Friday, September 25, 2009
  God as Mother
A few people have begun to mention my experiment in "networked publishing" (a fancy name for using sophisticated blogging software to allow readers to discuss, and potentially impact the content of, a book) Not Only a Father: Motherly God-language in the Bible and Christian Tradition those I have noticed are:
But as yet no one has begun to comment or discuss the material on the site :( I hope this weekend to add chapter three which will mean that the following material is available:
  1. Talking Pictures the introductory material
  2. Biblical Talk of the Motherly God:
    1. A Personal God without Icons
    2. Imagery in the Old and New Testaments
    3. God’s Motherly Love
Chapter 3 "Early Theology of God as Mother" which looks at motherly God-talk in the early fathers and through to the middle-ages should be online fairly soon. Other chapters will follow. But for the project to work, I really need people to read and discuss (or argue with) the work... so please do visit, and comment, or ask your friends to do so :)

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Thursday, August 13, 2009
  Watch out or the bears will get you!
In his post "Bad Boy Bible Study meets Ship of Fools" the indefatigable Lingamish throws a challenge at several of his friends. Since he is doing a series on Bad Boy Bible Study (which incidentally I have tagged to read when I get the chance as it looks like something I might want to point people to for good advice) I guess we are the ship of fools ;)

Before naming his band of fools (a fine role in the mythical medieval court) he wrote about one of the nastiest stories in Scripture 2 Kings 2:23-24. For those of you too lazy to mouseover the link reftagger should have made this is where Elisha curses a crowd of teasing boys and some bears maul 42 of them. David then commands us:
  • You’ve been asked to teach or preach on this passage.
  • What would you say?
Granted that this week I'm flat out with a busy semester, 40 assignments to mark and more on the way, and the usual busyness of someone trying to buy a home (in Tauranga not here in Auckland), the first thing I'd say is "I am sorry, I did not have time to prepare properly for this sermon." Actually I wouldn't as you never apologise like that in advance, but I'd think it, and David asked for our reactions ;) And in this blogging context it is relevant, you need to remember this is a knee-jerk response not my considered thoughts.

First I'd retell the story, or more likely read it from a good simple DE translation like the CEV. Then I'd point out that Bible stories almost never intend us to take their characters as examples. Think 2 Sam 11.
  • act like David, forcibly (or at least through abuse of power) take any young woman you fancy
  • act like Bathsheba, don't say a word even when such crimes are committed against you
  • act like Uriah, be an unreasonable prig
Neither does our story contain examples to follow.

We expect life to be fair - it is not. If there was proportionality in this story, Elisha the "good" prophet would control his temper, the bad boys would be good, and carry Elisha's pack for the poor old baldie, and above all a good God would not allow bears to attack mischievous but otherwise harmless kids. But life is not fair, get over it! AND (and here is where I would begin really to bring other Scripture into consideration of this passage) pray for the coming of the Day of the LORD when every sort of wrong and injustice will be put right.

Learn to live in a world "out of joint" (it is that way because of human sin, in which we hold shares) while looking for the coming of a new creation.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008
  Thinking about technology
Some authors build for themselves such dominant reputations that they become one-man brands - the names that require no qualification. So in discussion of Christian issues "Barth" (unless qualified by a forename) means Karl-author-of-Romans-and-Church-Dogmatics.

Some authors achieve this status because their thinking is so clear, and their communication so straight and clear that one must either agree or disagree with them - they polarise. [Some of us are so good at seeing every facet of an issue that following our thought is like walking through untracked forest, a series of tiny decisions,rather than one momentous one...] Lewis earned his "brand" that way, and so has Carson.
Photo of DA Carson by jrgordon13
At least in Carson's case his forthright clarity means people usually either love or hate him - and in recent years his pronouncements on "emergent" have earned him much hate. But, whatever you think of Carson the (one-man) brand, he has written a superb editorial for Themelios.

He addresses a Christian approach to technology, and begins (predictaby) with Rom 12:2 and (also predictably?) 2 Cor 10:5. He states that "the most dangerous movements in any age are those that are so widely assumed that it is very hard to see them" supporting his case with reference to history, though any cross-cultural worker will be as aware that today's assumptions by Western Christians look very different in most of the world.

