. Even so, it's the Gulf region is where most of the oil's left. And something to be aware of in the Gulf region, it's all here in the red bits, and the red bits are the Shia populations. And something else to bear in mind, a picture I've used before, of the Straits of Hormuz, where a very large proportion of the world's oil supply is shipped through there. In the previous talk I described this as the wind-pipe of Western civilisation. If there is armed conflict and if as the US military is planning on, according to one report, they expect Iran to be able to cut of the Straits of Hormuz temporarily, and they think that their Naval forces will be able to re-establish the free flow of oil through it, without causing too much harm. Put not your trust in princes. Cartoon, I thought you might like, George Bush - his new Iraq strategy - send more troops, increase aid, fight terrorists, did I miss anything? Well did I miss anything, I think there are questions marks about that cartoon but I thought you might like it.
The third strength is precisely terrorism itself, because it is low cost but very high impact, especially in terms of propaganda, in terms of maintaining morale. It engenders the sense that the good guys are winning and that the West, the inhuman ones are impotent, they have no moral strength. And of course it's self-sustaining, it's self-reproducing, once the ideology is out there, then people can form and gather as the July bombers did, without too much link elsewhere. I think there was some link with Muhammed Khan, in a sense Pakistan, but it is an indigenous phenomenon. And of course they can become financially independent. There is no command and control model necessary. So this won't be stopped by use of force because it's an idea.

Just briefly to think about the elements of Christian response. One is to re-emphasise the bit I've started with is about trusting in God, not trusting in our own strength but also not giving in to despair or anything like that. I think the response has to become a religious response. You know our society has to respond at the religious level. And of course you pray for your enemies and I think part of praying for your enemies is precisely understanding our enemies and recognising if they are speaking truth. Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, that's what I mean by the abomination, you know in terms of Qutb criticising the West for becoming inhuman, the story of the twentieth century is not all that creditable in many ways and we need to hear the criticism and ensure that we don't go down that path again because it would be so easy to turn the Muslim communities into scapegoats. You know where the July bombers came from in, is it Bradford, Leeds, to start ostracising them and I think that is precisely what we mustn't do. Because again that would confirm and reinforce the ideology.

Practically speaking I think we should, one more reason, yet one more reason, let's prepare to be without oil. Now there's a chap called Bernard Lewis who is one of the most prominent and respected academic authorities on Islam, and he talks much about the sense of respect, social respect or face as in loss of face, in the Arabic culture, Arab and Muslim culture. And he says much of what is driving this anger is the sense of humiliation, that the anger felt within the Islamic community is precisely because they feel humiliated, they feel weak, and the thing is they are weak. This is coming back to the thing about don't exaggerate the threat. And he talks about the prospects for civil war or reformation within Islam itself, because we shouldn't think that Qutb's ideology, although it's influential, and I don't think it can be seen as heretical, it is not all of Islam. And so there are those within the Islamic community who would vehemently reject what Qutb is arguing for.

And so there are lots of different strands of Islam and even of Islamism and so Qutb is not the same as for example the Wahhabi strand which is dominant or driven from Saudi Arabia and which is one of the main sources of financing radical mosques around the world and so forth, so I haven't said very much about that, but that's another strand. Or the Khomeini Shia strand which I have indicated before has a different understanding of Jihad for example. And there are differences but things to be aware of. In many ways Islam is profoundly weak. You know for the last two hundred, two hundred and fifty years, I suppose since Napolean went into Egypt, Islam's been on the back foot and retreating, and what is sustaining the growth of Islam, especially the growth in the population of Islam at the moment, is oil income. You know vast amounts of money going through and although they are going to get another huge lug as people will realise that the oil is not going to be around forever, it's finite. When there is no more oil income and their population has expanded hugely, what's going to happen? That's within fifteen, twenty years, and at the moment they have got this huge population spike, I can't remember the exact figures, but something like 40% or 50% of the population in the country of Arabia is under 20, or that order, 25, vast numbers of young people are coming in, there's a huge population spike, so this brief moment of difficulty.

