Disclaimer

To aviod confusion I want to clarify I am not the Gordon Kennedy who is involved in Spartacus Ministries. I am neither commending nor discommending this ministry, but merely want to be clear that the Gordon Kennedy is not me.

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Time To Take A Pilgrimage

tw way of lordThis is the first book I’ve started and finished this year. As usual with Tom Wright books this one, The Way of the Lord: A pilgrim journey in life and faith, is easily read and well worth the time.

In the introduction, ‘Pilgrimage Today: A personal introduction’ TW offer a robust defence of the Christian practice of pilgrimage, which too often, especially in evangelical circles, is viewed with suspicion and hostility. As TW shows this is unnecessary and unhelpful.

The main body of the book is in 9 chapters. These chapters begin from one part of the Holy Land, e.g. Damascus or Jerusalem and reflecting upon biblical passages associated with that location offer helpful insights into key themes in Christian discipleship, e.g. conversion, baptism. There is a lot of helpful material here.

The epilogue, ‘The Holy Land Today’ is pure gold. There is in Western evangelicalism an unhelpful pro-Zionist agenda which often surfaces. There is a refusal to acknowledge the existence of a Palestinian church, which is just ignorant. TW does not offer any solution to the problems of the Holy Land and the tensions between Jews, Palestinians and others. But he does plead for understanding of all the people of the Holy Land, for an acceptance of Christian brothers and sisters, both from the Jewish and Palestinian communities and for an serious engagement in the quest for reconciliation which will involve all our best efforts and prayers. This is a very helpful epilogue which should be more widely known and reflected upon.

A good book highly commended.

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Let The Reader Understand

Following encouragement from our Facebook Group I’m setting up a secret group for us to read together, with the prayer that as readers we may understand together.

If there are others to add to the group please suggest them to me.

Here is the plan for Jan to April:

1. Tom Wright How God Became King (London: SPCK, 2012)

Section of book

Pages

Begin discussion

Preface + One

ix to 58

Thu 3 Jan

Two

61 to 154

Thu 17 Jan

Three

156 to 249

Thu 31 Jan

Four

251 to 276

Thu 7 Feb

 

2. Alan Hirsch The Forgotten Ways (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2006)

Section of book

Pages

Begin discussion

Introduction + One

15 to 48

Thu 21 Feb

Two

49 to 72

Thu 28 Feb

Three

75 to 100

Thu 7 March

Four

101 to 125

Thu 14 March

Five

127 to 147

Thu 21 March

Six

149 to 177

Thu 11 April

Seven

179 to 216

Thu 18 April

Eight

217 to 245

Thu 25 April

Both books are available from Amazon, but also from local booksellers in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other places.

The plan is that we will read the set portion of the book and on the Thu noted in the plan I will begin to post questions, reflection on what we have read, and you all are encouraged to post questions/reflections as well. The hope is that we will engage in a helpful discussion on themes arising from our reading.

Suggestions for further reading are always welcome.

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Two Meanings? Two Jesus!!

 I’ve just finished reading Borg and Wright on The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions. This is the first biblical studies/theology book I’ve read on my Kindle, and it will probably be the last. I know you can make notes on your Kindle, but it isn’t the same as using a pencil on the page. By the time I’ve remembered how to make a Kindle note the notion has passed. I really like my Kindle, but not for study books.

The form of this book is that Borg and Wright each contribute a chapter on the same theme, e.g. the death of Jesus, the virgin birth. The idea is to enable the reader to compare at close quarters these two scholars who take very different views on Jesus and the study of Jesus. If you haven’t read NT Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God and The Resurrection of the Son of God I think some of his points and some of his moves will leave you a bit surprised and wondering how he makes this connection. This being the case and not having read any of Marcus Borg’s other works I suppose I must allow that if I read all he has written about Jesus I may understand his points a bit better.

In short the difference between the two is that Wright believes that the Gospel record events that actually happpened, and there actual happening is part of the meaning of the event. Borg has a two part view, some Gospel accounts are history remembered, some are metaphorical history, by which I think he means something like, the early Christian community reflected upon their experiences of the Christ of faith and wrote down stories in an historical form that give some shape to their experience. Because I find NT Wright’s reconstruction of Jesus, especially in Jesus and the Victory of God, so persuasive I am not at all satisfied with Borg’s Christ of faith reconstruction. Something did happen, and the specific something that did happen is important in our understanding the meaning of Jesus.

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Arriving On The Wrong Side

 OK, here comes the bit about Brian’s book I don’t like. It is possible to try to cross the right road but end up on the wrong side. Brian is entirely right in his challenge to us as Christians to begin to live as Christians in a way that is strong and distinctive yet non hostile.

In the final section of his book Brian takes upp what he calls the missional challenge. Consider this passage,

Imagine teams of unlikely people – Chritsians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, peole from the whole range of indigenous religions, together with agnostics and athesists – coming together, not in the name of the Christian (or any other) religion, but seeking to walk in the way of Jesus, learning, proclaiming and demonstrating ‘the way of liberation. (p. 222)

Two points here: 1) Yes! I think all peoples should work together for the common good. 2) Since we are not serving together in the name of the Christian religion, how are we serving in the way of Jesus? This may be non hostile, but how is it strong and distinctively Christian? Why should we expect a Jew or a Hindu or an atheist to submit to walking in the way of Jesus?