[The geographical difference in assumptions is well illustrated by an example a colleague uses of German and American "Christian Brethren" women meeting - the Americans were shocked that the Germans drank and the Germans felt that the Americans looked like whores with their makeup ;) ]

After an interesting, though to readers of this blog unsurprising, rehearsal of some features of current digital techno-culture he concludes:
We need to hear competing voices of information from the world around us, use our time in the digital world wisely, and learn to shut that world down when it becomes more important to get up in the morning and answer emails than it does to get up and read the Bible and pray. We may also learn much from church history, where we observe fellow believers in other times and cultures learning the shape of faithfulness. We begin to detect how easily the "world" may squeeze us into its mold. We soon learn that adequate response is more than mere mental resolve, mere disciplined observance of the principle "garbage in, garbage out" (after all, we are what we think), though it is not less than that. The gospel is the power of God issuing in salvation. Empowered by the Holy Spirit and living in the shadow of the cross and resurrection, we find ourselves wanting to be conformed to the Lord Jesus, wanting to be as holy and as wise as pardoned sinners can be this side of the consummation.
Do read the whole editorial (HTML or PDF), and since Themelios does not have a comment feature (how I wish the church, and especially Evangelical Christians, would recognise that openness and discussion are healthy and not persist in old authoritarian modes of discourse) you are welcome to post any short responses

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Thursday, August 28, 2008
  Creativity in Theological Education
A while back Geoff Pound (of Theologians Without Borders) put some effort into collecting ideas and stories about Creativity in Theological Education quite a bit of this material appeared in "one off" posts on the TWB blog, but he also collected together a summary post. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the "finished" feel of the posts they have not generated the discussion they might have if these things had been said in instutional staff rooms ;)

Readers of Sansblogue are likely to be stroppy, strong minded individuals, and many are likely to have strong opinions about theological education. So, if you have not done so already please go and explore these posts on TWB and disagree, express your strong opinions, generate discussion - the honour of the blogsphere is at stake, surely this electronic medium is no worse than a college staff room at discussing ideas?!

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Thursday, July 03, 2008
  Aggression ≠ ad gredere
Theologians and preachers suffer many of the normal human weaknesses, finding what we want to see is a common example. When as a standard preacherly déformation professionnelle one adds a touching faith in the Humpty Dumpty school of linguistics.
There's glory for you!'

`I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don't -- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'

`But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master - - that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. `They've a temper, some of them -- particularly verbs, they're the proudest -- adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs -- however, I can manage the whole of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

See Lewis Carrol, Through the Looking Glass, "Humpty Dumpty" here

There's what I think is a fine example of Humpty Dumpty theology quoted on Mary's blog - I can't comment there as to stop the dreaded spammers she has comments set so that only people with a login to her blog can comment :(
It comes from a wonderful small book called The Practice of Communicative Theology, by Matthias Scharer and Bernd Jochen Hilberath. On page 38 of that book they write:

The word “aggression,” from the Latin ad gradere
(”moving toward”) has a positive as well as a negative meaning. It includes no only the life-destroying forces of exclusion but also that force which can find expression in a living, loving relationship. All-encompassing peace and harmony among all creatures without doing away with their differences are ideals corresponding to the transformation of life that God promises for God’s future…

Whatever the Latin ad gradere meant - and although no Latin scholar I suspect that (or perhaps even more relevant what the range of meaning of agressus was the English "aggression" simply does not mean what these authors want to make it mean - no dictionary I have consulted permits it, and even the recent usage in phrases like "an aggressive advertising campaign" permit it either. Aggression means attack, whatever the Humpty Dumpty theologians wish. The etymological fallacy is still a fallacy, even as we near the half-centenary beyond the publication of Barr, James. The Semantics of Biblical Language. London: OUP, 1961.

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Friday, November 30, 2007
  A thinking theologian: reformation now!
Chris-Wright---blueChris Wright, the International Ministries Director of the (John Stott's) Langham Partnership and author of a number of popular and scholarly books on the Old Testament has issued a stirling call for reformation, among Evangelical Christians. The whole article is well, very well, worth reading (and it is short) despite its dull as ditchwater title: Theology Working Group Focuses on Lausanne Core Slogan.