Come back to a point about immigration which is something of political import at the moment, you might have heard this quotation, "Europe will be Islamic by the end of this century at the very latest, 50% of the babies born in Brussels are Muslim." That quotation by the way is from Bernard Lewis. Now I think he was being deliberately provocative to make people think. But certainly if the demographic trends don't change then his point is unarguable, but ninety years is a long time to say that the demographic trends won't change. At the moment it is 7% of babies in the European Union are Muslim. But broadly speaking Europe's population is shrinking and getting older and the main areas which are growing in population terms are immigrant communities and principally Muslim communities. In France I think it is going to be up to about 15% in ten years if it isn't already. In France they are forbidden to do proper censuses which take religion into account, but they are talking about there being at least 10% now. But the issue... for example what happens in, you remember the riots in the Paris suburbs, where now the French Police request permission to enter the area because they say this area is Islam, this area it is Sharia law we don't recognise your authority. Do you see how this links in to what Qutb is arguing for. That you have these establishments of Islamic areas. And of course this is happening in Britain, you have these requests to make an area of Bradford, Muslim. This is an area where Sharia law will be applied.

Very import caveat, not all Muslims are the same, 2004, I think it was a Sunday Times one, 60% of British Muslims want Sharia law. It seems to me that there does need to be, this is about internal things, I finished pretty much what I'm saying about foreign policy. In terms of immigration, in terms of this country, we do need a new settlement. I'm calling it a new Elizabethan settlement simply because in the history of this country we have had religiously fuelled, ideological conflicts which caused much slaughter. Now the first Elizabethan settlement was just about the wrestling between the Protestants and the Catholics and Puritans and so forth, and what you have is precisely what Qutb is objecting to, an element of privatisation of faith, it is saying, hang on, there needs to be an arena where your religious claims are put to one side in order to prevent the slaughter of one faction by another. And this is what was established originally under Elizabeth, of course it took a hundred years to bed down, you know it had to go through Cromwell and so forth, before we end up with our glorious revolution of 1688 when things really did settle down, and there was a long process of philosophical reflection and people like John Locke saying that religious belief has to be subject to reason. But one of the fruits of this which laid the ground work for enlightenment is establishing a public square wherein which people can speak freely without provoking religious slaughter.

So that is held together in this country by the Oath of Allegiance, the duty of loyalty to the Crown. And of course the Crown in practise delegates political debates to the political parties and parliament and so forth, but the Crown is the focus of unity and so the Crown establishes an area within which conflict can be played out. Now that is precisely what Qutb is objecting to. That you have a space created which relativizes religious claims to a certain extent. And the overriding point about this is that there is one rule of law. You know the law establishes this framework within which every citizen needs to work, every subject needs to live. And that is precisely what is being undermined by this ideology and those who are sympathetic to this ideology. You can't have separate rules of law in the Kingdom. You can't have a bit of Bradford sectioned off and saying English law doesn't apply here, this is a Muslim area and we are going to have Sharia law. It completely undermines the sense of what we've got. As I say, it took another hundred years of further conflict before it got fully established.

But one of the things I think is essential in response to the threat is to re-assert the distinctively Christian origins for our present political arrangements. It is not an accident that Western society formed in the West, where Christianity was dominant. And the roots of things like human rights, lie in Scripture, they lie in St Paul, "neither slave nor free, neither Jew nor Greek," and so on. These things which even the most secular minded would want to support, cannot be supported and defended against this sort of ideological attack without acknowledging its roots in Christian faith.

Much of our, much of the difficulties that we face I believe, lies in a form of self-hatred, this idea that because the West has a terrible history which it does, because the West has all sorts of dehumanising effects which it does, that the West is therefore the root of all evil and therefore needs to be abolished. I think it is a very one-sided approach to just indicate where the West gets it wrong. Because in fact the West gets all sorts of things profoundly right. As you know I have just had a daughter, I want her to be educated, that requires a certain form of civilisation to effect it, to bring it into being and that form of civilisation is not possible under Qutb's ideology. That seems to me something worth fighting for. It is part of full human flourishing - I want my daughter, I want all daughters to flourish and the specific form of this ideology would completely deny it, so I think there are things worth fighting for.

