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Doctrine as Translation

Doctrine as Translation

This post develops a proposal for a role of doctrine in a post-Christendom, global church. It explores writings by George Lindbeck and Kevin Vanhoozer, arguing their contributions restrict the potential for translation through calls to unity. To move forward I engage the function of doctrine, drawing on James H Cone and Ellen T Charry. They show doctrine needs to be transformative, meeting people in their contexts and drawing them into the mission of God. Finally I examine the potential of the role of doctrine as translation; a process empowering both the renewing and rebirth of past expressions of doctrine, and the emergence of entirely new forms built on the endless array of communal and individual experiences of God.

“Doctrine should do something. It should compel the Christian, drawing them into, or sustaining them through, the struggle for liberation and freedom for the oppressed.”

The Transformative Power of Naming

The Transformative Power of Naming

In Scripture naming has a transformative power, it often reflects an encounter or expectation. This post explores four scenes involving naming (Moses and the burning bush, Hagar and El Roi, Jacob becoming Israel, and Simon becoming Peter). 

For we who encounter God, we too receive a transformed name – not necessarily in a literal sense like Peter (though that is the case for some) – but our name, our identity, our history and future is transformed by being conformed, swept up, in the life of Christ, in the history and future of God. We don’t lose our particularity, any more than Peter did, but we are drawn into the mystery of God and sent on God’s way – sent on the way of God who hears the cry of the oppressed, and sees the abandoned.  

Forging a Relationship Between Revelation, Scripture, and Imagination (part two)

Forging a Relationship Between Revelation, Scripture, and Imagination (part two)

Part one identified the problematic way revelation has been conflated with Scripture, and how the Bible has been forced to serve as an epistemic ground for all other Christian doctrines. I offered a way of untangling Scripture and revelation and hinted at the importance of imagination. This concluding piece explores the compatibility of revelation and imagination, the role of imagination in the canonising of tradition, and the importance of imagination in the ongoing reception of revelation. The goal is to continually tie revelation back to God's communicative self-disclosure for the purposes of converting human imagination to the missio Dei, and to develop a non-competitive, complementary account of revelation that benefits rather than is threatened by cross-cultural encounter.

If imagination limits revelation, then different imaginative worlds (in different cultures or historical epochs) set different limits. The shifting imaginative borders of cross-cultural encounters provide greater imaginative potential to receive, interpret, and remember God’s gracious self-communication. This allows for a non-competitive relationship between Scripture and revelation in different times and places outside of the history of Israel and the Church.

Forging a Relationship Between Revelation, Scripture, and Imagination (part 1)

Forging a Relationship Between Revelation, Scripture, and Imagination (part 1)

Doctrine in the wake of the Reformation(s) and Enlightenment(s) has witnessed both the conflation of revelation and Scripture, and, relatedly, the use of Scripture as epistemic grounding for all subsequent theological claims. A corollary of this movement is that Scripture tends to be discussed outside of its role in the economy of salvation and missio Dei. This births manifold problems, which must be addressed when seeking to develop an account of revelation, Scripture, and imagination. This post, and part two tomorrow seek to unpack these problems and offer a constructive and non-competitive way of accounting for the relationship between revelation, Scripture, and imagination.

"The soteriological purposes of revelation require more flexibility than many contemporary doctrinal formulations allow. Therefore it is helpful to stress that revelation is God’s communication to humankind. Communication makes space for flexibility because it is concerned with the impact of its content not the protection of its form."

All The Things I've Tried That Failed

All The Things I've Tried That Failed

If I were writing a book about my work as a chaplain it could be suitably titled All The Things I've Tried That Failed. In this post I search for a different way of measuring my (our) participation in the mission of God. Exploring Moses, who the Lord knew face to face; Paul, who came in gentleness; and Christ, who set the bar at love - there's a way of 'measuring' the Christian life that subverts and redeems all manner of downward slanting graphs.

To love God and love neighbour is to be drawn beyond ourselves and our own interests – it is, first, to seek fully and forever after a God who is both entirely beyond and within. It is to praisefully devote ourselves to the hidden and invisible God who we can know intimately. It is to experience and allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit of fire, without being consumed, without forfeiting agency. It is, second, to seek fully and forever after the interests of our neighbours who cannot be contained, controlled, or categorised. It is to joyfully commit ourselves to their flourishing and liberation, affirming their humanity as made in the image and likeness of God. It is to experience and allow ourselves to be converted by these encounters, without ever losing the confidence that who we are, as fearfully and wonderfully made, is, when coming to rest in God, enough

A Responsible Christianity

A Responsible Christianity

With my work with the Uniting Church Chaplaincy at Macquarie University we have been exploring the idea of a responsible theology - an expression of the faith which is responsible to the world we find ourselves.

"Because, and this has long been pointed out, too much theology is irresponsible. Theologies of submission and sacrifice have guilted too many women into staying in abusive relationships. Theologies of God as powerful monarch have made synonymous the good character of God with the virtues and traits of white male authoritative figures. Too many sermons on salvation as rescue have fostered utilitarian and anthropocentric views toward the non-human world. And this doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about, for example, Christ’s sacrificial and self-giving love, it just means that we should keep in mind the dangers and walk the path responsibly, offering the odd caveat or clarification."

To Hear Humanity Read Over Us

To Hear Humanity Read Over Us

When the post-exilic community hear the Law of Moses read aloud they are moved to tears, what a thing to be reminded of your humanity after living amidst a dehumanising system/society. This piece explores James Cone, Slave Spirituals, Kendrick Lamar, and Sia as examples in this lineage of speaking humanity over the oppressed. It also asks what does it mean for me to be reminded of my humanity in a system designed to celebrate it above all else.

