Sunday, July 31, 2005

'How we've created a bored generation' (My Word's Worth)

If you are a parent you would have probably heard your kids reciting the refrain, 'I'm bored'. Marylaine Block suggests that society has created a culture of boredom because we have replaced our attention with entertainment. Read her essay here.

'Doubting Darwinism' (TIME Magazine)

Back in 1996, Pope John Paul II declared that 'evolution is 'more than a hypothesis'. Now, Schönborn, an Austrian cardinal who is also a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written an essay which, he says,

aim is to clarify misinterpretations of John Paul's stance, and counter those who use Darwin to explain everything. "I believe in dogmas of faith but I don't believe in dogmas of science," he said.

Read the full story in TIME magazine here.

'The pattern of biblical truth' (First Things)

Timothy George, in his article The Pattern of Biblical Truth argues that, despite the claims of various Christian college's to integrate faith and learning, it is really 'has become little more than a rhetorical gesture'. The way we use the Scriptures has led to Christians construing 'its authority as a kind of divine reference book, a sort of inspired manual, that can be understood quite apart from the Christian heritage of Bible-based theology and wisdom across the centuries.'

As Christians who accept the Church's regula fidei and who stand Sunday after Sunday to recite the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed, we are not free to view the Bible as though we had it at our disposal, as though we ourselves were not claimed by its story, as though we had already mastered this ancient document and could now move on to other bodies of knowledge without the discernment we have learned from Scripture.

The answer to this is to truly understand the development and importance of Christian doctrine down through the centuries and, in particular, the response of the Church to heresy. Despite the negative connnotations that are associated with the term heresy,

... there is a positive side to heresy as well—in the sense that the history of heresy is the shadow side of the development of doctrine. In the light of its corruption, we can see, retrospectively, the splendor and beauty of the divine revelation embedded in Holy Scripture. In its confrontation with heresiarchs, the Church learned to read the Scriptures in a way that should still inform us today.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Book Review: 'Revelation of Jesus Christ'

Renko Stefanovic's commentary on the biblical book of Revelation is one of the best I have seen for a number of reasons: Firstly, the introduction to the book clearly lays down the approach to interpreting Revelation. This introduction is worth its weight in gold. Stefanovic clearly discusses authorship, place and date of writing, the purpose of Revelation, traditional methods of interpretation, hermeneutical guidelines in studying Revelation, the symbolic nature of the book, objectives of his own commentary, suggestions that have been made for the literary arrangement of Revelation, and finally, the three-fold structure of Revelation that Stefanovic favors. Secondly, for each section of Revelation discussed, there are introductory remarks, the full text being studied, exegetical notes, and expositional commentary. Thirdly, Stefanovic has rigorously permitted the text to reveal its meaning rather than imposing preconceived understandings on the text. He surveys the four traditional approaches to Revelation - preterism, idealism, futurism, and historicism - and recognises the value of each but is a slave to none. His 'slavery' is to the text itself. Fourthly, there is an incredible wealth of information about the Old Testament background to Revelation which scholars agree is fundamental to know in order to understand the book. Fifthly, it is easy to read. Stefanovic writes in a respectfully understandable style, explaining terms clearly. Sixthly, Stefanovic is fair to various views about Revelation. He carefully surveys those he disagrees with and discusses their limitations before coming to his own. Stefanovic is a Seventh-day Adventist. This denomination is known for its emphasis on the apocalyptic books of Daniel and Revelation. This may be of some concern to readers. However, Stefanovic has written for all Christians. There has been a tendency, in the past, for many Adventists to rely on their prophet, Ellen G White, to determine the meaning of Scripture. It is interesting to note that she is only referenced about 30 times in well over 600 pages of commentary. This is encouraging for an Adventist commentary. Stefanovic also draws on a vast range of scholars from many traditions. But the author does not seem to lose his goal of genuinely allowing the text itself to guide interpretation. In my view, there is much of value in this commentary, no matter from what Christian tradition a reader comes. Similarly, like all good books, there will be some things with which individual readers may disagree. But Stefanovic's writing style itself allows for that sort of 'conversation' with the ideas. The back cover of the book describes it thus:
Intended for both scholar and layperson, this verse-by-verse commentary outlines the thematic architecture of the Apocalypse to illuminate the unified message of the book. Providing both scholarly notes and lay-oriented exposition, this landmark work recommends itself for personal study and as a college and seminary text.
It is a landmark work, it is suitable for scholar and layperson, it is thematic in its approach, it does recommend itself for personal study as well as college and seminary study. Without a doubt, it would appear to be the best commentary on Revelation produced by a Seventh-day Adventist. Past works by Adventist authors have failed, overall, to produce a rigorous exegesis of the text. This is most definitely different and worthy of study by anyone interested in Revelation. Related Links

