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Faith and Theology





Updated: 2018-01-18T08:19:13.549+11:00

 



Dingo doodlings

2017-12-30T09:00:03.935+11:00

“What is the chief end of man? To glorify Gold and enjoy it whatever.” (Westchester Shorter Catechism)So the Pope nods off while praying? No, the Pope prays while nodding off.Title for a sermon on Galatians 3:27: “The Man Who Took His Christ for a Hat”.“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” Poor Monsieur Pascal: he had a tin ear for star song and galactic symphonies.Before I ask a minister whom I don’t know what theologians he reads, I ask him what novels he has read. If he reads novels, I go on to poetry. If he doesn’t read novels, I lose interest in the conversation. Then, for my nightly devotions, I pray for those who listen to his sermons and experience his pastoral care.In Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Stevens, the English butler, speaks of “that balance between attentiveness and the illusion of absence that is the essence of good waiting.” Ergo good praying too.A famous paradigm of the pastor is the “wounded healer”. Shouldn’t that be “healing wounder”? Only truth and love can heal, but both begin with the recoil of hurt and pain.My dear pastor, ask not how many people you have fixed, rather pray that the number you have broken is few.The progressive will eventually become an embarrassment, but the reactionary will always be an asshole.Great bumper sticker: “America First? Matthew 20:16!” “Patriotic” Americans will make any sacrifice except sacrifice itself.I feel for those for whom “thoughts and prayers” has become either a mindless mantra or a euphemism for “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”. But don’t despair. Turn to the Psalms. There you will find the integrity of lament, outrage, and imprecation, the perfect obsecrations for the NRA and its lackey politicians.Good news for American misogynists: it’s now legal to carry a concealed weapon across state lines – in addition, that is, to the one they’re born with.The problem with all moral arguments for torture is that they are utilitarian. If they were deontological I would have more respect for them. As O’Brien frankly states in 1984, “The object of torture is torture.”Ah, if only the roads of social and cultural nostalgia led to Eden. They don’t. They converge on a new Nuremburg.Vanity, vanity, all is vanity. What was cool yesterday is uncool today, and what is uncool today will be cool tomorrow. Likes, Followers, Trending – puffs of smoke! But suggest that I close my Twitter and Facebook accounts – go chase the wind!Both the fulsome panegyrics for and fulminating diatribes against the Reformation commit the same just-so story fallacy, treating it as the inception rather than the invention of modernity.When a snake sheds its skin it does not become a post-snake. So too modernity does not become post-modernity when it modernises, it is simply shedding its skin. Modernity is modernising. In its deep grammar, “modernity” is a gerundive.On November 8th, 2016, they thought they were walking into a voting booth when actually they were marching to the guillotine. The election of Trump has been the decapitation of White American Evangelicalism, with all the squawking, frenzy, and gore you’d expect from a headless fowl.With a lifetime of trying, I have never found the truth. Occasionally, however, it has bumped into me – and once He ran me over. God bumps into us when we’re least expecting it, so why on earth should people go to church anticipating an encounter with God? I always go to church with no expectations whatsoever, and I am usually not disappointed. But then ubi et quando Deo visum est – thunder from a clear blue sky.Psychology (it seems to me) is a sort of meteorology of the self. Epiphanies or traumas – they’re climate change.If you think it’s hard to be yourself, try not being yourself.The older I get, the more I am interested in antiquities. Why is that?I can just about cope with the aches and indignities of aging. It’s the well-meaning concern of others for them that I can’t handle.[...]



Most interesting books I read in 2017

2017-12-21T14:36:25.588+11:00

I don’t want to pick the best books of the year. My reading lately has been too eclectic for anything like that. These days I rely mostly on audiobooks. So my reading gravitates towards whatever happens to be available on audible.com, or whatever is performed by a good narrator. (I have developed a zero tolerance policy for poor narration: I will return an audiobook for refund within five minutes if the narrator does not please me.) From time to time I still take up a physical book and read it with my eyes. After so many audiobooks I am intrigued to re-discover the quite distinctive pleasures of silent reading. Recently I read nearly all of Stefan Zweig’s short stories and novellas in the old way, silently turning the pages as I enfolded my spirit within that special canopy of solitude. But most of the books listed here I read sociably, with my ears, in the consoling and challenging presence of a human voice. I like it so much. Am I the only one? Or is the burgeoning audiobook industry reviving an ancient culture of sociable reading? Will some future memoirist note with astonishment the sight of someone reading alone in silence, as Augustine did when he saw Ambrose reading in Milan? "His eyes ran over the columns of writing and his heart searched out the meaning, but his voice and his tongue were at rest" (Confessions 6.3.3).Anyway, these are the books that I found most interesting and most rewarding in the past year. In case you are looking for something to read – and who is not looking, at all times and in all circumstances, for something to read? – I have added a note to each one to help you decide if that book suits your particular ailment. And, after much soul-searching, I have also nominated my Most Interesting Book of the Year.THEOLOGY & ETHICSThe Annotated Luther, volume 1: The Roots of Reform (2015). Read this if you think protestants were to blame for the reformation.  Deirdre McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce (2006). Read this if you think capitalism is evil and the pre-capitalist world was a haven of virtue.Linn Marie Tonstad, God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude (2015). Read this if you think social trinitarianism is the greatest thing since trinitarianism.Mark Chapman, Theology at War and Peace: English Theology and Germany in the First World War (2017). Read this if you’re interested in Troeltsch, or if you think only the Germans were rabid nationalists.Joseph Ratzinger, Europe: Today and Tomorrow (2007). Read this if you’ve ever wondered where reason went. H. Richard Niebuhr, “Theology—Not Queen But Servant,” an essay on theology and the university in The Paradox of Church and World: Selected Writings of H. Richard Niebuhr (2015). Read this if you think theology ever was, or ever ought to be, the queen of the sciences.Gary Dorrien, Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition (2010). Read this if, like me, you used to believe Reinhold Niebuhr when he said he was departing sharply from the Social Gospel tradition. Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things (2015). Read this.Roger Scruton, On Human Nature (2017). Read this if you don’t believe in the soul, or if you would like to believe in the soul but don’t know how.Sam Harris, Lying (2011). Read this if you have ever told a lie.Dallas G. Denery II, The Devil Wins: A History of Lying from the Garden of Eden to the Enlightenment (2015). Read this if the previous book makes you want to learn more about the history of lying. The patristic stuff in the first chapter is weak but it's really interesting once he gets to medieval theology and its relation to the all-encompassing falsehoods of courtly life.HISTORYStefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday (1942). Read this if you think morality has declined shockingly in the past century. His account of prostitution in the nineteenth century is quite harrowing and should make you cry tears of joy over every unwed sexual partnership.Winston Churchill, The Second World Wa[...]