I think we do need to start speaking plainly and have a dialogue and I have qualms about some of the things that Jack Straw says about veils and so on, these are the things which we need to talk about as a community. We need to actually defend this public square. There aren't to be areas which are cut off. And so this question of free speech, like the cartoons in Denmark, which no newspaper in this country saw fit to republish, this is reinforcing Qutb's ideology, that the West is craven and weak, it has no spiritual backbone. I think we can be robust in defending the values which we affirm in our society without going down the road of abomination, I think you can hold the two together.

And of course ultimately and the whole point of what I am saying today, do not be afraid, that comes back to where I started, from Psalm 33, it is not our strength that saves us it is renewing our own spiritual roots and acknowledging the necessity of God in our lives and our communities. That is the only way forward.

Not all Muslims are Islamists. That's why I'm trying to use that phrase, Islamists is not Islam. So I had a separate session on Islam and issues like went through the five pillars of the faith and the Haj, and all this sort of stuff. This is a particular ideology, it's like an offshoot, a branch from Islam which is toxic, and which is dedicated to the destruction of Western society, and we need to do something about it. I'm saying we are not going to be able to succeed in resisting it by trusting in our bombs and aircraft and things, we need to renew our own civilisation in religious terms.

Quite literally...

Herbert McCabe: "Quite literally, God does not give a damn about your sin."

Go read some more great quotes here.

I've got a long post about atonement issues to be posted - hopefully later today.


Atheists and evangelicals agree: Rev Sam talks bollocks.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Had the great pleasure of a guest staying the last couple of days, with whom I trained, and who is now the vicar here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

On being saved

Something a bit more positive about the atonement, still in the form of notes. Click 'full post' for text.

‘Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life. For ‘consciousness of sin’ is a real event and so are despair and salvation through faith. Those who speak of such things (Bunyan for instance) are simply describing what has happened to them, whatever gloss anyone may want to put on it.’

So wrote Wittgenstein, and this remains one of the clearest descriptions of what I take Christianity to be - it is something which actually takes place in our lives (it transforms our lives) - it is not theory-driven (as if we have been given the equivalent of laws of physics, just relating to those things that cannot be seen); rather it is directly driven by a change of life. This is one of the major reasons why I think atheists just don't 'get it'. They misunderstand the grammar of faith - but that's a separate argument. Trouble is, a lot of self-proclaimed Christians also don't get it - in precisely the same way. "A theology which insists on the use of certain particular words and phrases, and outlaws others, does not make anything clearer. (Karl Barth) It gesticulates with words, as one might say, because it wants to say something and does not know how to express it. Practice gives the words their sense." (Wittgenstein again). I think what I want to say is: those who insist that penal substitution is the way - sometimes the only way - to understand the atonement are 'gesticulating with words'. The words are floating free of a transformed life. The advocates remain trapped within the world.

But that is still a bit negative. What I want to do is say a bit more about what this 'salvation through faith' might mean. And to begin, I want to talk about sin.

Sin I see as something very real and concrete and actively harmful and destructive. (This is why I am more and more persuaded about spiritual warfare, and why what the Church Fathers write in those terms makes abundant sense to me, especially as it is linked to sacramental worship). I do not see sin as something abstract, something restricted to a 'spiritual sphere' separate from our daily life. It is not a theoretical construct. It is the name we give, it is the vocabulary we use, to discern, describe and defeat all that enslaves us and prevents us from displaying the image of God in the world.

Jesus saves us from that.

It is sin which crucifies Jesus. The prince of this world, the powers and principalities, see Jesus as the enemy and they use their powers to destroy him. He pays the price of sin: in other words, those values which are limited by the world express their hatred of all that Christ stood for by reacting against him with all the forces that they could command. So Jesus is rejected and despised by society (his social level quality is destroyed) and then his life is taken away from him (his biological level quality is destroyed). The world takes the worldly values (social approval, biological life) and removes them from Christ. That is the crucifixion.

