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Posts Tagged ‘catholicism’

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Read ’em and … weep? Just graduated from a year doing a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Laidlaw College in Christchurch. I thought it was a fitting time to share what I had learnt with my readers! I’ve only included the essays which I thought I did a good job at and would be interesting.

Introduction to the Old Testament: This first essay looks at the theme of kingship in the Bible, with special focus on the establishment of the monarchy in 1 Samuel. This second essay attempts to outline “sexuality” in the Pentateuch and then uses Jesus’ interpretation of the law in Matthew to meditate on how best we can appropriate it. I regret not starting with a definition of sexuality and the bibliography is quite thin because the topic is so broad!

Gospel of John: Looking at the theme of divine and human agency in John, i.e. predestination and free will, I argue that each book of the Bible needs to be approached on its own terms regarding the information it gives on this. I had to write an application section as part of the assignment. Ignore that; it’s a let down. For my exegesis I asked if I could do the opening verses, 1:1-5. 3000 words on five verses! That was too much fun.

1 Corinthians: Paul presents the most in-depth discussion of celibacy in the Bible. Naturally, I was drawn to checking out what he was talking about. Our exegetical was on the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in 1:17-34. The application is a bit weak but I think all else went well!

Biblical Interpretation: A short, sharp survey of my favourite book in the New Testament, Philippians.

God and Creation: I will not post this one but if anyone is interested let me know in the comments section. This is a theological examination of the Christchurch earthquake. I definitely think it’s better to say something rather than nothing, and I have tried my best to be sensitive, though I’m still unsure what good reading it will do!

Salvation in History and Beyond: Something which I’m still confused about, Lutheran and Catholic approaches to justification. The essay is a little thin in the bibliography, but hopefully it’s a good enough introduction to the basic concerns. I dialogue with the Finnish school on Luther which sees something like deification being a part of Luther’s thought, the Joint Declaration on Justification, which is the result of many years of ecumenical discussion between Catholics and Lutherans, and a Liberationist critique of Lutheran justification.

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I have just finished reading Christian Smith’s  insightful critique of biblicism, The bible made impossible: Why biblicism is not a truly evangelical reading of scripture. You can read the introduction for free through the Amazon link. Here are two critiques worth reading (the first two that come up on Google), although they should not distract from the overall worth of the text, which I highly recommend. I would love also to lend it out but let it be noted that I’ll do so quite sparingly as I think it’ll be a lot of help for my assignments this year!

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In the first part of the book, Smith defines biblicism as a distinctly American evangelical approach to scripture, based, give or take, on ten assumptions:

1. The words of the Bible are identical with God’s words written inerrantly in human language.
2. The Bible represents the totality of God’s will for humanity.
3. The divine will for all issues relevant to Christian life are contained in the Bible.
4. Any reasonable person can correctly understand the plain meaning of the text.
5. The way to understand the Bible is to look at the obvious, literal sense [intended by the author, possibly involving taking into account literary, cultural and historic purposes].
6. The [significance of any part of the bible] can be understood without reliance on creeds, confessions, or historic church traditions.
7. The Bible possesses internal harmony and consistency.
8. [Any part of historical teaching in the bible] is universally applicable for all Christians [unless superseded by later passages].
9. All matters of Christian belief and practice can be learned through inductive Bible study.
10. The Bible is a kind of handbook or textbook for Christian faith and practice.

(Retrieved here, linked earlier. I reworded a few because I think the reviewer missed what Smith was saying in a few places).

This starting point could stand alone as something deeply important. Many Christians I have read, hung out with, or known otherwise would subscribe to some if not all of these. Most I reject in some way but the one I am most sympathetic towards is #5, although I would be open to exceptions, such where an underpinning philosophy in a biblical text has implications that the original author may have not realised at the time of writing¹.

Smith then goes on to show that the primary problem arising from a biblicist approach to scripture is that of “pervasive interpretive pluralism”, or honest, Spirit-led, deep thinking Christians coming to very different conclusions on important theological matters:

[…] the doctrines of God, Christ, revelation, atonement, salvation, baptism, the Lord’s supper, creation, hell, war, divorce, and remarriage. On all of these biblical and theological issues, we can identify three or four different views, not because those who hold them are trying to be contentious but because they read the Bible and come away convinced that their different views are correct.