Massacre of the Innocents: Christmas letter from Kim Fabricius

2017-12-18T11:41:31.659+11:00

Kim sent out this Christmas letter and I asked if we could post it here:Christmas is, for me, a haunted house. The tree is enchanting, the ritual of gift-exchange delightful, the food cornucopian, the egg nog ambrosial – but the ghost of Herod is always crashing the party, the memory of the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16) ever souring my sweet dreams of peace. There is nothing so dead in all the world as murdered children.The theologically feral novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago ensures that the spectre and the recollection persist. In a psychologically probing retelling of the Nativity narrative, Joseph overhears a conversation between two soldiers that alerts him to Herod’s diabolical plans and propels him to rescue his wife and child. In the aftermath, however, Joseph is plagued by the thought that he could have and should have warned other parents of the impending slaughter, and for the rest of his short life the father of Jesus will have nightmares that he is leading soldiers to kill his son.This year’s Christmas painting then: Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Massacre of the Innocents. Multiply narrated and theatrically staged – replete with marauding soldiers, protective fathers, distraught mothers, and solicitous villagers (and terrific touches like the soldier in the left background, opposite the cohort, pissing against a house) – the painting is particularly contemporary for being, in fact, a bowdlerisation. For scientific examination demonstrates that the original was much more explicit and detailed in its portrayal of the atrocity, re-contextualised by Bruegel as a 16th-century Flemish war crime executed by Spanish soldiers and German mercenaries. All too close to the bone for the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who ordered his royal artisans to give such “fake news” a paint-over, airbrushing and altering the mass infanticide into a scene of more quotidian pillage. Plus ça change, right? But hush, children, what’s that sound? Do you hear it? The Shaker of Nations confounding the nabobs of nihilism in Mary’s feisty protest song:He bared his arm and showed his strength,     scattered the bluffing braggarts.He knocked tyrants off their high horses,     pulled victims out of the mud.The starving poor sat down to a banquet;     The callous rich were left out in the cold.(Luke 1:51-53, The Message)A Christmas toast, then, to the exorcism of Herod’s ghost, and – it’s the 5th anniversary of the Massacre at Sandy Hook – a New Year hope for the end of Moloch worship and the downfall of his high priests Smith & Wesson. As for Joseph’s guilt, however – let alone for Rachel’s grief (Matthew 2:17-18) – no false consolation. Rather collective remorse and mourning, and the perennial prayer of the desperate soul: “Lord, have mercy! Come, Lord Jesus, come!”God bless you in the Child. [...]



Farewell speech: what I have learned about learning

2017-11-21T11:37:57.210+11:00

They had a farewell service for me in Sydney yesterday and I gave this short departing speech.I came here for a job and what I got was a vocation. When I arrived at the college nine years ago I was new to teaching. That is hard for me to imagine now. I cannot form any picture of what kind of person I would be if I was not a teacher. The discovery of a vocation to teach has been one of the great events of my life. It has become so ingrained in my identity that if you asked me why I teach I would not know how to answer. I would say that I teach because of who I am. I teach because I am alive. I teach because the things I value most in this world are all bound up with that amazing thing that happens in the classroom.What is the classroom? It’s a place where people come together and start to learn something. Then, sometimes, they start to love what they are learning, and they are changed by that love. Really the teacher is a kind of midwife to love. I can’t force anybody to love the doctrine of the Trinity. All I can do is help students to take a look at that doctrine for themselves. I can challenge some of their prejudices and assumptions. I can question some of their hasty conclusions. I can help them to slow down a bit, just long enough to pay attention. If they give this doctrine their attention, if they really start to look at it, then sometimes their hearts will respond spontaneously. They might start to love what they see, and then to look even more closely, and to love even more. When this happens – when learning gives rise to love – it can be so unexpected that the teacher is more amazed than anyone. Where does that love come from? It’s not something that can be taught. It’s not a technical skill. I can’t show you how to love something. I can remove certain obstacles. I can encourage you. I can cheer you on when I think you’re looking in the right direction. But when you see something for yourself and start to love it just because it’s there: that’s not something any teacher can impart. So where does it come from? Some of the church’s great thinkers have puzzled over this. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine: they reached the conclusion that the only real teacher is Christ. Every time the light bulb goes on in a student’s mind, that light is Christ, the Logos “that enlightens everyone who comes into the world” (John 1:9). To open yourself to any part of reality is always to open yourself, in some measure, to the Logos. Whenever you really start to pay attention to something, to understand something and to love it just because it’s there, you are in some way inclining your heart towards Christ. That might seem a bit overblown as an explanation of how learning happens. But you have to admire those ancient thinkers for taking learning so seriously, and for being so awed by its mystery, that they were willing to conjure up a whole theory of creation just to explain what’s going on in the classroom. Learning – real learning – is a kind of miracle. It is a gentle, delicate, interior process by which the soul comes into contact with something beyond itself and reaches out to it in love. That doesn’t happen every time students shuffle into the classroom at 9.30 on a Friday morning. But it does happen. I know it happens because I have witnessed it. I have seen it: right here in these classrooms, time and again, over nine years of my life. It is why I love the classroom. It is why this community, a theological college, is sacred to me. It is why the teacher-student relationship is, to me, more holy than any church or temple.We often say that theology is meant to serve the church. I have said it myself. But since I’m leaving I can tell you the truth: I don’t believe it. If theology serves the church, then it is a means to an end. But when you consider what learning is – real learning – how could it ever be a means to an end? That’s like saying that love and joy and life are means to an en[...]



Melancholy lines upon the death of a dog

2017-10-31T22:58:56.952+11:00

No dog lives forever but I hoped he would be the first. Kola, my Labrador. Kola, my trusted friend and confidant these 7 years. Kola who has seen my children grow, almost since they were babies, and has loved them every minute. Kola, the glory of his breed and the friendliest member of his household. Kola, bone-chewer, ball-chaser, beach-swimmer, humper of male dogs and feared destroyer of several chickens. He was named after a teddy bear that my son had when he was two years old. The bear had come all the way from China with a tag that bore the name of Kola. I don’t know why they called it that. Maybe they were trying to spell Koala. My son loved that bear, it slept beside him and he dragged it around in the dirt wherever he went. He must have imagined that getting a dog was the same kind of thing as having a teddy bear. So the day the puppy came bounding into our lives – the first pet we ever had – my little son declared that the dog’s name henceforth would be Kola. And that is what we called him. We soon learned that a dog is even better than a teddy bear. Because a dog is not a thing. He is not a person either, I understand that, but he dwells somewhere in the borderlands of personhood. Anyone who doubts that animals have souls has never reckoned with a Labrador. Whether the dog brings his soul with him into the world or acquires it through constant communion with the human soul is a moot point. At any rate the dog is more susceptible to humanisation than any other animal. He feels joy and doubt and affection and cunning and anticipation and contentment and shame – what human ever felt more? The creature of whom I speak used to sneak under the covers of my son’s bed and lie there on the forbidden mattress, a huge Labrador-sized lump under the covers beside a sleeping boy, hardly daring to breathe in case I found him and banished him to the unwelcoming floor. Once when I had taken him to the beach he saw me body-surfing and was seized by a sudden terror for my life. He snatched the leash up in his mouth – I had left it lying on the sand – and plunged into the waves and swam out to me, whimpering horribly until I consented to take the leash in my hand, whereupon he turned and swam to shore, pulling me behind him. I thanked him for rescuing me, it was a considerate gesture, and I informed him that I would now continue swimming. But he – he who loved beaches and knew them so well – was very distrustful of the waves that day and sulked mightily when I tried to get back in the water. So I trusted his instincts and lay down on the sand instead and he laid his wet head upon me in satisfaction. And I never drowned that day, so maybe he was right. Who knows how much a dog knows?Once, when I had left a carton of eggs on the kitchen table, he crept into the room and climbed up on the chair and somehow got the carton open and removed the little unfertilised parcels one by one without cracking the shells or making any mess. One by one he smuggled the eggs outside. I saw the carton right where I had left it on the table and saw that it was empty. I searched the premises and eventually found the crime scene: a black dog, looking rather bloated, lying in an orgy of eggshells in the back yard, licking his dripping whiskers in mournful self-reproach. “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame”: Shakespeare must have been thinking of Kola and the eggshells when he wrote those words. Today he died. He left our lives almost as suddenly as he had arrived. They said it was a cancer of the spleen, it happens sometimes they said, the invisible malignant growth advancing secretly and one day bursting and then, before you can say fetch, the Joy of Nature is lying very still and watching you with infinitely patient eyes and telling you in little whimpers that he is sorry but he cannot get up, not today, that he does not feel like playing anymore, that he will not be needing breakfast, not today, not ever ag[...]