Later on the same page Brian describes this as ‘mission work’, whose mission? What mission? on p. 223 Brian closes this chapter with the following,

So we who follow Jesus will discover our true identity not be favouring our fellow religious insiders to the exclusion of others, but rather by going out of our way to serve Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and atheists – doing for people of other religions no less than we would wish people of other religiouns would do for us. And we will deepen this identity not only be serving others, but also by serving alongside them. p. 223

Again, yes. But isn’t this is contrast to p. 222? We who follow Jesus serve the mission of God by serving others, by being the blessing of God to all the nations of the earth for them. We do not need to pretend that they are following the way of Jesus to serve with them. It seems to me that Brian is exchanging the Kingdom of God for the brotherhood of humanity. We’re all in it together so let’s make the best we can of it.

The vision of the gospel is somewhat different. Jesus calls those who already follow him to go and make disciples (Mt 28:19), this must at least mean, to so follow Jesus that others will be attracted to follow Jesus themselves. The gospel is good news because it is about new life, about reconciliation with God and these are about change. We do not follow Jesus and remain as we have been but are transformed into the likeness of Christ.

The good point that Brian makes is that we do urgently need to learn how to live as Christians in a multi-faith world. It is a shame that when Brian crosses this road he ends up being less than strong and distinctively Christian.

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Crossing The Road Without Violence

 Brian McLaren certainly does keep publishing books that are well worth reading. This one is no exception, entitled Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross The Road? Brian’s latest book is not about anti-humour, but is about ‘Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World’.

While I almost never agree with Brian’s answers I find myself continually grateful at the clarity with which he frames his questions. What would happen if Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed were crossing the same road, at the same time, in the same place? As Christians the question is sharper, how would Jesus behave? Would Jesus push and shove, demand to cross first, insult those crossing the road with them, wait till bus was coming and kick one of them under it? How would Jesus cross the road together with Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed?

Brian rightly identifies violence associated with religion as one of the great evils in our world today. Too often there is a message of hostility and exclusion from within our religious groups, “I can’t belong to our us unless I am against our them.” (p. 13) As soon as you say it with this clarity, the problem jumps out at you. We urgently need to over come this violence against others associated with our in group, with our religious group. Would Jesus be violent towards any other? If we as Christians answer no, how can we while claiming to follow him live like this?

The challenge of Brian’s book, which is powerfully put in the first part of his book, ‘The Crisis of Christian Identity’, chapters 1 to 11 is a very real challenge we must all face. Can we learn to be strong and distinctive in our Christian identity in a way that does not offer violence to any other?

I will post some further thoughts on Brian’s later sections of the book, but wanted to set out clearly that I think the challenge is a good one, and we need to begin to seek out an answer.

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Love May Win, But Bell’s Book Looses!

 About a year or more after most other people I finally read Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. First impression is of a not very well written book, more like a loosely connected series of tweets! However, it isn’t the style that has caused all the controversy, but the content.

What is Bell’s main point? I think it is to express a hope that somehow, in some way God will in the end save everyone.

I have a friend who has been greatly influenced by Greek Orthodox thinking and he speaks of what he calls ‘the evangelical hope’, a hope that somehow, in some way God will save everyone. Now, I don’t know enough about Greek Orthodox thinking to locate this hope in the framework of that theology, however, I recognise in Bell this ancient hope which has been long expressed and is (I think) shared by many thousands of Christians. Bell presents this hope as a story and he writes,

Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it. We can be honest about the warped nature of the human heart, the freedom that love requires, and the destructive choices people make, and still envision God’s love to be bigger, stronger, and more compelling than all of that put together. To shun, censor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hunderds of years now. (p. 111)

Bell here is making a plea for grace to be extended within the Christian family to those hold differning positions on points of theology. I think we should all agree with him here.

Does love always win? There are many human stories where we must answer no. Parents and wives/husbands have poured love upon children/partners for many years to have it all rejected and thrown over. Love cannot compel acceptance it can only woo and attract. There is a false view of love that it must only approve and include. Sometimes love must criticise and rebuke, there is behaviour which must be rejected by love. For love to win there must at some point be justice and judgment.

One of my disappointments in this book is that I am left unclear as to what Bell is rejecting. I think he is rejecting a vision of hell as eternal, conscious punishment. Many evangelical Christians have rejected this. I think he is rejecting a way of using hell in preaching and evangelism to frighten others into the Kingdom. This is a challenge I think we should take seriously, is the fear of hell a good evangelistic tool? Do we see the Lord Jesus is the gospels or the New Testament authors using the fear of hell in this way?

Rob Bell’s book probably isn’t worth all the fuss that has surrounded it. But he does raise important questions about how Christians treat one another and what the message we are preaching is and how it can be called good news.

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