Monday, June 25, 2018

The not so dark ages

I learnt a lot from the chapter in Historical Theology, Middle Ages and the Rennasiance (700-1500 AD).

Here is the video introduction from the corresponding chapter in Christian Theology: An introduction.


The first value of the chapter is it highlights how this period was not the "dark ages".
Nor was this period dominated by arcane arguments about questions such as “How many angels can dance on a pin head?” This was actually an intellectually rich time that set the stage for the Reformation.

Under Charlemagne, cathedrals and monasteries became centres of teaching and learning.
The first universities were founded by the church, with a focus on theology and philosophy.
Scholasticism, or “the cathedral of the mind” flourished during 1200-1500, with an emphasis on the “rational justification of religious belief and the systematic presentation of those beliefs”. McGrath says scholasticism  “does not refer to a specific system of beliefs, but to a particular way of doing and organising theology.”

Key figures were Erasmus, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham.
The Renaissance occurred in the fourteenth and fifteenth century Italy.
Theological writers tended to ignore the scholastics and focus more on the text of scripture and patristics.
Humanism was concerned with ad fontes (“back to the sources”). This largely meant the New Testament in the original language, Greek.
This humanism is quite different from the secular humanism of today.
Byzantine writers tended to understand salvation in terms of deification, rather than western legal or relational categories, that were emphasized in the Reformation.
This period saw the beginning of apologetics. For example, Anselm’s “ontological argument” and
Aquinas’ five arguments for the existence of God, including the cosmological argument.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Who decides whether a woman is "free" or "oppressed"?

I read a fascinating New York Times article
The College Student Who Has France’s Secularists Fulminating,
which describes how Maryam Pougetoux, a student leader has caused offense because she wore a traditional head scarf when interviewed on TV about student protests.
Some secularists considered it inconsistent with her being president of a student union and with advocacy of the progressive and feminist values she stands for.
Critics seem focused on her clothes rather than what she said.


In such discussions I wonder about whether some women in the Western world are really free?
There is incredible social pressure (from both men and women) for women wear make up, high heels, revealing clothing, and adopt certain poses. Some women freely choose such options, others do so out of compulsion, whether consciously or sub-consciously.

The article about the french controversy is interesting to juxtapose with a recent article in The Australian newspaper, Race, gender politics swamp great debate, Controversy has arisen because the Sydney University Debating Society has introduced gender-based quotas for their teams.
The article features the photograph below of a student who supported the quotas. 


Friday, June 15, 2018

The highs and lows of Christian history

A valid criticism of Christianity is that it has been used to justify, to condone and to ignore all kinds of evil: war, genocide, slavery, poverty, discrimination, oppression, abuse, ...
On the other hand, over the past two thousand years some Christians have sometimes played a leading role in many noble initiatives in health care, education, human rights, poverty alleviation, ....
A challenge in any public discussion is to present a balanced perspective of these lows and highs.

The Centre for Public Christianity in Australia has produced a new documentary that aims to present a balanced perspective on this mixed history.
It is now showing in Australia. Unfortunately, I won't get to see it for a while because I am overseas.

For the Love of God. Trailer from CPX on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The collateral damage of evil

On a recent flight I watched the recent movie remake of Murder on the Orient Express, based on the classic mystery novel by Agatha Christie.



On the one hand it is "harmless" entertainment; an interesting murder mystery with some unexpected twists. On the other hand, it strongly brings out how a single act of evil (murder of a child) has a disturbingly large "ripple effect" deeply touching (and ruining) the lives of many others, even those who might be considered to be on the periphery of the event.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The myth of the perfect life

Until this week I had never heard of Kate Spade. Tragically, this past week she died by suicide, which has attracted much grief and analysis. I thought a commentary in the Guardian was interesting and sad:
So many women have been sharing stories online about their first Kate Spade handbag, like music fans reminiscing about the first time they heard a song by a recently deceased singer – and that is how it should be. She was a part of our lives and part of the cultural landscape for a generation. She made us feel that the perfect life was eminently achievable. How devastating to learn it felt exactly the opposite to her.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Helpful synopsis of individual books of the Bible



One of the many amazing things about the books of the Bible is how each one is crafted to tell a coherent, fascinating and powerful story with a clear theological message.  However, when one first reads many of them, particularly in the Old Testament, that Big Picture is easily lost or not seen. One can get lost in geneologies and obscure place names...

In light of this, I have found the short videos produced by The Bible Project very helpful. Now whenever I start to study a new book, whether individually or in a small group, I first watch the relevant video. They are quite dense and so I often find it helpful to watch one more than once.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A balanced perspective on science and Christianity

The Australian TV show Compass recently had a good episode, Can a scientist believe?.
It was refreshingly balanced, featuring interviews with scientists who are atheists and scientists who are Christian. It also included some content from the COSAC conference that I was recently involved in.