Book Review: 'Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments'

Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments is a delightfully simple little book about 'finding personal meaning in a crazy world'. In the 1960s, Kent Keith, while a student at Harvard, first articulated the ten principles found in this book. Without him knowing, these ten principles spread around the world. Afer many years, Keith was visiting Mother Teresa's childrens' home in Calcutta where he saw them on the walls there. He was astounded that something he had written years before had had so much impact on so many people. As a result, he was moved to put his paradoxical commandments and their underlying philosophy into this book. There are heartwarming stories that add life to the principles. Here are the paradoxical commandments you will read about in this book:

The Paradoxical Commandments

  1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centred. Love them anyway.
  2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
  3. If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
  4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
  5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
  6. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
  7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
  8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
  9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
  10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Some people don't like reading short, inspirational books with a deep message. Read it anyway!

Related Links

Christians and the Death Penalty (First Things)

There has been continual debate over the morality of the death penalty down through history. Joseph Bottum has written a thought-provoking article on Christians and the Death Penalty. Bottum tellingly critiques various Christian arguments in favour of the death penalty. One of the most important, perhaps, is the belief that Romans 13 legitimates governments to carry out some of the punishments that Israel were originally commanded by God to do. However, Bottum argues that

the one thing no modern state can claim is that it is anointed, and the things that require anointing it lacks authority to do: the imposition of a state religion, for example, and the exaction of the death penalty, for precisely the same reason. Christians would have to engage in a national idolatry to suppose that all the acts allowed in ancient Israel are permissible in Connecticut [some of Bottum's examples come from Connecticut].

Christian proponents of the death penalty need to think about the light that the death of Jesus sheds on the issue of the death penalty. Bottum writes:

If Jesus Christ “sheds light on the meaning of life and the death of every human being,” we can see in that light both how blood demands repayment and how Jesus has forever done the repaying with his death... Without constant pressure from the New Testament’s revelation of Christ’s death and resurrection, the state always threatens to rise back up as an idol. And one sign of a government’s overreaching is its claim of power to balance the books of the universe—to repay blood with blood.

You can find the whole article here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dr. Laura and Leviticus by "Jack"

Here's a fascinating open letter in response to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, 'a US radio personality who dispenses advice to people who call in to her radio show. Recently, she said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew, homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be condoned under any circumstance.' The open letter is an interesting response to her statements. I'm posting this, not because it addresses the issue of homosexuality, but because it highlights a significant issue in biblical interpretation -- how should Christians interpret and use the Old Testament Torah?

Douglas Kennedy on Evangelical fiction (Guardian)

Religious fiction is on the rise! Apparently it is a hot-selling genre. Douglas Kennedy, in his Guardian article Selling Rapture, analyses the growing trend of publishing houses to cash in on Christian religious fiction. He also critiques the genre itself for 'its stark black-and-white morality and its bromides about "healing" [which] address two fundamental American concerns: the need for certainty and for closure...' Read the article here.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Book Review: 'Hypnosis, Healing and the Christian'

