Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Conference on the church and the academy

What should the relationship be between the church and the academy?

This will be a theme of a conference to be held at Emmanuel College in the University of Queensland at the end of June this year.

One stream of the conference focuses on Biblical studies, theology, and mission.

The purpose of the second stream is to bring together scholars working in secular academic disciplines to explore how intellectual issues in their disciplines interact with issues in theological and Biblical studies. This is increasingly important due to the rise of postmodernism and economic rationalism in the academy and of anti-intellectualism in the church. Scholars in the arts, sciences, and engineering who are Christians are being asked to present papers on how a Biblical perspective might dialogue with their discipline and/or how the church can benefit from such a dialogue.
In 2009 we had papers such as

Can Cultural Linguistics Serve the Indigenous Church?
Churches Supporting Christians in the Academy
Confessions of a Christian Criminologist
Divine Pedagogy: Theological Use of Educational Imagery
Law and gospel: Jurisprudential implications of a theological schema
Science and Christian Apologetics - Opportunities and Pitfalls
Statutory Construction and Biblical Hermeneutics - Law in the Service of the Gospel?
Student attitudes to some ideas of Science and Christianity
Taming your Tongue in Academia
The Evangelical Christian School: 10 Critical Issues
The Spirit of St Benedict and the 21st Century University
Theology 2.0: Blogging as Theological Discourse

Consider attending and submitting an abstract.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Made in the image of God

Karl Barth has an interesting discussion of the meaning of Genesis 1:27 which emphasizes sexual distinction and unity as reflecting the imago Dei.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
It cannot be contested that the wider literary context, of which the biblical creation history is the first part, is not interested in man in abstracto, in his soul or spirituality, in his body or even in the superiority which he certainly enjoys over all other creatures, but in the future partner of the covenant, the kingdom and the glory of God, in the true counterpart of God, in the earthly subject, addressed and treated by God as a "Thou," of a history which begins with the creation and continues right up to the present time.
Church Dogmatics 3.1, Doctrine of Creation, p. 194

Barth then goes on to applaud the views of Dietrich Bonhoeffer ["uncreated freedom is worshipped by created freedom"] and to state:
the image and likeness of the being created by God signifies existence in confrontation, i.e., in this confrontation, in the juxtaposition and conjunction of man and man which is that of male and female,

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Laughing all the way to the bank

Today our annual church conference was on the theme Money, Money, Money [hence the previous posts on money]. In one of his talks Peter Kaldor showed this video from the British TV series Bremner, Bird, and Fortune.
It is quite the satire on investment banking and the financial crisis.
I laughed, but on the other hand I feared it was a bit too close to the truth.

Stop trying to justify yourself

The parable of the dishonest manager (Luke 16) is arguably one of Jesus most difficult parables to understand, interpret, and apply. There are important lessons for us about the use of money. But there is also a message about salvation and justification. This parable follows the parable of the prodigal son, which also involves wealth, inheritance, stewardship, and judgement. The parable of the Prodigal Son ends with the father saying to the second son:

Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"

the next verse is

1He [Jesus] also said to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.

So perhaps the two parables should be read together.
After Jesus tells the parable of the dishonest manager,

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 "The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.

What is money? It is a currency we earn or inherit and gives us influence and status in the world. It can be easily tied to our identity and our very raison d'etre. But it cannot save us. Furthermore, we cannot earn or inherit our salvation.

New eyewitness accounts to Jesus life

Yesterday I heard a great kids talk for Easter which made use of one of these amusing and engaging short videos, R U Smarter than a Fly?, where "three flies and a maggot are eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus."

Friday, March 26, 2010

The third most important decision in life

I will leave you to figure out what I think the two most important ones are.

The third one (at least for Christians in the Western world) is what house to buy. This will have a BIG impact on your life.

If you live a long way from the church you belong to, the reality is you won't be very involved, particularly in the lives of other people.

If you take out a large mortgage (just like the banks want you to and the cultural norm is) you will become enslaved to debt. This will have a big effect on what job you and your spouse must keep. In turn that will impact on family time, travel, stress, church involvement, ....

I found the cartoon here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why pastors should blog

Abraham Piper has a good post, 6 reasons why pastors should blog, on the Desiring God site.

Indeed, I think the same applies to anyone in leadership.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What is a human person?

