Monday, April 29, 2013

What causes wars?

"The greatest menace to our civilization is the conflict between giant organized systems of self-righteousness - each only too delighted to find that the other is wicked - each only too glad that the sins of the other give it pretext for still deeper hatred."  
Christianity, Diplomacy and War (1952)

former Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why did Vietnam become communist?

There are probably a multitude of reasons.
But, watching the movie Indochine showed me that the brutal and heartless colonial rule of the French created an environment that would have been a good breeding ground for communist sympathies.
Unfortunately, in the movie the only role of the church is handing out food to refugees.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

How should Christians respond to the poor?

I am looking forward to a TEAR one day conference in Brisbane Heart for the Poor to be held saturday May 18.
One of the speakers is Charles Ringma.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How should Christians engage the university?

Terry Halliday is a leading scholar on the sociology of law. In 2011 he gave a very challenging talk Engaging the University at the World Congress of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES).
He compares three different models for engagement of Christians with the university.
Pietistic vs. Apologetic vs. Dialogic.
This is probably the most inspirational talk I have heard over the last few years.

[Aside: I first met Terry 25 years ago when he taught a sunday school class at First Presbyterian Church in Evanston, Illinois, which I attended for 18 months.]

There is also a great series of very short videos where Terry is interviewed by Mark Labberton, the incoming President of Fuller Seminary.

A Dialogic Approach

Integrating Work and Christian Faith

The Courage to Face Intractable Issues

Where Faith and Political Action Meet

Christian Faith and Human Rights

How Can Locals Acquire Global Perspective?

Pitfalls and Pietism in America and Abroad

The Wisdom That Comes from the Church Universal

Living as a Christian in the Public Sphere

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Christian astrophysicist talks about the Big Bang

This friday lunchtime my colleague Professor Michael Drinkwater is giving a talk "The Big Bang: a scientific and philosophical revolution" at the Centre for Science, Religion, and Society at Emmanuel College. Details are here.
I am really looking forward to it.

You can watch two videos of Michael discussing the age of the universe and his Christian faith on the Centre for Public Christianity site.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A self-evident truth?

The Declaration of Independence of the USA states
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 
On the one hand this statement reflects the Enlightenment thinking of the authors such as Thomas Jefferson. The notion of certain things being true because they were "self-evident" was celebrated and claimed.
[Aside: A classic case was Euclid's axioms of geometry, which turned out to be actually assumptions that are not universally valid.]

On the other hand, the statement reflects the presuppositions of a Biblical world view and the Doctrine of Creation. The idea that "all men are created equal" goes against most world views that have been dominant throughout history and even today in some cultures and religions. The idea of equality and human rights is not "self-evident" or "discovered" but is actually a profound truth that was revealed to the author of Genesis by the Creator God.

This point was nicely made by Dave Pitt, in a recent talk at church.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Did God break up the Soviet Union?

This week some would be saying Margaret Thatcher did it!

Vinoth Ramachandra has a nice post Discerning Providence discussing the tricky issue of discerning God's involvement in historical events, both positive and negative. Which events might be identified with God's judgement? Which with the advancement of the Kingdom of God? For which do we simply not know?

Vinoth ends
The confusion of Kingdom hope with secular Progress has often been challenged. But the confusion with optimism over our own private projects, our nation’s prosperity or the numerical growth of the Church seems to be rarely addressed.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Did Jesus ever live?

There is a nice article The Irreligious assault on the historicity of Jesus by John Dickson on the ABC Religion and Ethics website. Here are a few extracts:
When Richard Dawkins says "a serious historical case" can be made that "Jesus never lived at all," he no doubt receives applause from his followers, ..., but in departments of Classics, Ancient History, New Testament, Jewish and Near Eastern Studies (the relevant disciplines) such a comment is entirely bemusing - all the more so when one discovers that Dawkins' sole example of this serious history is G.A. Wells. As is well known, Wells is a professor of German language at London University who, in any case, has publicly retracted his argument of the 1970s that Jesus was a myth. I have often wondered what Dawkins would say if I disputed biological evolution and cited a language professor as my sole authority (one that had changed his mind to boot)...... if anyone can find a full professor of Classics, Ancient History or New Testament in any accredited university in the world who thinks Jesus never lived, I will eat a page of my Bible, probably Matthew chapter 1. It's been a year since I first tweeted the challenge and religious critic John Safran retweeted it to his 60,000 followers. My Bible remains safe.