The core of his case is succinctly put:
My big concern is not just that the world church should become more evangelical, but that world evangelicals should become more biblical.
Then since he takes biblical prophecy seriously, he socks it to us:

For there are scandals and abuses in the world-wide evangelical community that are reminiscent of the worst features of the pre-reformation medieval church in Europe.
  • There are some mega leaders, like ancient prelates, wielding vast wealth, power and control – unaccountable, unattractive and unChristlike
  • There are multitudes of ordinary Christians going to so-called evangelical churches, where they never hear the Bible preached or taught. They live in scandalous biblical ignorance.
  • Instead they are offered, in the ‘prosperity gospel’ a form of 21st century indulgences, except that you pay your money not for release from pains after death, but for receipt of material ‘blessings’ here and now.
  • And there are evangelicals parading ungodly alliances with secular power – political, economic and military – identifying themselves (and the gospel they claim to preach) with agendas and ideologies that reflect human empire not the kingdom of God in Christ.
Will we have the courage to identify and renounce such scandals and to seek a reformation of heart, mind and practice?
Read it the full short article!

Discuss it! Send the link to friends, blog it (so Google picks it up) this needs to be heard.

He concludes:

The 16th Century Reformation was criticized because it lacked missionary awareness and energy until much later. They were so obsessed with tackling abuses in the church that they
neglected world mission. How ironic and tragic will it be if 21st Century evangelicals are so obsessed with world mission that we neglect abuses in the church, and remain wilfully blind to our own idolatries and syncretism?
  • If reformation without mission was defective,
  • then mission without reformation will be deluded, self-defeating and even dangerous.
The Lausanne Covenant, like the Bible itself, commits us to the integration of both.

May God grant us the will and humility to respond with equal commitment.

PS I forgot to mention that it was our principal, Paul, who pointed me to this item, he has not blogged (Paul's blog) it himself yet, but I'll be interested to read what he writes as it is likely to be more thoughtful than this knee-jerk jump for joy!

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Thursday, November 29, 2007
  How do "theologians" think?
Nichthus in Teaching theology: What's the microcosm? Quotes Parker Palmer
We honor both the discipline and our students by teaching them how to think like
historians or biologists or literary critics rather than merely how to lip-sync the conclusions others have reached.
Which as Nichthus recognises raises, for teachers, the question: How do theologians think? I'm delighted that in seeking to answer this he returns to my favourite description of theology, Anselm's "Faith seeking understanding". In the light of this what theologians do is seek to understand (life, the universe and everything) as believers.

However, this is where it gets tricky, especially in the world of traditional academic theology. For as the discipline has grown and developed it has "evolved" several strikingly different specialities. In theology as academic discipline a "(systematic) theologian" seeks understanding differently from a "practical" theologian, and neither follow the same paths in their search for wisdom and understanding as a biblical "scholar"! Life is totally different in the real world. The neat corridors in the academy that one follows in the search for understanding are not like the winding paths and thickets of the forest of life in which we (whether "theologians" or "lay" - what a daft distinction, as if the untrained punter in the pew does not do theology!) are confronted by experience with requires our faith to "understand" it.

Please do not understand me wrong, I do not mean that the techniques and tools my discipline can offer to faith (all the methods and techniques that generation after generation of Bible readers in academy and church have struggled to develop, and now also adding some of the tools that secular readers of secular texts have added to the arsenal) are unnecessary. Students if they are to become competent readers of the Bible still need to recognise the genre of a passage, still need to listen to how others have read it... Discipline skills and knowledge are not unnecessary, they are vital. But, they are not the core of what a "theologian", qua theologian, does.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007
  Wicked problems? Can theological teaching change?
Nichthus wrote a long post eulogising Sydney, and the conference he is/was at (I could not really work out what the conference was about ADBC or something, that and "PowerPoint slides break the rules of working memory.") But he began with a mention of ‘wicked problems’ and that wording kept me reading. Which is just as well, since for me the meat of the post was in the tail.