The journal Science and Christian Belief have asked me to review the book Mind, Brain and the Elusive Soul: Human Systems of Cognitive Science and Religion, by Mark Graves.
[I hope to post more on that later...]

This has prompted thoughts on such matters. I remain to be convinced from either a scientific or a theological perspective that we can partition the human person.

To me, the following passages of Scripture suggest the totality of human personhood rather than helping to define a division.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
Matthew 22:37-38

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:23

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will he live up to his name?

Today I read the account in Luke's Gospel of the crucifixion of Jesus:

35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong."42And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

This repeating question about whether Jesus can save brings to mind the beginning of Luke's Gospel where the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary. (Note that Jesus is the greek form of Joshua which means "the LORD saves"):
you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."

Monday, March 22, 2010

How do people change strongly held views?

Yelling at them that they are wrong does not help. But, that is not much of an insight, and it does not stop most of us reverting to that...

I found this article Why I am not a Creationist (anymore) from First Things interesting, particularly the following quote:

.... I began enjoying the intellectual freedom of reading. It started with a few classic novels and swelled into a multi-disciplinary interest. I started thinking more clearly and became more analytical of my surroundings and beliefs.

One might say that reading brought me out of creationism. No wonder I was taught a fear of books outside the Bible and orthodox theology.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Is this progress?

Papua New Guinea is undergoing major social upheaval associated with a large Liquid National Gas Project development [US$14 billion] led by Exxon-Mobil. Last year the Age newspaper ran a series of articles including some beautiful photographs by Jason South (including the one above). Traditional land owners receive monetary compensation. What happens? Here are extracts from one of the Age articles by Jo Chandler:

"The men take the new road, and take the money, and go off and marry new wives," says Naomi Samuel, president of the Kutubu Foi Women's Association.

The women left behind struggle to feed their children out of exhausted soils. Sons get in strife — into home brew and dope. Their mothers are frightened of them. People with money use idle time to fight about it — violence erupts over land, pigs and women. Fighting is not new in these parts, but with guns the bloodshed reaches new heights.

While inroads are made on diseases such as malaria, when the errant husbands return they give their wives sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, which appears to be rising dramatically in the province.

"Men get money, get drunk, beat their wives, don't feed their children," is the summation of Banima Vege, a senior Kutubu man and agricultural adviser. "Development brings both good and bad, but our leaders . . . they don't see the impact on traditional life, that money really spoils traditional life."


He [a local leader] anticipates a grim future for landowner children. "When you are given money, you don't value it; it creates laziness." They will be vulnerable to drugs, to violence, to HIV. "Communities will fracture, there will be no peace.

"Sometimes," he says wearily, "I wish we had no oil." And gas? No difference, he says.

"Unity, peace, respect and love for one another cannot be replaced with cash," he says. "The greed for money destroys these values, the vibes of a harmonious society."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mission that transcends culture

This weekend I am taking a missions class with my wife and some of the pre-reading has been very challenging. Here are a couple of choice quotes:

"The West has often domesticated the gospel in its own culture while making it unnecessarily foreign to every culture. It will always be a sign of contradiction. But when it is in conflict with a particular culture, for instance of the Third World, it is important to establish whether the tension stems from the gospel itself or from the circumstance that the gospel has been too closely associated with the culture through which the missionary message was mediated at this point in time."

(D J Bosch, Transforming Mission, Orbis, 1991, p 455).

"The Problem was that the advocates of mission were blind to their own ethnocentrism. They confused middle-class ideals and values with the tenets of Christianity. Their views about morality, respectability, order, efficiency, individualism, professionalism, work and technological progress … were without compunction exported to the ends of the earth. They were therefore predisposed not to appreciate the cultures of the people to whom they went – the unity of living and learning; the interdependence between individual, community, culture and industry; the profundity of folk wisdom; the proprieties of traditional societies – all these were swept aside by a mentality shaped by the Enlightenment which tended to turn people into objects, reshaping the entire world into the image of the West, separating humans from nature and from one another, and ‘developing’ them according to Western standards and suppositions."

(Transforming Mission, p 294)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shocked by Jesus

Today I was at the Uni Bible Talks organised by Evangelical Students on campus. Andrew Brown spoke on the following passage from Matthew 15
22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon."23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." 24He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26And he answered, "It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs." 27She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table." 28Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is certainly not an easy passage to understand! One might think Jesus was uncaring or even derogatory towards the suffering woman. But, I wonder if Jesus actions and this account are meant to shock us. We need to see the desparate state we are in because of our rebellion against God. Rather than passing judgement on Jesus we should be identifying with the Canaanite woman (descended from the enemies of Gods people and purposes) and casting ourselves at the mercy of the Messiah.