So the question is not, did Jesus ever live?
But, Who was he? How will I respond to him?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Breaking down racist barriers

It is hard to believe today that less than 70 years ago there were no African-American players in major league baseball in the USA. Furthermore, the first player Jackie Robinson faced incredibly hostile opposition. There is a nice post on the Desiring God blog, Jackie Robinson and the pattern of Jesus, which tells the story.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why are these people so angry?

My family enjoyed watching the movie Argo. I liked the beginning which gave a very brief historical background to the taking of hostages in the American embassy in Tehran. After Iran democratically elected a Prime Minister he nationalised oil industries owned by British and American companies. This led to CIA staff based in the embassy engineering a coup in 1953 and re-establishment of the oil companies and the rule of the Shah who used his secret police SAVAK to brutally crush dissent, including with torture.

The movie shows many scenes [some from actual historical footage] of angry and "fanatical" Iranians demanding justice, burning Uncle Sam effigies, storming the embassy, .... Some have criticised the movie as portraying stereotypes.
Learning just a little of the historical background helped me understand why they
were so angry.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Jesus without theology?

I went to a fascinating history seminar this week. Ian Heskith spoke about "The Historical Jesus in Victorian Britain: J.R. Seeley and controversy of Ecce Homo". It is quite the story.

This is part of a seminar series, "Narratives of secularisation" organised by the Centre for the History of European Discourses at UQ.

In the 1800's German "higher criticism" of the Bible was beginning to influence Anglican clergy leading some to lose faith in the uniqueness and authority of the Bible. This came to a fore with the publication in 1860 of "Essays and Reviews", an innocuous title for a controversial book. But its sales were dwarfed by Ecce Homo, published anonymously in 1865.
"Ecce Homo" is the Latin translation of "Behold the man", the words with which Pontius Pilate introduced Jesus to the crowd during his trial.
[Aside: it is also the title of Nietzsche's auto-biography].

The author strove to present a "non-theological" Jesus, focusing on his humanity. This was meant to be more "historical", "objective", and would make the church and Christianity attractive to a broader audience.

Interest in the book was amplified by the anonymity of the author. As much energy was spent on speculating who the author might be as debating the merits of the book. The mystery and controversy associated with the content of the book seems to have been particularly promoted and fuelled by the publisher MacMillan as a means to boost sales. This seems similar to what commercial publishers still do today.

The book received a multitude of reviews, both positive and negative. Some reviewers questioned the author's methodology. Is it really possible to consider Jesus without theology?

The author was eventually "outed" as John Robert Seeley, Professor of Latin at University College London (UCL).  It seems he chose to be anonymous for several reasons. He did not wish to embarrass his family as his father was head of an evangelical church publisher. He was also concerned his UCL affiliation may immediately lead some readers to dismiss his views because of its secular reputation.

It is interesting that once the authors identity was revealed sales of the book declined rapidly. Furthermore, it appears that largely based on this one publication Seeley was appointed to a Chair at Oxford. This may have been a largely "political" appointment  due to his broad church identification. Seeley went on to write several influential books which strove to make the case for a truly national church [uniting the Church of England with dissenters] and an ideological basis for British colonialism.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Revisiting Laplace meets Napoleon

I like to retell the famous story where Napoleon asks Laplace why he does not mention God in his book about the mechanics of the solar system. Laplace declares, "I have no need of that hypothesis." It nicely illustrates the practical or methodological naturalism of  science and so I sometimes use this story in talks. On the other hand, the story is triumphantly used by some atheists to denounce the death of God. For example, Christopher Hitchens invoked Laplace in his book, God is not Great.

One small problem is that the Laplace-Napoleon story may be apocryphal. I recently learnt, via Wikipedia, that there is some doubt about whether this meeting and the associated dialogue ever took place.

But, it even if the actual event did not take place the story still illustrates the essential issues.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Social justice and the Reformed tradition

Vinoth Ramachandra has a challenging post Reformed Amnesia? which considers the problem of rich Western Christians deciding what books Christians in the majority world should be reading and studying. Colonialism never ends....

It also raises whether a question that Reformed enthusiasts should be troubled about. Is the new Pope closer to Calvin on social justice issues and a better example of humble servant leadership than modern Western Reformed church leaders?