Trinity Theological College: One good reason

trinityHere is a very good reason why Trinity Theological College (Perth, Western Australia) is a great option for theological studies.

In the clip below Dr Matthew Malcolm talks about how TTC approaches the study of the New Testament.

His person blog can be located here.

And of course the Trinity Theological College website can be found here.


Rahner and some post-inquiry reflection

karlThe spare time in my last few months has been consumed by Karl Rahner and his not so tidy theology.

What in his theology was I convinced of?  Well, to be frank, very little.  This is not to say that I was not changed by my learning – I certainly was.  One of the things that I admire about the man was his diligence to his individual spirituality.

He sat quietly.  He thought.  He prayed.  He pondered for days on end. The result was a deep and rich spirituality.  Something to be admired, I think.

In terms of his theology, I think his work is overly anthropologically centred, which leads necessarily to, I think,  a number of problems most notably pluralism and universalism.  Supporting these outcomes is Rahner’s Christology, which prefers Jesus as modelling actualised humanity over Jesus as God atoning for humanity’s sin.  What need is there for Jesus?  Well, Jesus is helpful to know, but not essential for salvation.

Muhammad_Jesus_BuddhaOne element of Rahner’s work that interested me was his ‘pre-theological’ use of philosophy.  Philosophy was his means of positioning the human conceptually for the notion of God in history.  Granted, what made the human look to God (the supernatural existential) is certainly not down my alley, but the notion that we engage with philosophical thinking prior to entertaining the option of God in history describes, somewhat, the seeking process.

I think of my friend who became a believer.  He inquired about life and meaning by using categories available to him.  Who am I?  What am I doing here?  What is the purpose of life?  He decided to look for answers in the only place he could – his own created world.  One option available to him (that we had the privilege of presenting) was God in history, Jesus, whom he decided in the end was the answer to his inquiry.

Was this not Paul’s method of operation on the Areopagus in Acts 17?

Areopagus6Paul engaged his audience with discussion about the worship of the gods.  Once he was within their framework he could operate from within it pointing towards the need for an uncreated God, i.e., his God, the one who was not created, but who could be found within history in the form of a man who was validated as such by coming back from the dead.

I like this idea of being able to speak the language of inquiry to those inquiring and using that language to show that the questions point to, or desire to be fulfilled by, God within history.

Can this be done without succumbing to a similarly anthropologically characterised quest for fulfilment, void of God’s prompting and regenerating acts?  The emphasis here is that human reason and inquiry can reveal God in history as the answer, so perhaps the answer to the question is, maybe not.

It is worth a thought though.


Emotional or Forgetful?

Emotional?I found this map the other day that was put together by Mr Gallop here.

Basically, this represents the percentage of people who have answered ‘Yes’ to these questions:

  1. Did you feel well rested yesterday?
  2. Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
  3. Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
  4. Did you do or learn something interesting yesterday?
  5. Did you experience the following feelings yesterday – enjoyment, physical pain, worry, sadness, stress and anger?

It does make a bit of sense.  The former Soviet Blok leads the way in being considered least emotional, whereas the South Americans are saturated in the purple haze of emotion.

I must say the Democratic Republic of Congo is a bit of an outlier.  In a world of pain they come in flush with emotion.  And is that Oman out there?  What’s in the water out there that makes them so different to any other Arab state?

I did find it interesting that the Balkan states are normally considered as very emotional, but they fared very badly.

And what are we to make of Greenland, Papua New Guinea, Finland(?) and one of the Stans?  They all seem a little grey for no reason at all.

This survey could tell us something very profound about history, politics, religion, family environments, cost of living, etc, but if we look very carefully at the questions they are all asking about yesterday.

It could well be that some countries are just more forgetful than the others.

A Miracle: Jesus Survived Crucifixion

I watched a documentary last night about how the resurrection did not happen.

Whenever I watch these documentaries, I must admit, the content and presenters elicit a wide range of responses in me.  At some point I often doubt my own beliefs.  I often laugh at the stupidity of some of their hypotheses and accompanying statements.  I get angry when some things are deliberately twisted to secure a point.  And finally, I am encouraged as I come out the other end after I have dealt with the points that they have offered.

Last night they made two points that appear on the surface quite reasonable and even convincing.

Jesus the faker…

Firstly, they claimed that Jesus did not die on the cross.  One university professor cited events in chapter 15 in Mark’s Gospel to question the validity of the resurrection claim in chapter 16.  We read in 15:44 that, ‘Pilate was surprised to hear that he (Jesus) was already dead.’  After all it was only 3 hours after the crucifixion, which was half the time it normally took for someone to die by this ancient execution method, especially since he did not have his legs broken!

That Pilate was surprised that he was dead hints at the fact that Jesus was not in fact dead, but was alive.  This gives rise to a further defence.