Leaving Sydney

2017-10-23T05:47:00.026+11:00

After nine years in Sydney I have taught my last classes and said my prayers and am moving on. There comes a time in a man’s life when what he really wants is to be able to teach Plato and Shakespeare as well as Calvin and Augustine. That time has come for me. So I’ve accepted a job at the Millis Institute, a liberal arts program of CHC in Brisbane. My job will be to direct the various liberal arts degree programs as well as to teach in philosophy, theology, and literature. The classes there involve no lectures and no textbooks. Each class is a Socratic-style discussion of primary sources. That, reader, is my true love and forte, and it’s the same approach that I’ve tried to bring to theological education in Sydney. The first thing I did when I got off the plane in Sydney nine years ago was to abolish all textbooks and to replace them with primary sources. Then I unpacked my bags.Some of my happiest memories here are of the books that I’ve been able to read and discuss with my students. When I cast my mind back over the years I am astounded at the number of these books, and even more astounded that SVS Press has never paid me a commission for forcing so many students to buy them. The ones I can recall using as class texts include:Melito of Sardis, On PaschaAthanagoras, Resurrection of the DeadIrenaeus, Against the Heresies (books 1 and 3)Tertullian, Against Hermogenes Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Educator (selections)Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the GreeksOrigen, Commentary on John (books 1-10)Origen, On PrayerOrigen, Exhortation to MartyrdomOrigen, On PaschaOrigen, Commentary & Homilies on the Song of SongsHans Urs von Balthasar, Spirit and Fire (Origen anthology) Athanasius, On the IncarnationAthanasius, Letter to Marcellinus (on the Psalms)Didymus the Blind, On the Holy SpiritBasil, On Social Justice (selection of homilies in the SVS Popular Patristics series)Basil, On the Human Condition (ditto)Basil, On Fasting and Feasts (ditto) Basil, On the Holy SpiritGregory of Nazianzus, Theological Orations Gregory of Nazianzus, Festal Orations (selection of homilies the SVS Popular Patristics)John Chrysostom, On Marriage and Family Life (ditto) Augustine, ConfessionsAugustine, The TrinityAugustine, City of GodCyril of Alexandria, On the Unity of ChristThomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae (a few tiny selections)Julian of Norwich, RevelationsCalvin, Institutes (in Elsie McKee’s translation of the 1541 French edition: with this edition available, no teacher can be forgiven for asking students to read so much as a page of Beveridge or McNeill)Karl Barth, Epistle to the RomansKarl Barth, The Word of God and TheologyKarl Barth, On Religion: The Revelation of God as the Sublimation of Religion Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/1, §59.1Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life TogetherDietrich Bonhoeffer, DiscipleshipH. Richard Niebuhr, Responsibility of the Church for Society (selections)James Cone, Black Theology and Black PowerJürgen Moltmann, Trinity and the KingdomJürgen Moltmann, Spirit and LifeTom Smail, The Giving Gift: The Holy Spirit in PersonCatherine LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian LifeElizabeth Johnson, Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in ChristologyJames H. Evans, We Have Been Believers: An African American Systematic TheologyRichard Hays, Moral Vision of the New TestamentRainbow Spirit Elders, Rainbow Spirit TheologySarah Coakley, Powers and Submissions (selections)Kathryn Tanner, Jesus, Humanity and the TrinityKathryn Tanner, Theories of CultureMark McIntosh, Mystical Theology (selections)Mark McIntosh, Discernment and Truth (selections)Mark McIntosh, Divine Teaching Eugene Rogers, After the SpiritEugene Rogers, The Holy Spirit (anthology of sources)Ian McFarland, Creation and Humanity (ditto)Alister McGrath, Christian Theology Reader (ditto)Sam Wells, Christian Ethics (ditto)Ford, Higton, Zahl, Modern Theologians Reader (ditto)Amos Yong, The Bible, Disabil[...]



Dastardly Doodlings

2017-10-13T10:48:39.623+11:00

by Kim FabriciusWhat’s the best way to find God? Set out at night – and go in the opposite direction. Does God speak to me? It’s a question that I myself have put to the Lord. I never get an answer. The devil, however – he won’t STFU.A word of advice: if you believe “it’s the thought that counts”, don’t get married.Don’t you just love the expression “good behaviour”? A euphemism, of course, for “not-getting-caught” behaviour. We know that we will die, but we figure that in my case an exception might be made.There is a paradox to writing good sentences, namely, that by cutting out the fat, you add to their weight.Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, but who sits on the left? The Holy Spirit, of course. Though he doesn’t actually sit, he perches.Alternatively: Karl Barth is the Lord’s right-hand man (though Rudolf Bultmann tries to grab the seat when Barth goes for a pee).J. W. Schopf, an American paleobiologist, claims that “for four-fifths of our history, our planet was populated by pond scum.” A cultural anthropologist, let alone a Calvinist, would beg to differ: make that five-fifths.“You are who you’ve been.” This truth is universal, but Trump certainly makes a particularly alarming and chastening case study.Hurricanes Harvey and Irma? What hurricanes? It’s fake weather fabricated by a conspiracy of meteorological elites.Until recently, during his morning shave Trump would look in the mirror and say, “Handsome devil!” Nowadays, with Robert Mueller and “Sheriff Joe” in mind, he says, “Pardon me.”As for Trump’s court prophets – Falwell, Graham, Carson, et. al – if Trump makes my skin crawl, they make my blood boil. Their faith is textbook ideology and their churches – well, they’re not churches, they’re movements.How timely: in The Handmaid’s Tale, Commander Fred Waterford combines in his character the specific misogynies of both Mike Pence and Donald Trump: from the former, that women are for fertilising; from the latter, that women are for fondling.It is not surprising that Baby Boomer white American evangelical males love war: old men sending young men to kill and die – it expresses, confirms, and globalises their Second Amendment fetishism, their militant androcentrism, and their perverse doctrine of penal substitution.Did you hear about the evangelical youth club leader who rented a DVD of There Will Be Blood to show to a group of 17-year-olds? She thought it was an educational film about a bride’s wedding night.Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:26). A prophecy Bill is doing his damnedest to falsify.“No one can become a theologian unless he becomes one without Aristotle.”—John Milbank. Oops, Stanley Hauerwas. Sorry, I mean Eleutherius. What conservatives don’t get is the Bible’s unreliable narration; what liberals don’t get is the Bible’s indefectible veracity.So “Researchers are fairly successfully uncovering an ocean of evidence to suggest that living in the ‘information ecosystem’ of smartphone, internet and social media is seriously detrimental to our mental health and cognitive capacity” (i, 6 September). What does that even mean? Researchers – the wankers are always out to get you.BREAKING NEWS: A comprehensive examination of the ancient object recently discovered near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem demonstrates that it is not, as some archaeologists have claimed, the spear with which Jesus’ side was pierced (John 19:34): it is, rather, a first century Roman centurion’s selfie stick.Speaking at the Labour Party Conference, Naomi Klein declaimed, “You know that horrible thing currently clogging up the London sewers. I believe they call it a fatberg [“a congealed lump of fat, sanitary napkins, wet wipes[...]