(p.24)

This is the main problem on which Smith bases his argument, although a later chapter is dedicated to “subsidiary problems with biblicism”, which looks at things such as the actual lack of a biblical basis for a biblicist approach to the bible (ooh!) and one which I personally identified with, “Setting up youth for unnecessary crises of faith” (p.88). If my whole faith is based on biblicism then when either myself or others pose the tough questions my only viable responses are intellectual dishonesty or an honest end to faith.

In the second part of the book Smith details a Christocentric hermeneutic, that is first and foremost basing our faith on God’s work through Christ to redeem creation. Once that is sorted, a good Christology should inform both our reading of the bible and our treatment of theological and moral issues. The obvious criticism to raise here is that all we know of Jesus is from the bible. But how much of it really is? I liked this quote:

Faith does not simply rest on texts, but — also and more — on persons and events. Faith stands or falls not with the status of a holy text… but the knowledge and meaning of these persons and events, which can be mediated by the text.

(p.118, quoting James Barr).

For me, and I suspect most (all) Christians, our understanding of Jesus is mediated not just by scripture but church history/tradition, the community we come to faith in, and, yes, the real person of Jesus intervening in our lives, among other things. Of course this is going to be messy but who says an absolute commitment to scripture is any better? This is not to denounce the role of scripture but to restore to its place as a part of the whole. It still maintains a high place in Christian revelation. I have however known, and people may come to your mind also, people with little biblical familiarity to be very Christlike and others with a lot of biblical familiarity but little Christlikeness.

Smith goes on to talk about accepting complexity and unanswered questions in our approach to scripture and a puzzling chapter on questions concerning epistemology and authority. It’s not completely necessary but it nonetheless adds to his discussion.

I really enjoyed the prophetic nature of the book in its call to put Christ at the center. Regardless of the problems people have with Smith’s reasoning, I think all Christians can agree on that. I thought also that the structure was a very easy one to follow (traditional polemic — critique, followed by expounding his own position), the arguments were clear, most times giving sufficient evidence/examples, and Smith is widely read, which is good for those who want to explore other writers on the topics he discusses.

In conclusion it was theologically challenging and I see it as an important contribution to the discussion of what role the bible has to play in faith. Smith makes clear throughout that alternatives are still being worked out but his critiques of biblicism still stand. If you need me to explain anything or would like to discuss some of Smith’s ideas which I here present in a very limited sense then take me up in the comments section =)

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I have now two minor critiques. If you wanted to know about the book or what I thought about it then you can go home now. You get an achieved. This next section is extra for experts. My first critique is Smith’s use of Roger Olsen’s distinction between dogma, doctrine and opinion (cited on p.135):

Some Christian beliefs are non-negotiable for any believer — such as the dogmas of the Trinity and the Nicene Christology. Other beliefs are those to which groups of Christians adhere with firm conviction but also disagree over with other kinds of Christians — such as Calvinist or Wesleyan systems of theology. Still others are beliefs that some Christians hold, sometimes with strong feelings, but that are far from being central, sure, and most important in the larger scheme of Christian belief and life. Examples of the latter include a preference for baptism by immersion or sprinkling, the commitment to homeschooling versus sending them to Christian or public school, and so on.

Smith’s argument follows that we need to learn to distinguish between the three and call each other Christian based on a shared adherence to dogma, with openness regarding doctrine, and especially opinion. At the risk of sounding heretical, I would actually go for a more open view of dogma, which I know is dangerous considering the wide witness to things considered dogma throughout church history (the trinity is one example). But the reason I say this is that even considering the great historical importannce of certain dogmas such as those laid out in the Nicene creed, to take an absolute stance on them excludes such contributions to theology as unitarianism and preterism, among others. I’m not saying that I support either of these theologies but I am saying both that Jesus can be found authentically in the lives of many who do not hold to the dogmas of the wider and historical church and that I would personally like to maintain an openness concerning heterodox beliefs. Maybe this is my sympathies with postmodernism coming through contra Smith’s critical realism (p.152).

