Book Review- Mere Humanity by Donald T Williams.

mere humanityBook Review by Dr Stuart Devenish Donald T Williams. Mere Humanity: G.K .Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien on the human condition. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2006.

Available formats: paperback and e-book/kindle

Size: ca. 200 pages

Cost: around AUD $20 plus postage Read More

John Goldingay Reflection

Goldingay offers the following reflection based on Genesis 2 and, in particular, his understanding of the nature of “cleaving” which this describes (v. 24).

Jesus inferred from this story that we need to encourage people to keep that commitment rather than encourage them to sit fast and loose to it. Human beings should not tear apart what God put together (e.g., Mk 10:9). This is an exhortation rather than a law, like his other declarations on the imperiling of marriage (see Mt 5:27-32). Merely banning divorce would not fulfill it, and recognizing when marriages have fallen apart and rejoicing for people to start a new marriage would not necessarily resist it. In our own context, people might also want to ask Jesus questions about homosexual practice, polygamy or masturbation, and in response, Jesus might again refer back to Genesis. All these may fit ill with Genesis 1— 2, which implicitly sets sexual expression within the context of a lifelong heterosexual marriage designed to image God in the world. But Jesus might note that, for instance, Western churches tend to be softer on divorce and masturbation than on same-sex partnerships and polygamy, and wonder why that is.

Goldingay, John. Old Testament Theology Series, Volume 1 : Israel’s Gospel. Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 2010. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 9 March 2015.

Copyright © 2010. InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.

 

Lenten Refection

candlesFor various reasons I haven’t been writing my usual Lenten series this year and here we are in week 3 of the season. I’m not attempting to make a late start with this message, simply sharing a thought that has been with me this time around: less is more.

For me, Lent is one part of the Christian expression of a beautiful vision of our world, its mystery and enchantment, and our place within it. The central theme of Lent is one of ‘giving something up’ although I have also heard people speak of ‘taking something up’. It seems to me that we need someone or something, some voice, or ritual, or season to help us make choices for the lesser rather than the greater.

Mostly, our lives are crammed with too many tasks, objects, personal development projects, relationships, goals and so on. People now employ specialist consultants to help them to de-clutter, such is the chronic condition of our obsessive compulsion to do, or own or be just one more thing (and then another, oh, and that one too, and yes, look over there … ).

How nice to be part of a faith tradition that encourages us to enter a season of giving something up. Our gestures of sacrifice, at least mine, are fragile and seem the poorest possible shadows of what the great saints of our tradition have gone without in the pursuit and course of the beautiful vision, the truly attractive life. But even a small gesture of resistance against the corporate compulsion for mindless and endless accumulation, ‘growth’ and increase can seem like a wonderful triumph.

Sometimes our bodies need less of something, often it’s our egos that could do with a rest, usually both body and psyche will appreciate the surprising benefits  of the developing discipline of saying ‘no’ to one thing to enable ‘yes’ to another. Space and rest are incubators for the soul, that beautiful, secret part of us that has been infused with the nature of the Divine.

I leave you with one small expression of this in the words of theologian, Karl Rahner:

[our] reality is a picture of heaped-up activities, where the trivial, jostles the less trivial, and the less trivial elbows the important things, and there is no unity of design, nor any intensity of single, concentrated purpose … a [person] may turn from it all; and immediately the noise of his activities sinks to silence as, in a spirit of reverence and love, [she] speaks to God in prayer. With one swift upward glance of the soul, he has got as near as his finite nature will allow … to that sublime fusion of all … activities into one glowing point of heat and of light (Happiness through prayer).

Dr Phil Daughtry

Head of School, Humanities and Social Sciences

 

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Charitable Hatred

chartible hatredBook review: Matthew Gray                                                         Author: Alexandra Walsham                                                         Publisher:  Mancester University Press, 2009

Alexandra Walsham’s 2006 book, Charitable Hatred, explores the history of toleration within England between 1500-1700, from the time of Henry VIII’s abandonment of Roman Catholicism and William III’s Glorious Revolution.

Her central theme is that, over those 200 years, the social perception of toleration changed. Whereas we now see toleration as a virtue, this only became the common view by the end of that period. In fact, those 200 years were an evolution towards viewing toleration as a virtue, rather than as a horrible vice. Governments originally saw toleration as weak and irresponsible. That is because toleration only applies to something that is wrong – we accept something that is right, we tolerate something that is wrong. And society felt that if something was wrong, it should not be tolerated at all. If it was being tolerated, that was usually because society was unable to stop it – it was like a disease that couldn’t be cured. Thus, toleration was never implicit endorsement. In fact to tolerate somebody was itself intolerant, a statement that you thought they were evil and dangerous. Walsham points to Goethe’s remark from 1791 that “to tolerate is to insult”.

The first real move towards what we might call civil rights today was religious toleration – long before other civil rights debate, such as gender or race. The first minority that society had to decide to tolerate was religious minorities, “nonconformists”, like the Quakers and Baptists.

Walsham discusses the issues surrounding toleration from several angles. Chapter 3 examines various governmental reasons for intolerance. In particular, governments felt that a lack of uniformity would lead to the destabilising of the nation, and ultimately anarchy. Thus not accepting Anglicanism was not only heresy or schism, but treason, an attempt to hurt England. No wonder toleration seemed so unattractive!