A Month Without Jenson

2017-10-06T08:48:50.186+11:00

“Death indeed will terminate my story, but it will not conclude it; for it will make all my hopes into might-have-beens and my fears into never-minds, and so make absurd the anticipatory coherences by which I have lived. If I am to have a conclusion, it will have to be a resurrection.” —R. W. Jenson (Aug 2, 1930-Sept 5, 2017)It’s been a month since Robert Jenson left us to the tasks of Christian life: the speaking and hearing of the gospel. These tasks directed all of Jenson’s theology, and press towards questions of culture and life. Jenson refused to indulge the strategy of cultural retreat that attempted theology as though all the modern philosophical movements had not occurred. All contemporary theology jostles in the wake of Kant and Hegel and Heidegger and the rest. We must ask how we can speak the gospel faithfully, but without simply capitulating to modernity. We cannot be premodern, but neither can we be simply modern. Jens’s theology rescued this student of the tradition more than once from the worst excesses of modern theology.As a young evangelical student, all of my brightest ideas were merely stolen notions taken from the reactionary and modernising evangelicals: a full-throated endorsement of divine passibility, a commitment to divine temporality (arising from a tendency towards univocity), credulity towards the “hellenisation” thesis, and a belief that divine love required libertarian human freedom. Like the worst kind of young evangelical modernist, I sifted through the tradition cynically, believing the ancient Christians to have been enthralled by pagan philosophies.When my masters degree led me to my first detailed study of Jens’ theology, I presumed that his raging against certain elements of the tradition was animated by the same scepticism as my own. I had always taken Jens as holding to the Athenian captivity of the Church, but I found that his approach to the hellenisation thesis was more nuanced than I had supposed. In one reflection, Jens playfully dismissed the purity of theology by asserting that the boundary between theology and any other discourse is “blessedly ill-defined”. The task of theology, Jens shows, is not to find its own peculiar pure discourse, but to evangelise—to speak the gospel and see what difference it makes. It would later become a commonplace statement for Jens: the early Christians did not “hellenise” the gospel, they evangelised their own antecedent hellenism. This single observation completely eroded the thrall of the hellenisation thesis for me. I no longer looked to ancient Christianity to see what was uncorrupted that could be salvaged, but to see just how the gospel had shaped the thought-forms of the ancient world. Jens taught me how to see the gospel as the engine driving all Christian discourse.Startled from my doctrinal slumbers, I decided to make Jens the object of my doctoral studies. Though his theology is undoubtedly revisionist, my study of Jens’ writings revealed to me a deep commitment to the Christian tradition. I was amazed to find that he was only partially modernising, tending to keep the architecture of the tradition in place, while putting up new signs or perhaps offering a coat of paint here and there.Sometimes the awakenings to Jens’ subtle treatment of the tradition came slowly. Having swallowed Hart’s assertion that Jens denies simplicity, and having witnessed Jens’ vociferous critiques of Augustine, I mistakenly concluded that Hart was right. Knee-to-knee with Jens in Princeton, I tried to provoke him to some remarks on divine simplicity. Jens began, “Of course God doesn’t have parts”, and proceeded to robustly defend the necessity of simplicity for a thoroughly Christian theology. I went home to Sydney and read all of his books again and finally found my error.The revision for which Jens is best known is hi[...]



Clerihew for Robert W. Jenson (1930-2017)

2017-09-10T10:28:37.199+10:00

Robert W. Jenson – Jens –
Saw creation through a triune lens,
And heard it in the key of Christ,
A very, very, very nice
Prelude to the fugue of Paradise,
Composed by God the Holy, Holy, Holy,
Who, of course, is roly-poly.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch,
Blessings to beloved Blanche.




DDD (Doodlings Deficit Disorder)

2017-08-16T14:43:57.011+10:00

Gadzooks! It’s the 4th of July,when we boast we’re the gens Domini,and with napalm and nukesand a “Put up your dukes!”we give thanks to the Lord of the Flies.Thank God for small mercies. Large, and even medium, are out of stock.The natural state of the human is the inhuman. Even to begin to become human takes time and practice – lots and lots of practice.How do you begin to change the world for the better? By having no such ambition whatsoever.Looking for a church? Narrow the field: check if it has a Mission Statement.I’ve just read Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option. It’s not bad for a first draft.Write, write, write! You don’t need readers to write. Readers, however, do need writers to read.Not long ago the “church in exile” was a heuristic with potential for exploring post-Christian ecclesiology. Alas, ignoring the critical element of judgment in Israel’s self-understanding of Babylonian captivity, contemporary Christians have reacted to their loss of status and privilege with bitter resentment and whinging self-pity. [Muffled sound of Jeremiah rolling in his grave.]Don’t worry if your prayers are interrupted by dreams. It is sufficient that your dreams are interrupted by prayers.My dear pastor, what if your congregation agrees with everything you say? Then you’re not doing it right.I hear that progressive Christians are having a heated conversation about whether the Creeds should contain a trigger warning for left-handed people.“Let you word be ‘Yes, Yes’, or ‘No, No’, or ‘It all depends, It all depends’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37: Jesus, on second thought).“Sincerity”, “transparency”, “accountability” – bullshit! What are you hiding?People who are anyone-phobic usually know fuck-all about the anyone.Why do I love Wittgenstein? Because of the audacity with which he dives headlong into the chaotic depths of mind and soul, the tenacity with which he excavates nuggets of incandescent clarity, and the posture at once humble, disconsolate, and serene with which he bows to the intractably unsayable.“Every cloud has a silver lining”, an adage that goes back to gloomy Milton’s Comus: “Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud / Turn forth her silver lining on the night?” [ll. 221-222]. The short answer, Comus, is Yes: clouds are sable all the way down.“Trump” is a good name for a dog. Wherever the President goes, he barks, licks his balls, and pees on the fire hydrants, right?Who said, “We’re all in this together”? Was it (a) Emperor Nero (to a visiting delegation of Christians at the Colosseum in July 64); (b) the Commander of Abu Ghraib (at a summer fête for the residents in August 2004); (c) David Cameron (to the people of austerity Britain at the Tory Party Conference in October 2009)? Prize: a “May Contain Traces of Bullshit” tee shirt (compliments of Ben Myers).You gotta hand it to austerity governments for their environmental friendliness: I mean the conscientious way they recycle the red tape they cut from business and industry by sticking it on the forms filled in by desperate benefit claimants.It is, of course, good to have an interrogative mind. But asking questions is useless if, as often, you don’t really want to know the answers.Life’s a kitsch. Then you buy.The name “Starbucks” is a despicable aspersion on the virtuous first mate of the Pequod. Surely the coffee company should be called “Ahabs”: after all, like the ship’s captain, its product is evil.How about a name for a nursing home that is neither saccharine nor non-descriptive but tells it like it is? For example: The Baby Powder and Urine, The Children’s Revenge, The Not-on-My Bucket List, or (for the more literary), The One Hundred Years of Hebetude, The Unbearable Nightness [...]