For Jesus to get off the cross alive there needed to be some kind of collaboration between the disciples who knew that Jesus was still alive and the centurion in charge of the operation.  Indeed this is what we are told that we find.  In 15:43 we see that a wealthy man called Joseph of Arimathea who, at the request of the disciples one assumes, approaches Pilate.  Of course the disciples were mere fisherman, etc., who did not have the standing to carry out such a request.  After the request by Joseph for Jesus’ ‘dead’ body we read about Pilate’s surprise.  Pilate, in verse 44, then follows due process: ‘Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died’.  Is it a surprise to find out that the centurion in verse 45 takes the perspective of the disciples and Joseph by confirming that Jesus was indeed dead?

But how can we prove that the centurion was in cahoots with the disciples and therefore with Jesus?  It just so happens that this same centurion in 15:39 betrayed his allegiance when he proclaimed that ‘Surely this man (Jesus) was the Son of God!’

So there we have it.  The independent inquirer is Pilate who is surprised that Jesus is dead so soon.  We have the disciples who are working through a rich man to secure the not yet dead body of Jesus with the help of the converted centurion.

The film makers’ conclusion was that Jesus was taken down from the cross while he was unconscious but alive.

But why did the film makers not engage with the story that preceded Jesus’ crucifixion?  Why, even though they admit that the gospels are the greatest source of information about Jesus, do they not engage with the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ death?  Maybe because there is much information in those books that run contrary to their plotline?

Why does the fact that Jesus was brutally whipped and beaten (repeatedly on the head we read in Matthew) not come into play?

Why is the fact left out that the centurion was not alone but was with others who also agreed that he was dead?

They conveniently leave out John’s report that the legs of those crucified that day were due to be broken to speed up their deaths, but when they arrived at Jesus he was already dead.  His legs did not need to be broken.  The centurions (plural) do not leave it to chance, and so they speared Jesus’ side producing a flow of ‘water and blood’, which we are told is what happens after death.

They are happy to employ the Gospel of John to inform us that the legs of Jesus were not broken which supports their view that Jesus could not of had a quick death, but they are not so forthcoming with the surrounding information that speaks of the numerous centurions present to validate the that Jesus was dead, not to mention the spearing of Jesus’ side.

Why is much of this information left our of the picture?  Maybe, Jesus was dead on the cross.  Maybe the centurion did see Jesus die and the supernatural events that happened in that moment.  Maybe Joseph was rich and had Pilate’s ear.  Maybe they took the dead body away and put it in a tomb.  These maybes are not an elaborate scheme, but rather simple.  They don’t reek of a master plan, nor a covert operation.  That a man died is much more feasible.

Jesus did his job.  Pilate and the centurions did their job.  Jesus’ friends did their job.  That was how the first century worked.

Jesus on the run…

The fact that Jesus was alive presents a problem.  This was the basis for the second claim, that Jesus disappeared to either the south of France (not a bad idea if you ask me!) or the Central Asia.  They are right in saying that if Jesus did survive the crucifixion then he would have been a wanted man, after all, he was a traitor and blasphemer who had been sentenced to death.

The film makers betray their own ignorance and agenda in this argument.

As I said earlier, they admit that the vast amount of information that we know about Jesus is by virtue of the four gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  If then we take these accounts as explaining why Jesus was in Jerusalem in the first place why would we think that Jesus would flee Jerusalem after he survives the crucifixion?

The Gospels are very clear that Jesus walked into Jerusalem knowing that his end was nigh.  Firstly, if he knew that his end was fast approaching and that the primary antagonists were in Jerusalem, why would he go to Jerusalem?  If  he wanted to avoid being killed then any sane person would have headed in the opposite direction, or even France!

Secondly, Jesus had an opportunity to say that he was not the king of the Jews and so maybe avoid death, but he chose to engage with what he believed to be the case.  To the question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Jesus answered,  ‘Yes, it is as you say.’  If Jesus was trying to get out of dying then he was doing a really bad job of it.

If Jesus did survive the crucifixion why would he run?  If he didn’t run the first time why would he run a second time?  He had been defying the religious authorities for three odd years.  He was clearly not phased by the idea of standing up to them and the consequences that that would bring.

If the gospels are our best source of information about Jesus then perhaps we should engage them in a more holistic fashion.

The film makers created an amazing plot worthy of, not a religion, but a movie:  Jesus did the impossible.

He survived a flogging and crucifixion and being speared his side, he fooled Pilate and the Roman executioners with a nifty blood and water trick, was retrieved off the cross with the help of the role playing rich man and centurions, was smuggled by friends out of the tomb where he lived for three days, before being rescued (again with help of the Roman guards) and fleeing to France and Central Asia.

Sometimes the Gospels don’t sound that wacky at all:)

Mrs Christ, is that you?

Was Jesus married?

That question is beside the point at the moment.  The big question is, will the Harvard Theological Review publish Prof. Karen King’s article on the recent discovery of a Coptic papyrus fragment that apparently speaks of Jesus’ wife.