The painting above is
Christ and the Canaanite Woman
Germain-Jean Drouais

I found it here

Monday, March 15, 2010

Is there a boundary between science and theology?

In the Preface to Church Dogmatics 3.1: The Doctrine of Creation, Karl Barth writes:
There is free scope for natural science beyond what theology has to describe as the work of the Creator. And theology can and must move freely where a science which really is science, and not secretly a pagan Gnosis or religion, has its appointed limits. I am of the opinion, however, that future workers in the field of the Christian doctrine of creation will find many problems worth pondering in defining the point and manner of this twofold boundary.
Some exploration of this issue by Jurgen Moltmann can be found here. He argues that there must be vigorous interaction between science and theology because they are both grappling with the way the world is.

However, I think this is just a bit too simple. I do not think you can define the boundary of science. Rather than two non-overlapping circles perhaps we should consider two different regions which have a shading which decreases in density as one moves further from the centre.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

What does faith conflict with?

It is commonly stated that faith is in conflict with reason. But in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis takes a very different view, arguing that the real conflict is actually faith and reason versus emotion and imagination. He discusses this in first of two chapters on Faith.
Lewis discusses how he came to change his mind and see faith as a virtue:

I was assuming that if the human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up. In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good evidence that anaesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anaesthetics. It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Freedom and justice for Burma

Tonight my family and I went to a dinner to raise awareness and support the Karen people, who are oppressed by the Burmese Army and Government. More information is available here from Partners Relief and Development, who are working with Karen refugees along the border with Thailand. I particularly recommend this video.

C.S. Lewis on biblical imagery

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis discusses the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Last week my son and I read the chapter on Hope. It ends:
There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of 'Heaven' ridiculous by saying they do not want 'to spend eternity playing harps'. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One diplomat who could not live without Jesus

My dear wife brought to my attention a post on John Piper's blog featuring a great quote from Charles Malik, former President of the UN General Assembly:
I speak to you as a Christian. Jesus Christ is my Lord and God and Savior and Song day and night. I can live without food, without drink, without sleep, without air, but I cannot live without Jesus. Without him I would have perished long ago. Without him and his church reconciling men to God, the world would have perished long ago. I live in and on the Bible for long hours every day. The Bible is the source of every good thought and impulse I have. In the Bible God himself, the Creator of everything from nothing, speaks to me and to the world directly, about himself, about ourselves, and about his will for the course of events and for the consummation of history. And believe me, not a day passes without my crying from the bottom of my heart, ‘Come, Lord Jesus.'

Distinguishing science and philosophy

Tim Keller, Minister at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City has written a helpful and balanced article, Creation, Evolution, and Christian Lay People. [Thanks to Nathan Campbell for bringing it to my attention]. I recommend reading it all but here are a few snippets:

Question#2: If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?

Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world- view.

Keller makes an important distinction between evolution as a biological process (EBP) and the grand theory of evolution (GTE). He states:

I have seen Christians in a Bible study on Genesis 1-2 read the following quote and become confused:

"If 'evolution' is...elevated to the status of a world-view of the way things are, then there is direct conflict with biblical faith. But if 'evolution' remains at the level of scientific biological hypothesis, it would seem that there is little reason for conflict between the implications of Christian belief in the Creator and the scientific explorations of the way which--at the level of biology--God has gone about his creating processes."

Atkinson [the writer] is saying that you can believe in EBP and not GTE. I have seen intelligent, educated laypeople really struggle with the distinction Atkinson has made. Nevertheless, this is exactly the distinction they must make, or they will never grant the importance of EBP.

Monday, March 8, 2010

It is obvious that ....

I have been reading quite a few (too many?) articles, blogs, and online debates about atheism, evolution, young earth creationism, and biblical interpretation. I would like to suggest a moratorium on phrases such as the following:

"it is obvious that...."
"the Bible clearly says..."
"you are being irrational...."
"any rational person can see that...."
"there are a lot of very intelligent people who believe X [or not X]"
"science has clearly proven...."
"it is ridiculous to believe Y...."