The parable of the Good Samaritan: the unexpurgated postscript

2017-07-26T18:41:12.626+10:00

… And Jesus concluded, “Which one of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”Jesus’ interlocutor (whose name was Monty) said, “You mean, be kind to those in trouble or need?”“Exactly,” said Jesus, “whoever they are, whoever you are.”“Ya think?” Monty said. “You finally land the plane, and that’s your point?”“Don’t you think it’s rather provocative,” suggested Jesus, with a teacher’s indulgence, “that it was a Samaritan, of all people, who showed kindness?”“And why shouldn’t a Samaritan show kindness?” Monty demanded. “You got a problem with Samaritans?”“No, of course not,” Jesus replied, a little defensively it must be said. “Don’t you see that …”“Next you’ll be protesting that some of your best friends are Samaritans,” Monty interrupted.“No, I was …”“So you don’t have any Samaritan friends?”“Well, yes, actually, I do,” countered Jesus. “There’s a woman I met at a well.”“What’s her name?” Monty asked.“Er,” hesitated Jesus. “To be honest, I can’t remember. I didn’t ask.”“You didn’t ask? But you hang out together?” Monty pressed.“Well, no, not exactly,” Jesus conceded.“So you met this Samaritan woman, you don’t know her name, you don’t hang out together, yet you say she’s a friend of yours?” Monty smirked.“Well, okay then,” Jesus backtracked, “she’s an acquaintance.”“Just as I thought,” Monty declared. “Anyone else?”“Well,” Jesus replied, trying to regain the initiative, “I recently healed a Samaritan – of eczema, as I recall. I saw him twice.”“Twice, is it? As a patient? I guess that makes him a bosom buddy,” said Monty, ratcheting up the sarcasm.“Well, no, but …”“Another ‘acquaintance’ then?” Monty was relentless.“Well, yes, but look,” an exasperated Jesus began to explain, “what I was doing was telling a story about a Samaritan to make a point about kindness and prejudice.”“So it never happened. It’s fake news.” Monty was merciless.“No, no, no” Jesus said shaking his head, “you’re making a category mistake.”“A what?”“A category mistake,” repeated Jesus. “It’s a semantic error in which …” he continued, then paused. Looking up from the bottom of a huge hole, he decided to stop digging. “Never mind,” he said.“Okay, okay, tell me this,” Monty asked, going for the jugular. “Are any of your disciples Samaritans?”Now completely discombobulated, Jesus sighed, “No, but …”“Yes-but, no-but,” mocked Monty. “So you’ve got no friends who are Samaritans, and no disciples who are Samaritans, yet you bang on about a good Samaritan in a made-up story. You’re all mouth, aren’t you, Jesus? ‘Samaritan Lives Matter’.” Not to mention that you have a go at two fellow Jews in your little fable – two Jewish clerics – low-hanging fruit, or what? I mean talk about ethnic and religious profiling. What, are you some sort of self-loathing Israelite?”“Now hang on …” Jesus remonstrated.But Monty stopped him again. “I suppose the next thing you’re going to tell me is that you know some Roman who, iconically, has great faith.”“Well, now that you mention it …” [...]



Holy feet

2017-07-20T06:27:10.328+10:00

I have today been required to reconsider every word I have ever spoken against natural theology. The reason? I have been reading scripture. One single verse of scripture can send shivers down the spine of any volume of dogmatics. Entire shelves of theology flee to cower in the darker corners of the library when confronted by an isolated pericope. Old Karl Barth thought that scripture upsets our inherited knowledge of God and morality, but my reading today has merely confirmed that which every Australian child knows: the perfection of bare feet.In scripture, the highest theological idea is revealed in the lowest human extremity. The bare foot is the essence of human innocence. It is surprising to the point of embarrassment that I should even have to write this out, for the truth lies deeply embedded in our language. A shod foot is but one syllable short of being shoddy. It is only certain other Germanic languages that are confused on this matter, with the infernal similarity between the Dutch schooen (shoe) and the German schön (Is it any wonder that this was the language of Heidegger and Nietzsche?).One could derive the entire doctrine of holiness from the unshod feet of Moses. Origen suggested that we interpret scripture allegorically when the plain sense is problematic. One may allegorise the Mountain, the Golden Calf, Moses’ shining face, but the one element of the narrative impossible to allegorise or demythologise is the perfect bareness of Moses’ feet. Calvin provides the correct interpretation: “If any prefer the deeper meaning (anagoge,) that God cannot be heard until we have put off our earthly thoughts, I object not to it; only let the natural sense stand first, that Moses was commanded to put off his shoes, as a preparation to listen with greater reverence to God.”Moses could hear the voice of God only in his natural edenic state, unshod. This, of course, is the great scandal of humanity’s alienation from paradise: when Eve and her husband wished to hide from the garden-wandering God, they covered themselves. Genesis is silent on the precise nature of their covering only because it was so very obvious: they covered their feet.The encased foot is humanity’s attempt to demarcate the natural from the human, to form a protective layer around the human soul. But in doing so we have trapped ourselves inside a claustrophobic space, sweaty and putrid. The evangelist goes to such lengths to describe the pavement of the heavenly city in the Apocalypse, because his hearers imagined themselves casting off their fallen footwear and running into God’s holy brightness. How else are we to enter the kingdom, after all, but as children at play? [...]



Sydney conference on sin and grace: Theology Connect 2018

2017-07-14T14:00:10.608+10:00

The next Theology Connect conference will be coming to Sydney in July 2018. The theme is sin and grace in Christian theology, with keynotes by Kelly Kapic, Alan Torrance, Simon Chan. There's a call for papers, so why not come visit our nice little town and give us a paper? If you bring your bicycle I will even give you a free guided tour!

If you haven't heard of Theology Connect, there's a review and some pictures of the last one, and a while back I did an interview with Chris Green about the conference series. It looks like they've traded the uber-funky industrial setting for a church venue; but apart from that I'm sure it will be an excellent event. Personally I would go just to hear Simon Chan whose work I admire very much. I'm using his book on Grassroots Asian Theology in my contextual theology seminar this semester (I reviewed it here in case you're interested).

Here's a promo video for the conference:

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Downwind Doodlings

2017-06-15T09:02:44.077+10:00

Why is God silent? Because the tree of trust has silence for its roots.God moves in mysterious ways, but he also moves in quite pedestrian ways.  He walks and runs, hops and skips, leaps and jumps, sashays and dances.  But God never, ever marches.God gave himself into the hands of sinners on the cross, and God gives himself into the hands of sinners in the sacrament.God makes sense of things. In addition, God makes nonsense of things.Recent experiments have demonstrated that loud swearing not only boosts strength and stamina but also makes people more able to tolerate pain. Perhaps an unprintable eighth word from the cross has gone missing? Thank God for Judas, our substitute: without betrayal, no salvation.I have always assumed that because God forgives us, we should forgive ourselves.  But I am no longer so sure. Perhaps self-forgiveness is not-yet realised eschatology. Perhaps in a broken world, even as forgiven we must live with the affliction of self-accusation. Christians talk a lot about God’s mercy, but not nearly enough about God’s pity.  Personally, I pray more that God will pity me than that he will have mercy on me, because having his pity, surely I will receive his mercy.Think of something you could do that would put you beyond the saving grace and love of God.  Then think of a lifetime of futile cogitation.  But I repeat myself.The problem is as old as Romans 14-15: traditionalists dismissing liberals with condemnation, and liberals treating traditionalists with contempt.  The solution is also the same: Romans 15:7.  Alas, even Paul didn’t practice what he preached.  And the contemporary conservative captivity to nativist populism has hardened the sneer of progressives into a rictus.  My own penitential practice now includes jaw-massage.What do I think of Christians whose faith is mortally threatened by some terrible personal tragedy? The brutal truth? That they are egocentric and purblind. The pastoral reality? That pivoting off your own faith, you must love them back to hope.Ministerial education or ministerial training?  Well, you educate people and you train domestic animals and business managers, so in many a modern seminary I guess it’s ministerial training.Show me a church with a vision statement and I’ll show you a church suffering from cranial decay, linguistic corruption, and ocular degeneration.The ice water is great, but why do waiters in America always swoop down on your table like hawks on a sparrow to refill your glass sip by sip?  I want to cry, “For Chrissake, just put me on a drip!”Back in the day there was a rumour that “Kim Fabricius” was but a nom de plume of Ben Myers. Ben and I the same person?  Well, a plausible suggestion only as Jekyll and Hyde. To wit, on identifying with a fictional character, Ben has tweeted that he’d like to be Jayber Crow. Me – I’d settle for Olive Kitteridge.I hear that a decomposing bat was found in a packet of Walmart’s Organic Marketside Spring Mix Salad.  This is a gargantuan Food Fail.  From Walmart I would expect better: namely, a fresh bat shot dead with one of its own AR-15s, marinated in an orange garlic cockroach dressing.The wildebeests of Botswana are really pissed off at the editor-in-chief of National Geographic for including a photograph of ungulates of different species in a recent article on one of their herds.  A spokesbeest for their community has said that they will be suing the prestigious magazine for publishing fake gnus. Waxing sexual attraction may lead to a wedding, but it’s waning sexual attraction that tests whether it will remain a marriage.Jeez, is prayer boring.  Boring[...]