Hypnosis has always been controversial within Christian circles. Most of the books I have read from a Christian perspective have been against hypnosis. John Court, a psychiatrist who is also a Christian who has practiced hypnosis during his thirty years as a clinician, is one of the few authors I have read in favour of hypnosis. In his book, Hypnosis Healing and the Christian, he presents a balanced defence of the use of hypnosis by Christians. He believes that, used properly and carefully, hypnosis can bring about emotional and spiritual benefits. Court argues that hypnosis is an ethically neutral technique which can be used for good or ill. Court begins his book by describing a context for understanding hypnosis. He explains that it is one of many altered states of consciousness which we all experience at various times. He then carefully explores various definitions of hypnosis and, in particular, distinguishes it from sleep (which it is not). Court surveys various attempts to define hypnosis, including those made by Christians. There has been considerable debate over whether hypnosis actually exists because many of the phenomena accompanying hypnosis can be experienced without hypnosis. However, Court believes there is such a 'state, characterized by features of suggestibility, amnesia (sometimes), and changed thought processes.' Court's third chapter focuses on help through hypnosis and answers such practical questions as whether a person will remember anything following hypnosis; discusses the question of whether hypnosis involves giving over control of one's mind to the hypnotherapist; and whether or not hypnosis is occultic and dangerous for Christians. Following this discussion, Court turns to the reasons that someone may choose hypnosis. He provides a number of interesting case studies where hypnosis is integrated into a holistic approach to healing. In addition to healing, the author explores the way in which hypnosis may function in spiritual contexts such as public worship and prayer. Certain features of these contexts demonstrate similarities to altered states of consciousness. The remaining chapters discuss hypnosis and inner healing and exorcism. The final chapter is an excellent discussion on the various views of Christians regarding hypnosis and the reasons for the disagreements. Court concludes that hypnosis 'is a powerful tool in bringing about psychological change'. He acknowledges that their are specific ethical and moral issues for Christians and that one cannot dismiss the possibility of demonic influence where people choose to relinquish their freedom of choice to those who would use hypnosis to exploit others. Interestingly, Court suggests that altered states of consciousness can be fostered in Christian worship and that manipulation can occur despite people's best intentions. However, the dangers, according to Court, are so scarce as to demonstrate the safety of hypnosis when used in an ethical and professional way. He suggests that 'evidences of people being led into confusion and false teaching by preachers are much more readily available' than examples of individuals being harmed by hypnosis. In fact, Court believes that most of the arguments brought forward by Christian writers, against hypnosis, are the result of poor biblical exegesis and proof texting. He finishes his book by suggesting that Christians
be thankful for a technique which can prove so powerful in so many situations. Of itself, it is neither good nor bad. Many have found relief from problems through its use. Many have been able to draw nearer to God, to experience a deeper awareness of spirituality and to enrich their understanding of God's mercy. It is a tragedy that so many Christian people have been warned off hypnosis, when it has such great potential to provide benefit to body, mind, and spirit.
Hypnosis Healing and the Christian is one of the most scholarly, carefully reasoned, balanced books on hypnosis from a Christian's point of view that I have read. It deals carefully with the potential dangers while promoting the practice as of benefit. It makes a change to read something from an expert in the field who is also a Christian. In the end, whether an individual chooses hypnosis as a therapeutic modality will be up to them. But this book would be worth reading before making that decision -- a decision which should be made with care.

The Amway Bible Codes

You may be aware of the claim that secret codes can be found in the Bible predicting contemporary events thousands of years before they occurred. Have a look at this delightfully playful site that explains what the Bible codes are and, by showing that the Bible has secret codes predicting the Amway company, shows how ridiculous finding codes in the Bible is. And to think that many, many people put their faith in such things...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Movie Review: War of the Worlds

The long-awaited War of the Worlds hit our cinema screens this month. Directed by Steven Spielberg and led by the big name of Tom Cruise, it bursts onto the screen with the awesome special effects we have come to expect of contemporary movies but with an ultimately disappointing plot finale. Morgan Freeman, in an icy voiceover, begins the film by almost directly quoting the beginning of the original H G Wells' novel:
No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own.... An intellect vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes.
The invasion of earth by tripod fighting machines is played out from the point of view of Ray Ferrier (Tom Cruise) and his two children, Rachel (Dakota Fanning) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin), who he is looking after for the weekend. Ray is a less-than-perfect father. Robbie is a beligerent teenager who obviously doesn't get on with Dad. And Rachel is a very aware and knowing little girl who responds with natural awe and terror to the events going on around her. The relationships between Ray and his kids is played out on the canvas of the invasion but is never developed with any depth. Watching the movie is a visceral experience. Spielberg knows how to make a "big" movie and the destruction wrought by the machines as they relentlessly consume everything before them seems very realistic and evokes a deep sense of dread. The sub-plots with the family dynamics are ok but ultimately comes to an unbelievable end that seems inconsistent with the events leading up to it. War of the Worlds is a fast-paced, action-packed, intense thriller which works on that level. Don't expect much more than that, though. My Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5) Best Review 'Working in the spirit of his predecessors but with the kind of uncanny special effects they could barely dream of, Spielberg has come up with an impressive production that is disturbing in the way only provocative science fiction can be.' - Kenneth Turan/Los Angeles Times Worst Review 'Extravagant in movie terms but stingy in emotional ones, it embodies all of Spielberg's bad impulses and almost none of his good ones: It's a grand display of how well he knows how to work us over, and yet the desperation with which he tries to get to us is repulsive.' - Stephanie Zacharek/ Related Links