Please sign this petition

This is my first *RANT*

Please sign this petition:

East Africa is a part of the world I love dearly but they can be bloody bigotted sometimes. This is one of those times.

Any law that makes homosexuality a crime punishable by life imprisonment or even death is just plain wrong. End of. Whatever your reading of St Paul is…

Reflections from a Roman Catholic theologian [1] – justification

I’ve been rereading the Roman Catholic theologian James Alison’s excellent book Undergoing God. It’s essentially a series of transcriptions of lectures and addresses he’s given, so the prose can be a little hard to follow at times. Well worth pursuing though as there are some real gems of wisdom to be found here.

I thought with increased tensions between the RC and Protestant (particularly Anglican) churches at the moment, I’d share some of James Alison’s reflections I’ve found particularly insightful. I hope it will serve as a reminder that although he thinks he speaks for all Roman Catholics, Ratzinger really doesn’t…

So, my first chosen reflection is on justification (no biggy then!).

"And of course, it is not for nothing that sincerity is a virtue particularly appreciated in cultures strongly marked by the Reformation, since it is the virtue of the one who is justified by faith. If you believe it strongly enough, passionately enough, then the belief itself makes you good. The object of the belief is less important than the force of the conviction itself." (Undergoing God, James Alison, p.181)

This, for me, sums up a huge problem that lies at the centre of the entire justification by faith/works debate which continues to rage today. The harder I work for God / the more faith I have in God / the harder I pray to God etc the more justified I will be in God’s eyes. That for me, is a false reality and a false hope as it leads to the belief that we must somehow earn God’s favour, whether by faith or works. Grace is not something which can be earned, but something freely given. N.T.Wright explains brilliantly exactly how we’ve been getting the entire concept of justification wrong here. The article is long but well worth a read.

Wright’s repositioning on the issue of justification rather blows the whole faith/works debate out of the water for me. If both can be seen as stemming from God’s declaration of justification, one might even say as being "fruits of the Spirit", then where is the problem as far as Christians are concerned?

I suppose the elephant in the room remaining is whether "all the service thou hast done to Tash, I accept as service done to me [Aslan]" and "no service which is vile can be done to me [Aslan], and none which is not vile can be done to him [Tash]" are truths or merely good story-telling (CS Lewis, The Last Battle). The question of other religions is another story and will have to wait for another day…

As a Bible-believing Christian…

One phrase that particularly grinds my gears is "As a Bible-believing Christian…".  What then follows may be (a) mysogenistic, (b) racist, (c) homophobic, or (d) all of the above.  (I also react strongly against people who use the phrase "I’m not a racist, but…" followed by a comment on (a) immigrants, (b) foreigners, (c) how their taxes are being spent giving free health care to people from Eastern Europe, or (d) all of the above).

So this got me thinking about what exactly Christians mean when they say they "believe" (in) the Bible.  I think a real problem for me comes when people say (either explicitly or implicitly) that they believe in the Bible.  I actually find it a little spooky seeing people swearing an oath in court on a closed Bible, or a preacher preaching holding a closed Bible in their hand.  In this context the Bible is being held up as a totem of people’s beliefs as if somehow the words printed on the page in the closed books were more than simply words printed on a page in a closed book.  IMH, this is a nonsense.  The words must be read, understood, appreciated, debated, and wrestled with.

Christians are not a "People of the Book", not in the traditional Islamic sense of the word, but meaning they are not a group so defined by their adherence to written texts.  My personal belief is that God’s ultimate revelation in the world was not through a book, but through a Man, Jesus of Nazareth.  In Him, was revealed the Word made flesh, the only begotten of the Father.

Christ did not come to write a book (at least as far as we are aware from the biblical (!) accounts).  The only account of Christ writing anything is when He writes in the sand as he questions those would stone the prostitute (Mary Magdalene?) in John 8.  There’s no indication of what is written, but popular scholarship (at least what I’ve read!) would suggest He was writing down the sins of those pharisees about to stone the woman.  So, again, I would argue strongly that the mission of Jesus two millenia ago was not to write a book, and was not to found a religion based on a book called the Bible.  Whether Jesus came to found a religion at all is another story and will have to wait for another post.

So what use the Bible?  The (New Testament of the) Bible captures the best record we have of the events two millenia ago whether from what was actually seen and heard, or passed down through the oral tradition.  Similarly, the Old Testament captures the accounts we have of the relationship of a specific group of people with God back to the dawn of history.  It therefore does make for highly recommended reading!

What authority the Bible should be given is yet another story (maybe for another post, maybe not).  I think the point of this post was to emphasise that the Bible is not God "bottled".  God cannot be bottled, cannot be boxed, how ever much we wish to do so.  The totems and idols we have created for ourselves simply will not do if we truly want to know God in a meaningful way.  We must not be afraid to let these go and to explore the true depths of our faith.

I’ll finish with a statement which I am happy to make: "As a Jesus-believing Christian…".  What then follows may be (a) loving, (b) forgiving, (c) warning, (d) prophetic, (e) radical/revolutionary, or (f) all of the above…