If I am debating another person who sees things differently than me than I am not sure I can justify claiming my point of view is "obvious".

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The God Delusion debate in Brisbane

This coming Wednesday night parts of the God Delusion Debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox will be shown in Brisbane. [7pm, March 10, Raybould Lecture Theatre, Hawken Engineering Building, University of Queensland].
A number of Christian scientists (including myself) will be available afterwards to answer questions.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil

The Week had an extract from a Rolling Stone article, Wall Street's Bailout Hustle.
It is truly shocking.

Using science demonstrations to help teach kids about God

Here are the slides from the elective I am giving today at the IGNITE conference.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The God Delusion debate II

The end of The God Delusion Debate, between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox is fascinating. You can see the whole debate online here. In his closing statement John Lennox discusses our innate desire for justice and quotes from Acts 17 (Paul's address at the Areopagus in Athens)

God commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Richard Dawkins response to Lennox is similar to some of the Athenian's response to Paul:

32Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Some challenges to Christian postgraduates and academics

Get involved with a Christian peer group on campus. (i.e. a weekly Bible study or prayer group with your academic/professional peers).

Attend some undergraduate Christian group events. It is a great encouragement for them if you are there.

Be known as a Christian.

Engage your brain with the Gospel and all its ramifications. Develop a Christian perspective on your discipline.

Put family, personal integrity, and ministry before career.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Being Right at University

On Friday I have been asked to give a talk for a group of Christian postgraduates and academics, "Being a Christian at University". I have not settled on the talk yet but here are a few preliminary thoughts.

In some ways being a Christian at University is no different from being a Christian in others contexts. In other ways there are unique opportunities and dangers. I looked at Romans which prompted the following thoughts.

There is no need to be ashamed of the Gospel. It saves sinners. (1:16) Physics, biology, philosophy, and economics are wonderful and fascinating. But, they cannot save us.

The world we live in and study (God's creation) testifies to the greatness and power of God (1:20). Christians should see this greatness in what they learn and research and praise God. But, some men will ignore this testimony.

People will suppress the truth (1:18)[whether it is about God or different scholarly views than their own] because of their sin. We should not be surprised when they do.

People will serve and worship the creation and creations of the creature (Science, Nature, Art, Music) rather than the Creator (1:25).

People will claim to be wise but believe foolish things [quantum consciousness, postmodernism, multiverses,..] because of their sin (1:21,22).
Intellectual and personal integrity cannot be separated.
People will believe what they want to believe rather than what the evidence before them suggests they should believe.

We all desperately want to be Right, whether it is about our morality, political views, latest scientific theory, or interpretation of the Bible. We want to justify ourselves, not just our views, but our very existence.
The only thing we can really be right about is being Right with God. This is not something we can achieve, either by cleverness or by effort. It is a gift from God, through Jesus Christ (3:24, 6:23).

How should Christian academics and postgraduates live? Just like Christians in other areas of employment. Because of God's mercy, be a "living sacrifice". Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (12:1,2)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Does Dawkins model good science and scholarship?

Richard Dawkins is speaking in Brisbane this week. When The God Delusion was published I was asked to give a talk on it in Sydney. In preparation I read the book and wrote a review. Below I reproduce the first and last paragraph.

I found this a somewhat disappointing book to read, but not because it shook cherished beliefs. First, I found Dawkins' derisory language and attitude towards all those with whom he disagrees, rather tiresome. He does not just belittle religious believers, but also scientists and fellow atheists who are not as hostile as he is towards religion and God. Second, I found it rather disappointing that someone who is Professor for the Public Understanding of Science, writes a book which does not engage with primary material, but instead uses superficial characterisations, and mostly references material from websites. Furthermore, there is little acknowledgement of ranges of opinion, with subtleties in the philosophical interpretation of scientific knowledge. Everything is extremely black and white.....

[long discussion of details of the book]

I believe true scholarship, whether in science or the humanities,has certain characteristics: careful research of possible sources of information, a critical and balanced weighing of evidence, a respect for and engagement with alternative points of view, a willingness to be proven wrong, caution about jumping to conclusions, a commitment to peer review....
I regret that Richard Dawkins appears to have abandoned these scholarly disciplines. But, perhaps I should not be surprised since it appears from the ISI Web of Science that Dawkins has not published a scientific research paper of any significance (i.e., one in an international peer-reviewed scientific journal) since 1980.