My second critique is much more minor than the first and it’s only implicit in the book rather than a major point he makes. Throughout the work he makes continual reference to liberalism (in theology and our approach to the bible) as something to avoid. I was beginning to get annoyed at these mysterious mentions until he qualified them:

Theological liberalism is all about rethinking Christianity from an anthropological perspective, making it essentially about human consciousness and experience and progress. The view just elaborated — in which everything is all about its definition and existence in relation to the reality of Jesus Christ — offers the starkest contrast to liberalism imaginable. Liberalism wants to reconfigure Christian faith and doctrine in terms of modern, human categories and concerns. The view just elaborated says that every category, concern, idea, and identity must itself be reconceived in light of the ultimate fact of Jesus Christ. Liberalism wants to “demythologize” Christian stories and beliefs in view of “modern” scientific knowledge and plausibility systems. But the view elaborated here tells us that every knowledge system — including, if not especially, modern epistemologies — is literally lost and needing to be rescued and reoriented by the living person of Jesus Christ.

(pp.118-119, emphasis original).

Ultimately I am probably in agreement with Smith here in adherence to a Christocentric hermeneutic as opposed to a humanist or scientific materialist, etc³, but I don’t want to brush off ‘liberal’ theologies so quickly. I think an openness to and exploration of liberal theologies is a part of our humanity, which is a part of our faith. This might include the likes of biblical criticism or a death of god theology. Zizek, a marxist philosopher who makes use of Christian theology in his philosophy is relevant here in constructing a Hegelian Christology:

[…] the Greek gods appear to humans in human form, while the Christian God appears as human to himself. This is the crucial point: for Hegel the Incarnation is not a move by means of which God makes himself accessible/visible to humans, but a move by means of which God looks at himself from the distorting human perspective.

(pp.81-82, emphasis original)²

The point I am making is that as much as Christ was human it is important to entertain ‘human’ responses to him, however heterodox they may be, not with a desire to tickle our ears but with Christlike love to see God and the world from others’ perspectives, examine validities here and there, and take on that which is important.

* * *

¹One example, depending on your theological persuasions, would be Gal 3:28 where the egalitarian ethic does not appear fully realised in other texts.

²Zizek, S. (2009). The fear of four words: A modest plea for the Hegelian reading of Christianity. In C. Davies (Eds.), The monstrosity of Christ (pp. 24-110). USA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

³Perhaps maintaining sympathy towards postmodernism…

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Recently, a flurry of viagra spam has been filling up behind the scenes on my blog here. Consider this post a kind of viagra spam. You might not want to hear about it, but, as in my experience, it’s no longer something you can easily avoid.

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When I first became a Christian, one of the heaviest reservations I held was the denunciation of homosexuality. In school, you could say I was ‘indoctrinated’ to believe that everything gay was a good thing, that same-sex attraction was just as normal as liking girls, so much so that after five years of high school I had no objections, other than my still dismissive attitude towards homosexuality. All that I had a problem with was overtly homophobic attitudes, expressed predominantly by Christians, and old people here and there, and people that lived on farms.

After a becoming a Christian late into my seventeenth year, my views on the homosexual question gradually began to change. My dismissive attitude passed (mostly), as I was more aware of how offensive it could be to refer to something I didn’t like as ‘gay’, yet the underpinning stance, that which I used to understand as homophobic, now became more acceptable to me: It was alright to oppose homosexual marriage and support ideas such as gays being ‘healed’, that is, becoming straight (and later on down the track I accepted the idea of homosexual celibacy), but it was not alright to direct any hate or bad jokes towards homosexuals — only this was homophobic.

My unashamed homophonic enthusiasm for puns, however, never changed.

Five and a bit years later I’m ready to come out of the closet¹: This post will examine two aspects of my Christian worldview, these two which I think many Christian friends will share in common with me, and demonstrate some of the intellectual hypocrisy in my thinking these last years.

* * *

As I began reading the New Testament, some deep internal changes were going on. I was totally taken aback by Jesus’ words on loving your enemies, and Paul’s similar exhortations to overcome evil with good. The centrality of love in these writings presented me with no difficulty in affirming their divine origin. On this basis did I read the passages concerning the subjugation of women in the church: The only thing subjugatory about them for me was under circumstances where people would desire otherwise, but if God had desired that men should lead the flock and head the family while women accepted their natural roles as child-bearers and nurturers then why not be obedient? For those unfamiliar with the passages, I’ll cite a few:

“I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the husband is the head of his wife, and God is the head of Christ” (1Corinthians 11:3 NRSV).

“Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, in modesty” (1Timothy 2:13-15 NRSV).

“Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honour to the women as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life–so that nothing may hinder your prayers” (1Peter 3:7 NRSV).

With these and other passages in mind, I began to notice discrepancies between biblical teaching and church practice. What gave Christians the right to pick and choose which passages they would abide by? Some Wikipedia funded research here and there, some searching online, and good conversations with good friends began to provide me with another perspective:

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV — I especially like how the NRSV repeats the ‘there is no longer’). Probably the most popularly cited verse for the egalitarian view, Paul powerfully presents the Gospel as a way of life that transcends socio-cultural qualifiers.

The weaker sex, Ms Truchbull

Because of space, I’ll only summarise the other points. Adam and Eve were created equally (Genesis 1:7) but after sin, gender roles/distinctions came about as a result of the Fall (Genesis 3:16-19). Women in Jesus’ ministry held a privileged place, one of the most commonly cited examples being that a few women Jesus knew were the first to find out he had risen from the dead and then go and tell the disciples the good news (Luke 23:55-24:10) (other examples can be found here). Lydia is the first recorded convert in Europe, who boldly offered the apostles a place to stay, against social norms of the time (Acts 16:14-15). Paul refers to ladies in leadership in a few of his letters, including Junia, whom he refers to as an apostle (Romans 16:7).

Any attempt to harmonise these two very different strands of New Testament stances on women leads necessarily to complementarianism: That is that men and women were created with the intention of playing different roles in society. If we don’t acknowledge that then the first lot of cited verses hold no sway. It must be acknowledged by those who support women in church leadership, as do I, that we give priority to some verses over others. To hold a properly egalitarian view, neither can the words “the husband is the head of his wife” be explained away by appealing to their First Century context: They always meant what they meant and therefore must instead be passed over.

Earlier this year there was some controversy considering Margaret Court, ex-professional-tennis-player turned Australian pastor. Her opposition to gay marriage was in every sense ironic. She clearly ignored Paul’s advice for sound ecclesiology, “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says” (1Corinthians 14:34 NRSV). Her pastorship was based on the denial of passages such as these. If we allow a Christianity that does not discriminate according to birth, that women who desire to be leaders and have equal standing with their husbands in family matters should be allowed to, then why not allow a Christianity that does not discriminate against homosexuals for desires they did not choose themselves?

Yet, there are many complementarians out there. This argument holds no sway. Let’s move on.

* * *

Catholic theology will always hold a much more justifiable stance against homosexuality, in relation to other Christian worldviews. This is because Catholic theology has a much better understanding of what is natural. It is natural that men lead and women nurture. It is natural that people of the opposite sex are attracted to each other. It is natural that sex leads to babies.

Consider Paul’s words on what is natural, probably the most cited passage supporting Christian rejection of homosexuality:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

(Romans 1:26-27 NRSV).

Yet, the well-read interlocutor raises this point: Paul’s reasoning may easily be disregarded by an appeal to modern day science: All sorts of animals enjoy all sorts of sexual practices, including homosexuality. How then can it be unnatural? I’m sure there is something we can say to this. Homosexuality in animals is as unnatural as it is in humans, in the same way, as Christians taking note of the Fall would mention, that it’s unnatural for animals to kill each other. Just because something happens in nature, this does not provide evidence for its being natural. But we need to take Paul more seriously. Homosexuality in the bedroom is unnatural precisely because it does not fulfill the foundational natural aim of sex: reproduction. Two horny male rabbits in isolation will always find it difficult to ‘bear fruit’, even if they are rabbits.

The unquestioned sexual practices of many Christians the world over need first be examined before any decisive opposition to homosexuality. Contraception is by this criteria unnatural. It is only possible in various Christian worldviews by a redefinition of the meaning of sex: God’s gift to husband and wife to express their love for each other. Sex as purely reproduction is too old-school. Orthodox Catholic theology is one example of a worldview which still upholds the sanctity of sex and family purely for its reproductive value, for natural sex, and therefore one of the only solid worldviews for opposing homosexuality. If you would like to oppose homosexuality yet are currently using or intending to use contraception then you must consider: Giraffes don’t use condoms².