There he presents some ideas for the future of theological education. I think what he presents IS a wicked problem. The things Mark says are common sense and largely accepted in Pedagogy (some of them for decades but most theological educators are not trained teachers, and the structures we work in and our own educational experiences make us subject oriented, and so sadly not (despite our desires) student centred. So I'll repeat Mark's bullets and comment on them, from where I sit. He looks forward to:
Clearly defined student outcomes that focus on the development of the learner rather than content coverage (already a standard feature of instructional design).
The trick is that we need:
  • First: to get acedemics to really accept this, with their heads - many still think (deep deep down) that it IS all about content. Unless this conversion happens we will get no where. Even if this was what teachers were teaching teachers in the 70s. Most theological teachers are NOT teachers!
  • Second: someone to help us to put it into practice - we were taught, and most of us (since thanks to the baby boom after the war, most are frankly old) we have taught for many years, in a content-focused way, so - even when convinced - we need nudging and reminding not to slip back into bad habits.
Assessment tasks that encourage process rather than outcome, and that are flexible enough to permit reference to a variety of real world contexts. Linking students in with their real worlds as the context for theological and exegetical engagement (yes, already an established theme in general educational literature).
Here, many of us already agree in principle, so this task is easier. But again, since we were not taught this way, we need help. It is so much easier to set an essay from the list that old Dr Brown used.
Shifting the classroom and meeting experience from didactic teaching first, conversation and dialogue supplemental to conversation and dialogue first, didactic teaching supplemental (this could be achieved with a national resource-based approach).
From where I sit the key here is the little term "resource-based". The conversation thing is common, dialogue is present (not as often as we'd like, because hierarchical structures oppose it, but it occurs), but no way is current practice resource-based! This depends (I think) on the conversion mentioned above - if theological teachers really accepted that they teach students not subjects, people not content, really really believed that, then resourced-based teaching would be easy to encourage.
Viewing church history and established dogma as a resource, not as the subject. The subject is now, the student context, the today world. We do not need to reinvent; rather, we need to discover how we can make relevant. We must enter the future looking forwards, but still with a sense of continuing the Christian story and writing its current chapters in the context of what has been written before. To ignore theological tradition makes us ignorant and impoverished. To focus solely on it without reference to the current context makes us irrelevant and impotent.
And maybe this is the way into the whole conversion...
We must design with an appreciation of the gradual development of the learner. Yes, level 5 study ought to be more structured and foundational. Yes, levels 6 and 7 should be far more open-ended and conversational. Wisdom must guide our pedagogies. Faith in the Spirit’s work in developing the learner must be apparent.
Though, of course, this is the real key...

....but faith without works is dead ;-)


Related content:

Way back in June AKMA had a post I have been meaning to think more about What Is Theological Education Like? in which he contrasts two sorts of outcome of learning: objective/cognitive and affective/intuitive. Different sorts of endeavour require different mixes of these, so horrifyingly in advance of events he wrote:
In some fields, we expect practitioners to have mastered a field of vitally-important facts. I do not care how my civil engineer feels about cement, steel, and road
surfaces; I care urgently that the overpass stays up while I drive over (or under) it.
He notes the lack of consistency and clarity among people about the goals of theological education, and then writes:
For my part, I take the consequences of “untrue” theological practice as much more grievous than of, let's say, a very unpalatable, vacuous performance routine.
AKMA's position on this is strikingly similar to what Nichthus' writes from a different part odf the theo-ecclessial spectrum:
It’s great to embrace post-modernism and to engage in ‘free-field’ thinking. But we must remember that those participating in such discussion must first have a reliable framework and point of reference. Particularly in theological education, we need to take careful steps to create boundaries for participants. There are some things in evangelical Christianity that we simply must take for granted in a modernistic sense. The resurrection and Lordship of Jesus. The authority of Scripture. Salvation by faith, expressed through works. There is a core cluster of landmarks that we must have in place before embarking on theological dialogue. Novices can drown in an open sea of conversation.
I tend both to agree, and to dissagree! God knows (to quote Oscar Wilde out of context) I am with them in some things. And Mark's list looks about right. And yet... I wonder if even here the passion for truth needs to be preceded by a passion for people... Does conversation and dialogue even here precede understanding of why these truths (whatever list you or I hold as basic) are the ones and not others like them but different. The "why" is perhaps at least as important as the "what"!

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