It is in the Law that they hear their humanity spoken over them. In the Law that they hear that they are created in God’s image, created for freedom not bondage, and that God is for them and not on the side of their vainglorious oppressors. What a thing that must be, when for 70 years you have heard (and witnessed) nothing but the opposite. What a thing it must be to hear that you are known, valued, and a person when the society around you has demonstrated their belief, in no uncertain terms, that you are lesser, disposable, a non-person.

Advent! What do we do when the end is nigh?

Advent! What do we do when the end is nigh?

From Y2K to Mayan 2012, Titanic to the movie 2012... how do we live in light of the end.

There seem to be two broad responses: 1) hoard and withdraw 2) intensify living. The second is the proper response for Christians, and when understood and embraced helps remind us (particularly in mainline traditions) of why focusing on the end is so important.

This was the model of the early church. The earliest believers tended to think that the end was nigh – that Jesus’ return would occur in their lifetime, or perhaps the generation after. However this did not send them off into the hills, this did not cause them to be insular, closed off, and withdrawn. Far from hording, it actually caused them to be joyfully generous with their possessions. The early church intensified their ethical engagement with the world; they upped their neighbourliness and outward focus. They sought to care for those marginalised by society – widows, orphans, lepers – they shared what they had, giving to all who had need, they devoted themselves to their cause, and to the one on whom it was grounded. The presumed immanence of the end empowered them to live boldly, to love boldly, to care boldly – because any difficulties, any struggles, anything they had to go without, would pale in comparison to what was coming. Rather than withdraw, they sought to witness and live out a rehearsal to the world that would be ushered in by the forthcoming end.

This post is based on a sermon I delivered at Forestville Uniting Church on the First Sunday of Advent, 2016.

Awaiting a Response

Awaiting a Response

Habakkuk's prophetic book begins with a bang. Bursting open the doors of resigned apathy and quiet pietism by demanding of God a response to the violence and injustice he sees around him. I explore two responses, the first is direct from God, the second is found in Jesus' interaction with Zacchaeus.

... how many of those under the thumb of Zacchaeus, who’ve had to go without because of the taxes he levied, how many of those oppressed by his economic exploitation found solidarity with the words of Habakkuk – how many, when they heard the scroll of Habakkuk read in Synagogue thought of the violence and injustice inflicted upon them and their community by Zacchaeus, and how many cried out to God hoping for a response… and here, Jesus embodies that response and brings change.

SICARIO, and being sent in the midst of wolves

SICARIO, and being sent in the midst of wolves

You will not survive here. You are not a wolf, and this is a land of wolves now. 

A reflection on the final line of the excellent film, SICARIO and Jesus' sending of us into the midst of wolves. Why do we need the mix of dove and serpent, of shrewdness and innocence?

Serpents are wise to the ways of the wolves, to the darkness of the land, and because of that serpents can be subversive in their resistance, crafty in their struggle. The shrewdness of the serpents allows us to sidestep repaying like with like, of believing that the only way to stop a wolf is to become a wolf... 

James Cone and #BlackLivesMatter

James Cone and #BlackLivesMatter

How James Cone's ground-breaking, earth-shaking, woke-inducing, God of the Oppressed connects with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and speaks into (or against) the unfortunately too common response of 'all lives matter'.

Image of James Cone speaking at the Rall Lectures in 1969 in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful.

"Cone’s work grants a new perspective on those who criticise “Black Lives Matter”, insisting on the adoption of the ‘universal’, “All Lives Matter”. Cone (dealing with this before we had #’s) counters, that yes, all lives do matter, just as all are oppressed, but when the person contending that is not a member of the oppressed it becomes another way to silence those crying for liberation."

The Ghost of Grace: A Christmas Carol, Tillich, & Caputo

The Ghost of Grace: A Christmas Carol, Tillich, & Caputo

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge receives three ghostly visitations awakening him to the separation that exists within himself (and and between he and others). Grace has a similar ghostly quality, it haunts and it spooks - provoking us out of our apathy with a call beyond ourselves.

In the event on the road to Damascus, was Saul not visited by a kind of ghost? His own Christmas ghost (or better yet, an Easter ghost)? Saul was spooked by a moment of grace, which struck him blind (– that led to his great awakening and the overcoming of his deepest separation –) and haunted him for the rest of his life. Grace struck Saul like an apocalypse rupturing his existence, separating old order from new life. But grace stuck around, as ghosts are prone to do, so that the haunting might remain. So that Paul would not be content to revert to Saul. Grace remained to spook Paul when he would not do the good he desired, but the evil he did not desire (Rom 7:19).

Jesus the Trump Card

Jesus the Trump Card

An extended reflection in two parts 1) why, despite the move away from Christianity and the church's diminishing public influence, do people continue to employ Jesus as an argument in political and cultural debates. 2) With that background in mind, what positive claims about Jesus can we contribute to these discussions (in an attempt to save Jesus from becoming just another trump card).

Complexity is perhaps the most important contribution the church can make to discussions of Jesus and Christianity in the public sphere. Time and again, both Christians and non-Christians seek to win arguments by playing Jesus as a trump card. For the church, the best course of action may not be to challenge the Jesus trump card of the press with the Jesus trump card of the church, but rather to challenge the notion that Jesus is a trump card to begin with; that Jesus is an endorsement to be won. As we have explored, the memory of Jesus is deeply complex, rich in tradition and debate. For Christians who proclaim the risen Christ, Jesus is not a slogan, but the centre of a story, a living, breathing centre of a story, which began before time and has not ended. Perhaps we need to return to the efforts of Albert Schweitzer, and begin to counter the propensity of people to create a Jesus in their own image, by presenting pictures of the memory of Jesus; continual, full, and troublesome.