N.T. Wright is currently my favored theologian. I first encountered his thoughts online at the referenced website, which contains a large number of articles and audio talks. I’ve begun reading the book The Message of Jesus: Two Visions, and find his arguments more compelling than those of Marcus Borg, the co-author. Jack Spong referred to him in his autobiography with a rather off-hand comment that was simply designed to ridicule Wright’s affirmation of a physical resurrection. Yet both Wright and Borg enjoy a friendly dialog around the historical quest, admiring and respecting one another’s work. He is definitely worthy of consideration even by the most hardline liberal thinkers.
I’d better get to this before the memory of the book begins to fade away. In A New Kind of Christian, Brian McLaren introduced us to his primary fictional characters of Dan Poole, a pastor who was considering quitting the ministry until meeting and befriending Neo (an acronym for Neil Edward Oliver), a high-school teacher of science. It is primarily a dialog between the two around the impact of postmodernity on faith and church life. This book has proved to be highly controversial as the review on Amazon demonstrates. It seems you can’t shake the foundations of historical orthodoxy without getting harangued in the process. Maybe I need to read it again, as I did not detect anything which directly contradicts conservative evangelical thought (it does however question its tradition). I did read it after moving into my present perspective as represented by the blog, so I’m definitely biased. As such, this is not a review that applies the rules of critical analysis, rather it is simply a gathering of my thoughts after having read the book.
McLaren brings the characters of the first book and introduces two people who become central to this story – Kerry, a friend of Neo suffering from cancer, and her son Kincaid. In the context of Kerry’s relationship with Neo and subsequently with Dan’s family, we are treated to an array of questions and answers to issues that plague Christian and non-Christian alike. McLaren moves on from postmodernism to a summary of the scriptures – “The Story We Find Ourselves In”. Evolution vs. creationism, atonement and afterlife are but a few of the topics discussed. This I would see as more problematic to the conservative, as the views are those you would expect from the moderate. I found the dialogue to be tantalising and informative, particularly as I’ve struggled to see how evolution can fit in a model of God as author of creation. The thoughts in the book are not complete, but are merely a starting point for further dialog and exploration.
What has made these books all the more enjoyable to me is the fictional narrative style. It’s not always terribly engaging, sometimes struggling to remain a story (more so for the first book than the second). I reckon this has something to do with the fact that McLaren is not a novelist, rather a pastor by vocation. Yet the book is still immensely readable, a book which I could not put down.
Today I discovered this blog of Richard Beck, and have found the content so far to be enriching. This is from Richard’s About Me:
Currently, I’m Associate Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. I am an experimental psychologist with interests in the psychology of religion. Thus, this blog is my attempt to understand human nature from both the theological and scientific perspectives.
The blog contains an online book and loads of other topics; the one I’m reading right now is Theology and Sexuality: What makes a sin a sin? I think this is destined to be my favourite blog (at least for now).
I was just thinking earlier about how often my behavior has adjusted according to the person/group I am around. In the past this caused me great concern, for I felt that I constantly fell to the ‘lowest common denominator’ of the group. With my Christian friends, I was an angel, but more of a devil with my non-Christian friends. Now I understand this as a natural psychological response to the need for acceptance in community. We adapt to one another in a variety of ways to connect and express ourselves. Can we really adequately define ourselves as individuals? So much of my makeup is derivative of my parents eg. temperament and physical features. Additionally, factors in my education, and the peers that I associate with over time, have certain affect on who I present myself as. Books that I read, movies that I watch, and now podcasts that I listen to, have all had their impact. Understanding this, I’m less concerned about the problem of moral adaptation, though more conscious of the process so that I may not ‘overdo’ it. I tend to people-please a fair bit without thinking. I’ll laugh at every joke, and make silly comments. Really, there’s not much to worry about unless the behaviour is seriously unjust or cruel.
Jesus said at the commencement of his ministry, “Change your attitude, reform your ways; for the revolution of God is coming soon”. How seriously do we really take this mandate? Usually housed in religious language (Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand), our response is usually limited to mental assent, as in, ‘I believe in Jesus, I turn from my sins’. Then, we go on our merry way with little change; little questioning of our ongoing attitude, choices, behaviour; little understanding the implications of following Christ. It seems lately I’ve been bathed in the perspective of real and radical change of heart, through the witness of primarily postmodern voices. As such I’ve decided to revamp my life, running through the various choices and attitudes that I make to be centered on the worship of God. In many ways I am a slave to my desires, and I desire the kind of liberty that Christ gave to us as an example and testimony. It will not be easy, for Christ did say ‘deny yourself’, and self-denial is a painful process. Yet I look forward to what I become at the end of the process.
Jesus turned water into wine, quality wine at that. Some conservatives claim that the wine back then was low-to-non alcoholic, though I don’t know where they got that from. I’m not too worried about justifying drinking or not here, each to their own. Red is my drink of choice, my girlfriend and I have a weekly ritual of consuming a couple of bottles. After buying wine from retail stores and then finding the price and taste difference in the ‘cleanskin’ stores to be substantially better, I’ve done the switch.
(If you’re not in the know, cleanskin refers to the fact that the bottles are delivered to the stores without labels, and are subsequently labeled by the store ie. no fancy branding)
The stores I have discovered are two excellent local choices, and one close to work.
Alias Wines is the one I have been to the most, decent prices and excellent service. I can’t remember getting outstanding wines from there though.
Wine Justice apparently has multiple locations, I only just discovered this and found the guy running the store to be very helpful. I bought a Cab Sav for $8.95 that was better than some brand names I’ve paid $20+ for. I’ll be back here Friday night, when they pop open a number of bottles and supply dips and chocolate….hmm new store of choice!
In South Melbourne:
The Grape Unknown is the store near work I discovered one day which has now restored my love of Shiraz after a bad experience in the past. I’ve only had their Shiraz, as tasting has proved it to be of high quality.
Dan Murphy’s may have an overwhelmingly large selection, but you pay a premium for the brand, and won’t get the service of the cleanskin stores. Look out for one near you.
I’m just wondering, does postmodernism in Christian practice bring us into a convergence of the old labels of evangelical and liberal streams? This certainly seems to be the understanding of Brian Mclaren – see his A New Kind of Christian trilogy and A Generous Orthodoxy. ‘Evangelical’ and ‘Liberal’ are both modern categories, a creation of their time, and both seem to be at the end of their tenure. It is interesting to note that evangelical groups across the world are forming alliances around particular issues – one such alliance exists within the Uniting Church of Australia as a response to concerns, and a new effort to end the genocide in Sudan, Evangelicals for Darfur (of which one leader in this initiative is Brian Mclaren). The former is a group of like-minded people defending ‘their turf’; the latter a wide-ranging group that would likely not agree, but still fit within the broad category of evangelical. This suggests a breakdown in the category, which is a good sign that progression is being made towards a broader unity (and hopefully the death of the label).
Another later thought to add to this post is that the categories of evangelical and liberal are largely irrelevant in Australia. So it is difficult for me to authoritatively comment.