In Chapter 4, Walsham shows how religious minorities responded to intolerance. Some were martyred, to be ever immortalised, for example, in popular Puritan literature. Walsham points out that martyrdom was itself a form of “passive resistance” – but still resistance. Others, however, chose to resist more forcefully via rebellion. Others escaped into exile. And some simply hid quietly in their own communities, staying out of trouble – this option led to many ethical questions, especially around issues of lying and compromise.

One of Walsham’s most useful insights is that our historical sources highlight extreme reactions. There are plenty of “hints” in the available literature that people from different religious convictions – Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, or nonconformists like the Baptists or Independents – lived happily and quietly together for extended periods of time. The problem is the word “quietly”: nobody wrote about living peaceably day-to-day, they only wrote when things went wrong. Then, at that point, the sources are copious – they may be government records by the persecutors, or martyrologies by the persecuted. But the sheer volume of what we might call “crisis” sources gives us a disproportionate picture of the wider reality.

Many of these themes remain with us today. How governments should respond to the idiosyncrasies of religious minorities seems to be building as a fresh debate. How those religious minorities live in an intolerant society is no less relevant in our society, either. Finally, the recognition that our own sources today – especially the news – are just as driven by isolated crises, and not by peaceful day-to-day living together, is a valuable reminder. Those wrestling with such issues will find Walsham’s book immensely useful for reflection.

 

 

Matthew Gray- Tabor Adelaide Lecturer

Book Review: God, Freedom & Human Dignity Embracing A God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture

Author: Highfield, Ron
Publication details: Downers Grove, Inter Varsity Press, 2013

Summary: Ron Highfield believes that many people fear God as a threat to their freedom and dignity. If God “fills all space and time, knows everything and exercises all power,” (p12) – i.e., is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent – as we have been told to believe, then how can there be any space, privacy or freedom for us? Defiance, subservience, and indifference are our attempts to protect ourselves from such an overbearing God.

But is God really like this? Highfield claims that the God made known to us in Jesus Christ does not rob us of freedom but grants it; He does not deprive us of our human dignity but affirms it: “God’s almighty power, omnipresence and comprehensive knowledge, which seem so menacing when understood as attributes of a superhuman being, appear very different in the light of the cross. God’s power gives life and freedom, God’s omnipresence opens a place for us and touches us with infinite love, and God’s knowledge of us roots our identity in God’s eternal life. We cannot think of God as a threat when we understand that God’s very being is love and God’s every act is giving” (p13).

In the first section of his book, Highfield draws on a wide range of moral philosophers, secular poets, novelists, and religious thinkers to provide an informative and intriguing story of the development of the modern human self with its aspirations for freedom, dignity, and happiness. In this scenario, God is seen as a competitive threat to the full realization of human potential. But the real problem, as Highfield presents it, is that we have come to think of God in terms much too like ourselves – a “sort of superhuman being who is everything we would like to be” (p13)!

For me, the real delight of Highfield’s book is its second half. Here he discusses the real truth about God and the human self. Turning to the biblical witness, and the rich theological tradition, he first writes of the “self-giving God of the gospel.” This God is not jealous of us – for he is the very ground of our existence – he made us to love us! He is Trinitarian, and therefore he is not self-centred: “When we think of divinity as an enviable superhuman God, we cannot be thinking of the Trinity we meet in the Bible. The superhuman God does one thing: he wills himself. He seeks to dominate and absorb everything…The God of Christian faith does nothing for God! …The members of the divine Trinity love themselves only in their love for each other” (p125). In Highfield’s discussion we discover that the omnipotent God “does not overpower but empowers us for our own free action” (p140); his presence does not displace us but awakens and acknowledges us; and his knowledge of us is really a very personal and profound love for us, which allays our fears and invites our trust.

Understanding who God really is, and what he is like, brings about “a new way of being human” (p151). It is to this truth that Highfield now turns: “God’s relationship to us is the most fundamental fact about us” (p 148); our first act of genuine freedom is “accepting God’s love for us” (p 179). Entrusting ourselves to the Father of Jesus, we discover ourselves as his adopted children. All defiance, subservience and indifference dissipate. God’s love for us becomes “the ground and measure” of our dignity (p191); “God’s love makes us lovable” (p117). “The Christian picture of humanity empowers us for true selfhood, perfect freedom and the highest dignity conceivable. In Christ we find an identity rooted not in others’ changing thoughts about us, but in God’s eternal knowledge of us. The Spirit leads us toward perfect freedom of life in harmony with our truest self” (p 113).

Evaluation:

This is an excellent book – both informative and inspiring. I especially enjoyed the way the author draws on a wide range of sources in our culture (moral philosophers, poets, novelists and so on); together with the rich Christian tradition (especially the extensive referencing of Kierkegaard, but also many others); and of course from the biblical witness to the gospel of the Trinitarian God. This book rings with the exhilarating truth that the God made known to us in Jesus Christ is far more wonderful than we could ever imagine.

Reviewed by: David McGregor

 

Don’t Stop Them

“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” 50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50, NIV)

Recently, part of my role at Tabor has changed. As well as being a lecturer here, I’ve also began working to find ways that Tabor can better support and empower Adelaide’s churches and parachurch organisations.

What I’ve discovered in this role is that Adelaide is blessed with an abundance of great Christian churches and parachurch organisations. We have a host of exciting, innovative, courageous, gospel-driven groups, powerfully and effectively revealing Christ and His Kingdom. I’ve also seen that these organisations are more than “organisations” – they are people, working incredibly hard (with the empowering of God’s Spirit), and with tremendous passion and focus. Read More