The evangelical world rejoiced when a bunch of Coptic gurus brought the ship down.  They deemed it a fake, not least because it demonstrated dependence on the Gospel of Thomas.  The response was swift.  The Harvard Theological Review decided not to publish King’s article.

End of story…

…until Harvard Divinity School spokesman Jonathan Beasley told us that the article has not been rejected.

Check it out for yourself here.  Here is the rationale:

“Dr. King’s `marriage fragment’ paper, which Harvard Theological Review is planning to publish in its January, 2013, edition – if testing of the ink and other aspects of the fragment are completed in time – will include her responses to the vigorous and appropriate academic debate engendered by discovery of the fragment, as well as her report on the ink analysis, and further examination of the fragment.”

End of story…

I think not.

But to be frank, I’m not sure if the story ever started.  We must, however, follow due process and allow the academy to follow the due process of scrutiny and investigation.

45% of people in Bulgaria…

Yemen is an amazing country.

I’ve been there twice to catch up with a good mate who works there.  It is beautiful and the people there were amazingly warm and hospitable.  The smiles of Adeeb and Mohammed stick clearly in my mind.

If you were to do a google search on Yemen you would quickly learn that it is a country that is ravaged by political corruption, sectarian violence, religious extremism, tribal bickering, poverty, and every other ill under the sun.  People live on under $2 dollars a day in this country.  You’re getting the picture, right?  It’s not a nice place to live.

Now, if I was to say that a Gallup poll (here) was taken in an effort to rank countries according to how they are thriving and suffering it would be of no surprise to you to find out that Yemen polled really badly.  It comes in near the very bottom – 2nd last.  I’m surprised that they didn’t come in last!

I was also surprised to find out who had the dubious distinction of coming in last on the suffering scale.  I mean, imagine this country.  It must be hell on earth!  If I was forced to make a guess as to who would take the honours I would have gone with a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Southern Sudan, or a Central American country like Mexico or Guatemala (sorry Carrrrrrlos).

What country has the greatest percentage of people suffering on the planet?  And the winner is…. Bulgaria!  Yes, disbelief and shock are appropriate reactions, and it wins by not a small margin too.  In Yemen 38% of its population are suffering, whereas in Bulgaria a staggering 45% of people are suffering.  Wow!  That is nearly one in every two people.

So what does one make of this?  Are people really suffering more in Bulgaria than people in countries like Yemen, Syria, Iran and Southern Sudan?  I mean, c’mon, they’re being bombed, shelled and snipered by their own governments in these places.

For those of us that have the privilege of living in Bulgaria and having an outsider’s perspective on things, this poll comes as no real surprise.  Why?

Yes, Bulgaria is plagued by corruption on all levels and it has its own fair share of social ills and poverty, but we need to remember what this poll is measuring.  Have a quick read:

Suffering — wellbeing that is at high risk. These respondents have poor ratings of their current life situation (4 and below) AND negative views of the next five years (4 and below). They are more likely to report lacking the basics of food and shelter, more likely to have physical pain, a lot of stress, worry, sadness, and anger. They have less access to health insurance and care, and more than double the disease burden, in comparison to “thriving” respondents.

We all know that measurement is problematic when there is no standardised measure, and we must understand that this poll has not been carried out according to a standardised measure.  That is, this poll is not a comparative study of life situations by an objective 3rd party, but is rather a subjective personal response to certain questions about one’s present situation.  For the most part this poll is psychoanalysis.  It measure not how do living conditions compare in various countries, but rather, how do individuals within their respective countries respond to their present situation.

Of course, there is a strong correlation between wealth and thriving, and poverty and suffering, but the fact that Bulgaria comes in last on the suffering list is indicative of a national psyche that is struggling to cope with the present conditions, whatever they are.  But what are they?

Let me put it this way.  I haven’t heard of any Bulgarians looking to immigrate to Iran,  although there are plenty of Iranians already in Bulgaria, and I’m sure there are plenty more that are seeking to get here.

So what’s the story?

One of the first conclusions that I drew about the Bulgarian culture after being here a short time was that the average Joe, or Boris as is the case here, is wracked by fear and hopelessness.

It is palpable!

The causes are complex and historically rooted.

In the present, Bulgarians live within a capitalist system that has proven to be impotent and incapable of providing them with a standard of living and way of life that was promised to them.  Then of course there is the not so recent communist rule that shaped a vast proportion of the minds and hearts of the people who live in Bulgaria today.  And then there is the older but still relevant events of the 500 years of oppression by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire.

Bulgaria is a product of its past.  It reflects on the current situation and thinks of the future in light of the events of the past.  It has good reason to be fearful and hopeless.  While the government is not shelling its citizens, and while elections are for the most part fair and just, the average Bulgarian is trapped within a life that is fearful of the present and hopeless about the future.

I’ve never pretended to be Bulgarian, and I don’t pretend to understand the average Boris’ predicament – all I know is that to be Bulgarian is to suffer.

The Gospel has never been more relevant in Bulgaria.