Filioque? A letter to Australia from TF Torrance

2017-06-02T10:48:00.214+10:00

Speaking of the trinity, here's a letter that T. F. Torrance sent to an Australian minister back in 1984, responding to a question about the filioque. Torrance explains his criticism of the filioque and why he thinks Athanasius is better than the Cappadocians. Many thanks to Murray Earl for allowing me to post this.

(PS: I imagine it's one of the high-points of being a minister, that you can receive mail addressed to The Manse.)




Tweeting the trinity: because heresy is meh

2017-06-01T09:11:47.174+10:00

I spent a few days compulsively tweeting on the doctrine of the trinity. I've just come to the end of a 12-week class on this doctrine and I enjoyed having the opportunity to collect my thoughts like this at the end. Say what you like about twitter, but it can be a good exercise to try to explain yourself in such a constrained form. Anyway I've gathered all the tweets together here, with a handful of additions and minor changes. Enjoy! And have a heresy-free Trinity Sunday!I.  HOW TO AVOID TRINITARIAN HERESY#1. Start by abolishing Trinity Sunday, that fateful day on which preachers think they have to explain the Trinity#2. Teach children to make the sign of the cross when they say the words "Father, Son and Holy Spirit"#3. When someone offers to tell you the practical implications of the doctrine, just smile and move along#4. Have you come up with a really helpful analogy of the trinity? Well done! Now please don't tell anyone about it, ever#5. The doctrine is not a mystery. It is simple & precise. The reality it points to is the mystery#6. Don't try to get rid of the biblical words. Don't try to stick to them exclusively either#7. In this doctrine every word is used in a very limited way. Even the numbers 1 and 3 can't be taken literally#8. Don't partake in meaningless debates about whether "oneness" or "threeness" is more important (see #7)II. TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY, EAST AND WEST#9. Don't worry about whether you prefer Augustine or the Greeks. You don't have to pick a favourite, it's not Masterchef#10. How does Augustine differ? He takes just one principle of "Greek" theology (the inseparability of persons in action) and proves that it's not absurd or unthinkable. That's all.#11. Cappadocians: it's a simple doctrine even though we don't know what it means. Augustine: yes, and it makes good sense to believe it!#12. Irenaeus (Greek tradition): this doctrine is shorthand for the unity of God in OT & NT. Tertullian (Latin tradition): dittoIII. TRINITARIAN THEOLOGY, ANCIENT AND MODERN#13. The biggest change in modern trinitarian theology was one of scale: the most minimalist & modest of all doctrines became a Theory of Everything#14. Ancients: it's the key to scripture (which in turn shapes practice). Moderns: it's the key to practice (even though it's not scriptural)#15. Ancients: the choice of words is easy & their meaning is restricted. Moderns: the meaning of words is vast & the choice is impossible#16. Ancients: the word "Father" must be stripped of all connotations except mere relation. Moderns: those ancients thought God was male!#17. Ancients: the doctrine is a tonic against idolatry (since it names an undepictable mystery). Moderns: the doctrine depicts God as an advocate of my social cause#18. Ancients: it's the worst theory about God apart from all the other ones that have been tried. Moderns: it's the greatest theory ever!IV.  UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES OF THE DOCTRINE#19. The canonical principle. OT and NT are a diverse but coherent witness to one God#20. The creation principle. The one God is creator of all things and so is not on the same plane as anything else#21. The spirituality principle. God is spirit. God has no body and is not comprised of anything like a material substance#22. The simplicity principle. Because God is spirit, and because the creator transcends space, time, & matter, God must be indivisible and without parts#23. The abstraction principle. Words can be used to speak of God only if they are stripped of all connotations of space, time, & matter#24. The revelation principle. How do we find the best words to use? We'd better stick to revelation. (These [...]



Duodenal doodling

2017-05-12T11:25:32.639+10:00

Nietzsche’s excellent question as to why, if Christians are redeemed, they don’t look redeemed, is more excellently answered by Evelyn Waugh: “Think what I would look like if I were not a Christian.”Donald Trump has finally revealed his favourite Bible passage. “It’s from the Book of Job,” he told Fox & Friends (pronouncing the “o” as in “Hobbes”): “chapter 41: I see it as a kind of self-portrait.”What’s the difference between a Wagner concert and a Trump rally? The music is better at a Trump rally.Being born is overrated. It’s a start, that’s all.The way of Jesus is the way of detours and digressions, following him in whatever direction he happens to stray.What’s the difference between Jesus and a Zen master? The guy who asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” – a Zen master would have whacked him with his keisaku. Come to think of it, that’s what Jesus did too. The parables of Jesus – consider them short narrative keisakus.I just saw an episode of the cheerlessly hilarious British comedy Fleabag in which Fleabag’s boyfriend Harry says to her, “Don’t make me hate you. Love is painful enough already.” And I thought: that’ll pray.Does any preacher – or any writer – ever really know whether they are giving their audience pearls or poop? If they do, it’s undoubtedly the latter.   You can choose your friends but not your family – with the notable exception of your library.Premodernity: ParanoiaModernity: Obsessive Compulsive DisorderPostmodernity: Narcissism and sociopathy(From A Dummy’s Guide to Epochal Personality Disorders in Western Civilisation)“My reaction to the instruction that all the dioceses in the C of E coin 3-word vision statements is identical to a modest proposal: ‘For Christ's Sake!’.” (Letter to the Church Times – needless to say, unpublished)I have always thought that the fourth little piggy gets a raw deal, and more recently that perhaps s/he is a victim of domestic abuse, or a tragic example of free market scarcity economics. I mean, the third little piggy has roast beef while the fourth little piggy has none? Not on my watch as a grandpa! So as I wiggle her fourth digit and say “… and this little piggy had …”, my munchkin Delilah gleefully exclaims: “a pizza!”  (Obviously not pepperoni.)The only way to write good non-fiction, particularly academic stuff, is to reads lots of good fiction. Dogs or cats? Fool! You espouse a zoological version of double predestination. In the new creation, dogs and cats will lie down together. The cat on top of the dog.I am a universalist-minus-one. That is to say, if hell exists, it has a population of me.On second thought, I’m inclined to think that everlasting torment also awaits all who edit, publish, or read abridgements of Moby-Dick. (Mercifully, I will be in solitary confinement.)My big problem with the divine omniscience is that people who think they know everything are such dicks.Marriage is the great cure of loneliness. And the great cause.Don’t shoot the messenger – unless, of course, it’s a cold call. Then make sure it’s a head shot. The best way to make good use of one’s time is to waste it.On a good day I remind me of myself. At least I think I will.Old age is like a motorway on which you’re driving along in the slow lane while time flashes by in the fast lane.When will I stop writing? Possibly when I am dead.The Big Joke is that when you finally figure out that there’s nothing to figure out, it’s always too late.The Communion of Saints – aka the Grateful Dead. [...]