The resurrection proclaims: there is more to life than this.

The devil is defeated. He has over-reached himself. Consequently, to embrace Christ, to believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, is to immediately relativise the biological and the social - all the powers and principalities of the world. That is what makes martyrdom possible: the devil is dethroned. No longer can the existing social and religious practices be seen as final. God cannot be captured.

More than this: the character of God is seen in Christ. The judgement goes two ways, not simply that the devil is cast down, but Christ is lifted up (John 12.31-32).

Our societies are irrevocably bound up in sin - that's what I take the doctrine of original sin to refer to. We are all implicated, and we cannot get free. We cannot discern anything outside of the world of sin except for revelation. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

To turn to Christ is to say that Christ is truth - and therefore that the world is not, that the devil is the prince of lies. It is to say that the way of Christ is possible, and real, and more deeply rooted in creation than expediency. The church is composed of those who recognise this - who live in the light of the resurrection. It's not a matter of words, it's a matter of priorities and the shape of a life.

If you forgive, then you believe in the resurrection.
If you affirm and succour the poor and broken-hearted, you believe in the resurrection.
If you resist the idolatries of the world, and fight for justice and mercy, you believe in the resurrection.

"Not everyone who calls me Lord shall enter the Kingdom, but those who do the will of my father who is in heaven."
"What must I do to inherit eternal life? Go and do likewise."

One way of understanding God is to say: this is what I am most committed to, this is what I most deeply and profoundly believe.

I have seen lives - in those who profess Christ and those who do not - which are literally crippled and stunted by an acceptance of worldly value. Those voices which say 'I am bad'; 'I do not deserve to be loved'; 'If only I could do... then I will be worthy and loveable'.

These are the voices of demons. These are the internalised voices of worldly values. This is the realm of the accuser.

The difference between law and grace is: law says 'do X' and then you are worthy/ loveable/ redeemed. Grace says you are worthy/ loveable/ redeemed - now you can 'do X'.

God sent his son, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

When that difference sinks into the heart, when it is truly accepted, that is when someone believes in their heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. That is when they are saved. That is when they are set free from their sins. That is when their faith has healed them.

And the consequences are visible. It is like a vomiting out of illness. The back extends a little straighter. The eyes are brighter. The tension leaves the body. And the Spirit comes. Now we can forgive - not with clenched teeth and 'yes I really ought to forgive' but genuinely from the heart.

This is not a matter of saying 'Abracadabra' in order to open the doors to heaven. This is heaven coming down to earth, and the angels rejoicing over the one sinner who repents. For repentance isn't simply a mental shift - it is the turning around of the heart and the life, it is changing the way we do things. It is Zacchaeus refunding those he has defrauded - 'this day salvation has come to this house'.

Salvation is not a matter of ensuring a quantity of souls in heaven - as if we were misers hoarding gold to fend off starvation. Salvation is something that takes place in a human life here and now - it is the present shaped by eternity. This is eternal life - life that is not subject to the constraints of the world.

Jesus saves us from our sins.
Until the resurrection dawns in our hearts we are dead in our sin - we are still bound up in the ways of the world that destroy life.
By his wounds we are healed.
In him is life, and light, and that light is the light for all people.

Salvation is to be dead to sin but alive to God through Christ. This is to have abundance of life (Jn 10.10). This is to be filled with joy and peace, the peace which the world cannot give.

1Come, let us return to the Lord •
who has torn us and will heal us.

2God has stricken us •
and will bind up our wounds.

3After two days, he will revive us, •
and on the third day will raise us up,
that we may live in his presence.

4Let us strive to know the Lord; •
his appearing is as sure as the sunrise.

5He will come to us like the showers, •
like the spring rains that water the earth.

6‘O Ephraim, how shall I deal with you? •
How shall I deal with you, O Judah?

7‘Your love for me is like the morning mist, •
like the dew that goes early away.

8‘Therefore, I have hewn them by the prophets, •
and my judgement goes forth as the light.

9‘For loyalty is my desire and not sacrifice, •
and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.’