Receiving my name

2017-05-02T10:12:01.624+10:00

I.Recently I read a book of magic: Patrick Rothfuss’ novel, The Name of the Wind. Like many tales of arcane entanglement with the forces of darkness, Rothfuss fixates on the idea of naming. Anyone can dabble with the lower forms of sorcery, but the magic so deep and true as to have dissipated into folklore is naming. To know the True Name of a Thing is to have mastery over it. Whisper the name of the wind and you can summon a hurricane. Speak the name of fire and you could extinguish the sun.II.Which, of course, reminded me of academia. Academic life consists mostly in listening to questions and replying with The True Name of the Thing: “It sounds like you’re talking about Dyotheletism, no?” Naming can stun the layperson into silence, allowing the academic to have full control over the conversation. Such naming is a Dark Art.III.The temptation to power in theological academia lies first in the naming of heresies. “What you are saying sounds a lot like Apollinarianism”. An academic will wield these names willy-nilly to produce fear and shut down discourse, when they ought to whisper these names in the confessional. I think like Nestorius and pray like Arius, which is why I need the creeds.IV.The strongest argument against atonement theories is not their precision or anachronism, but their names. Ransom. Satisfaction. Recapitulation. These words are never appropriate as Names of Power, but only as marvels sung out in prayer.V.In the animated film, Spirited Away, Sen and Haku both forget their own names, but they remember each other’s. Our identities are only as secure as our memories, which is why we entrust them to one another and to God for safekeeping.VI.Intercession is the act of praying names. The names do not pass from our lips to God’s ears, but by an act of union with the divine will they pass from God’s memory to our hearts.VII.Sometimes our own names get a little loose, and don’t sit well anymore. So God steps in and adjusts them as he did with Sarah, Abraham, Peter, and Paul.VIII.Christians are welcomed into the church through a ritual of names. The child is named, God is named, and we remember our own Christian names. Without baptisms, we might forget them.IX. At baptism our names are wed to God’s, so that when we greet one another in the name of the Lord, we speak our true names.X.In the liturgy our names are given to us, hidden under the name of Christ. I become myself in reciting the creed, praying the Lord’s Prayer, hearing absolution, receiving the benediction, holding out my hands for the bread and having the cup lifted to my lips. My name is spoken only in the acts of repentance and forgiveness.XI.To be forgiven is to follow Paul, speaking our names only indirectly in our proclaiming Christ's death and resurrection.p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Courier New'; min-height: 14.0px} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-indent: 36.0px; font: 12.0px 'Courier New'} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-indent: 36.0px; font: 12.0px 'Courier New'; min-height: 14.0px} [...]



30 Famous Opening Lines in Literature (2017 Editions)

2017-04-22T09:41:40.165+10:00

by Kim FabriciusIn the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  And the waters said, “Gawd, get outta my face with your wind!”– Moses, Genesis (c. 1445 BC)My purpose is to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kind using techniques drawn from Yoga, Pilates, and acrobatics.– Ovid, Metamorphoses (8 AD)Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruitOf that forbidden tree, whose terrible taste (so bad)Brought total disaster into the world (out of control),With loss of Eden, till one tremendous ManRestore us, and make the world great again.– John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667)It is a truth universally acknowledged in patriarchal, misogynist cultures, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)There was no possibility of going for a run that day.  Disappointingly, the New Balance Vazee Pace v2 trainers I’d ordered from Amazon failed to arrive in the post.– Charlotte Brontë, Jayne Eyre (1847)Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show, depending, of course, on whether or not I am a reliable narrator.– Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)Call me Ishmael.  I self-identify as bicurious.– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)Now, what I want is Alternative Facts…  Alternative Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else and root out everything else.– Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854)I am a sick man … I am a spiteful man.  I am an unpleasant man.  I am an alpha male.– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground (1864)“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any Merry Christmas cards,” grumbled Jo, bitching on her blog “BenOpticon” about political correctness during the season of Our Lord’s Nativity.– Louisa May Alcott, Little Women (1869)Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but both behavioural and cognitive domestic dysfunction therapies are available on the NHS.– Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877)Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hours dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon skinny lattes at Starbucks.– Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady (1881)The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, the men looking at photos of naked servicewomen on Facebook.– Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)All children, except two, grow up. One of them is an infantile old asshole.– J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan (1911)For a long time, I went to bed early but woke up often to check my smartphone.– Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (1913)Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of muesli and skimmed milk from which protruded a teaspoon, another goddam boring breakfast on his low cholesterol/trans-fat diet.– James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)Someone must have been tweeting lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning and subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques.– Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925)Elmer Gantry was drunk, a homiletical trick for enhancing coherence and lucidity that he had learned at Liberty University.– Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (1927)In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit, until one sunny day he, his wife, and tw[...]



Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang Doodlings

2017-03-28T16:53:02.156+11:00

by Kim FabriciusAnother terrorist attack and mass murder, the brutal ending of lives and worlds, the implacably occluded futures of the wounded and grief-stricken – and the inevitable confected aftermath of political fustian, media puffery, and vox-pop cliché.God is love. Monotonously. Or rather Trinotonously.God is like an excellent malt whisky. Alas, liberals add ginger ale and ice to it, while evangelicals just read the label.The church is like a cappuccino: 1/3 creedal espresso, 1/3 milk of human kindness, and 1/3 ceremonial froth.Why do bad things happen to good people? Because if bad things happened only to bad people, we’d be in hell.One of the best arguments for torture is belief in hell, and one of the best arguments against belief in hell is torture.“There’s nothing worse than loving someone who’s never going to stop disappointing you,” said Hosea. (Actually, it was a character in a series 7 episode of House I watched last night.)What was Descartes doing when he wasn’t hunched over that blazing stove cogitating? Probably checking and rechecking and checking again that he had turned it off.Selfie, ergo sum. Indeed, Selfie, ergo mundus est.Wow! A new iPhone that can take 3-dimensional selfies – of 1-dimensional selves.At a recent funeral, a mourner [sic] took a selfie at the graveside as the coffin was lowered. Now if only Joseph of Arimathea had had an iPhone …Greatest selfie of all time: Velasquez’s Las Meninas.Runner-up: El Greco, Pentecost.The binary social media world of Thumbs-up/Thumbs-down – it’s missing a third icon: Turd = Who Gives a Shit?Did you see the pilot for the brilliant new sitcom set in the Brady Briefing Room?  It’s called That Was the Week That Wasn’t (subtitle: Fake You!), starring Donald Trump and co-starring a cast of discombobulated journalists. Let’s be clear: Trump does not drive me to despair.  The reality of his presidency suddenly flashing like lightening across a clear blue sky – my reaction is always “WTF!”, not despair.  In fact, I have moments of lucid hopefulness. Trump is a compulsive fantasist, and our fantasies always fuck us in the end.Stanley Hauerwas has recently written: “I want to suggest that one of the essential tasks of those called to the ministry in our day is to be a teacher. In particular, ministers are called to be a teacher of language.” God’s bollocks! From the fact that Hauerwas feels it is necessary to make such a “suggestion”, one can only conclude that our seminaries have become cemeteries.To re-endorse Hauerwas: the ministerial vocation is ecclesial speech therapy.People often say to me after worship, about the sermon, “Thanks. You really gave us something to think about.”  And I think: another Sermon Fail. Imagine someone coming up to Jesus after preaching and saying, “Thanks, Rabbi. You really gave us something to think about” (cf. Luke 4:28-29).Every year the Times runs a “Preacher of the Year” event. Seriously. Commensurate with the theological vacuity of such a contest, I propose that the winner should be awarded their own celebrity brand of cologne, perfume, or (if High Church) incense.So The Rt. Rev. Christopher Cocksworth [sic] has apologised after accidentally voting against the Bishops' report on marriage and same-sex relationships, confessing that the mistake had been a “moment of distraction and some confusion” (BBC, 16 February). Rather like the report itself.Breaking News: The District Attorney of Denver has announced that the three fundamentalist Chr[...]



Born Again? (a sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent)

2017-03-12T07:42:35.521+11:00

Raise your hand if you’re a Christian … Now raise your hand if you’re a “born-again” Christian … Just as I thought: a disparity. Which disappoints me hugely, but doesn’t surprise me. I’ve been asking the question to congregations for 35 years and the results are always the same. Instead of being a term with which all Christians can and should identify, “born-again” has become a phrase that some Christians are hesitant to claim for themselves, while others claim it for themselves with a sense of exclusive ownership, both fervently and vehemently, in a weaponised, “Gottcha!” sort of way.In the US, you get this phenomenon at its worst, because it is associated with evangelical Christians who have an ultra-conservative cultural and political agenda. You’ve heard of the Religious Right, with its idolatrous identification of America as “God’s own country”, its twinning of faith with patriotism, its hardly hidden racist agenda, not to mention its election-winning support for Donald Trump. Fortunately, the UK has been spared this kind of distorted nationalist, nativist faith. Unfortunately, we have not altogether been spared abuse of the term “born-again”.Above all – yes – the way the term is used by some Christians to make themselves feel more Christian and others feel less Christian. Apparently it is not sufficient to say (as Jesus himself rephrases being “born again”) that you have been “born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5), that is, that by baptism and faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit, you have been incorporated into the church. No, to be a “real” Christian, you’ve got to have a special conversion experience, usually dramatic, often dateable, and frequently expressed in public “testimonies”, punctuated with proof texts from accredited Bibles. Otherwise you’re suspect.And then there is this: because the focus is on personal experience, our theology of mission, which includes God’s global work of reconciliation and liberation, becomes truncated. Evangelism is reduced to Christian cloning – inducing the “born-again” experience in other people and directing them to so-called “Bible-believing” churches; salvation is marketed as “fire insurance” (“Turn or Burn”, as the bumper-stickers so invitingly put it), or at least as the spiritual “equivalent to a healthy retirement fund” (Beverly Gaventa); while a commitment to justice and peace, as well to ecumenism, is completely marginalised.The huge irony is that all this is quite unbiblical, for justice for the poor, peace among the nations, and a passion for the unity of God’s people – these are fundamental, not negligible, let alone expendable, biblical themes. Justice/Peace is the central message of all the great prophets – Amos, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah. And the theme of the ministry of Jesus is – what? The “kingdom of God”, which is a corporate concept and refers to the establishment of shalom, not just in souls but in bodies, not just for individuals but for communities, and not just for some after-death or post-apocalyptic future but for the here-and-now. Or do we need reminding of the manifesto of Jesus, proclaimed in his inaugural sermon in Nazareth (no altar call – the congregation tried to kill him), his “mission statement”:God’s Spirit is upon me:God has chosen me to preach good news to the poor;to announce pardon for prisoners and sight for the blind;to unchain the enslaved and emancipate the oppressed;to announce: “This is salvat[...]



Barth Graduate Student Colloquium

2017-03-10T21:42:27.730+11:00

In case you hadn't noticed, the Center for Barth Studies in Princeton has been developing an exciting number of new initiatives over recent years. One of these, The Barth Graduate Student Colloquium is presently calling for applications. The colloquium is open to any doctoral student whose works touches on Barth's theology, and the meeting this year will focus on CD III/3. If you need further enticement to apply, you should note that Willie Jennings is this year's senior scholar and will deliver a paper during the colloquium. So, without any further excuses, follow the link to read more about the colloquium and apply.



To dust

2017-03-02T01:40:03.527+11:00

“Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death / Pray for us now and at the hour of our death” - T. S. EliotMy teeth ache as though I were biting ice-cream. The chill wind blows through my lips and circles around my incisors—it dries my eyes and freezes the condensation on my upper lip. I look down and continue to make my way along the English roadside. I notice the puddles from yesterday’s rain. No longer wet and young, they are frozen with age. Deliberately, I let my foot fall on one and relish the satisfying sound of puncturing the world’s surface. Creation, I realise, is brittle.Remember that you are dustI lie still, listening to the clicks and hums as I am slowly drawn up into the tube. The song of moving parts and hidden magnets plays up and down my brain and spine. I rest here in my little mound of dust.And to dust you will returnI lean forward, keeping as still as I can. The needle goes near the spinal cord. From deep within, she drains my nervous essence into tubes and flasks for examination. Somehow, this blessed cocoon of dust holds together.Turn away from sin and be faithful to ChristWhen we first arrived here, I saw the moon cover the face of the sun. It was vision of the end. The skies will darken and the ocean will recede. When the last stars fall we will see that all the lights of heaven were but the embers of a fire disturbed.We are what you say we are, O Lord. Do not be silent.On that day we will warm ourselves in the Lamb’s light, as the sun warms the soil. The seeds of faith will germinate, and the tree of life will stand tall amidst our beloved dirt.p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-indent: 18.0px; font: 14.0px Cochin} p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-indent: 18.0px; font: 14.0px Cochin; min-height: 17.0px} p.p3 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; text-indent: 18.0px; font: 14.0px Cochin} p.p4 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; text-align: center; text-indent: 18.0px; font: 14.0px Cochin; min-height: 17.0px} [...]



Join in the Karl Barth seminar via Facebook

2017-02-27T16:09:57.136+11:00

My postgrad seminar on Barth's early theology starts this week. If anyone would like to join in the weekly readings and to be part of the discussion, I've created a Facebook group. Anyone is welcome to join. The first short reading is Barth's early lecture, "The New World of the Bible". The 12 weekly readings are listed here.



#PresidentPrayer and #PresidentLove

2017-02-23T11:08:19.128+11:00

Old Nobodaddy – who lives in Manhattan, parties in Atlantic City, and holidays in Florida –let your name be up in lights!Do what it takes to make America great again [repeat].Turn it into the New Jerusalem –replete with casinos, golf courses, and precious stones by Melania;surrounded by a great wall and, of course, Arabless.Give me today – make it a Big Mac, Lay’s Potato Chips, and a Diet Coke.Forgive me … – cancel that: WTF do I have to be sorry about? –and forget about me forgiving losers!Don’t bring me to trial – you’d be wasting your time (I’ve got an army of lawyers);and deliver me from “so-called” judges (goddam enemies of the people).For mine – sorry, I mean yours – well, ours –is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for as long as it takes.We’re done here.If I speak eloquently and coherently, I’m not speaking like Trump: Trump-speak is a cacophony of bullshit. If I don’t know my ass from my elbow, and if I have the fantasy of draining a huge swamp, and if I have access to state secrets that can be used to destroy the world – that’s Trump. And if I give all my money to the poor, disclose my tax returns, pay the ultimate price for goods and services, and permanently delete my Twitter account – now that would be the Antitrump.“Trump is patient; Trump is kind; Trump does not want what others have; he is not full-of-himself or high-and-mighty or in-your-face. Trump is not an ego maniac; he never flies off the handle or bears a grudge; he does not gloat when others fail; he relishes only what is actually the case.  Trump is a paragon of virtue” (Kellyanne Conway).Trump will be as everlasting as a mayfly, as ephemeral as fart.  He will never give up, but he will finally self-destruct.  One day (Inshallah) he will look in a mirror, point his little foredigit at the caricature before him, and shout, “You’re fired!”“When I was a child, I thought, felt, and acted like a child.  When I grew up, I continued to think, feel, and act like a child – no, make that a big cry-baby.  I’ve got the self-control of a dingo on acid. I don’t see things clearly yet, but one day I never will” (Trump, after being subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques).Meanwhile, there are three things that will sustain us in our overwhelming perplexity and despair: faith, hope, and whatsit. And the greatest of these is Trump. [...]