* * *

The discussion is in no sense yet over. I welcome all comments and will do my best to reply to them, as I neglected to do so last time. One word before continuing though. Just because something has always been accepted, it doesn’t mean it’s rational. When ideas change in society, people have the tendency of looking for ways in which the older ideas were rational. The reasoning seems to be that if people believed something for so long then there must’ve been some rationality behind it, just as there was rationality behind slave trading, racism, sexism, persecution of religious minorities — the list goes on. Issues continually need to be re-examined in a new light.

* * *

¹I recommend that every Christian heterosexual male (you don’t need to be white or middle-class) entertain some mystery concerning their sexual orientation, as a kind of living sacrifice. If every ready, willing and able, Spirit-filled female thinks you’re gay then every effort you have hitherto made to secure the ideal marriage is now effectively in God’s hands.

²Admittedly, my assertion lacks the academic research to support it. I acknowledge that their could be contraceptive practices out there in the wild, but these must be subjected to same criteria as homosexuality in the wild, that is it has no natural reproductive value.

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“Evangelicals have been raised to be suspicious of Christian tradition… Believers whose (unacknowledged) tradition is that the Bible is their only guide for faith and that there is not reliable Christian tradition must come to terms with how they got this view before they are willing to adopt the church tradition as their own.” –D.H. Williams¹

* * *

When Protestants started breaking away from the Catholic Church they needed to establish what their authority was. Obviously it was still God, as it was with the Catholics, but something had got lost in translation and God was asking people to do what God doesn’t ask people to do. For Catholics, the Church was an authority that represented God as much as Scripture did. The Protestants, having seen human fallibility represented in the theology and practice of the Church, curbed that authority and developed the doctrine of sola scriptura, the bible alone being their source of faith. This blog post will attempt to bring to the surface some assumptions we have made on the basis of sola scriptura and some critical thinking that will hopefully in some way contribute to the Kingdom of God. Chur.

* * *

One of the dangers of sola scriptura is the unavoidable consequence that biblical interpretation is no longer given to the individual by those who should know what they’re talking about; instead the individual interprets the bible personally. I don’t want to undermine the blessing of being free from uncritically received biblical interpretation though. It is surely a blessing that individuals read the bible and decided that God really did want women in church leadership. It is another blessing that a small group of people called Quakers read the bible and found out that God really didn’t want people to join in on all those wars. It is a great blessing that some devoted theologians over the centuries have again realised that you don’t have to do anything to be saved. It’s right there. It’s free. If we didn’t have individual bible interpretation then we wouldn’t have these things in Christianity to the same extent that we now have them. But one downside I suppose is that some guy read the bible and decided that God wanted us to keep most of those laws in the Old Testament, that Jesus hadn’t really abolished them, only some, and that we had to stop eating bacon. Another guy read the bible and told everyone that salvation isn’t for everyone, only those that God invited to the party. I’m still waiting for mine in the mail. And then this one guy read the bible and decided that if you give all your money to this church you attend then God will give it all back including triple and more, because the meek will inherit the earth or something. We probably wouldn’t have these if the Church was still an authority, or we would but to a lesser extent.

To be honest, I do certainly prefer the freedom of personal biblical interpretation. But what would I think if others hadn’t told me what to think? There are infinite controversies, including the topic of this blog, our ideas around the bible, which I need all the time in the world to do adequate research for and make up my mind on. Because it’s so important to have an opinion on anti-semitic sentiments expressed among the early church fathers… But really: People need to be told what to think about things. When necessary, you critique what you’re hearing. Other times, you assimilate it.

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“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Timothy 3:16-17).

Would I be right in citing this as the most popular piece in the bible for asserting its inspiration? Not only does Paul poetically describe the origin of Scripture, but he also provides Timothy with purpose of Scripture. What Scripture was Paul speaking of though? His Scripture would have been the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which included the apocrypha² (books which are rarely found in a Protestant bible but are part of the Catholic, Orthodox and other canons). Modern bible translation uses the Septuagint to double check dubious translations of the Hebrew and better understand quotations in the New Testament, as most quotations from the Old Testament appearing in the New Testament are from the Septuagint. The New Testament authors’ use of the Septuagint explains why we have Jude³ quoting from Enoch (vv.14-15), and Paul making use of the Wisdom of Solomon in Romans (1:19-20). This guy has some good examples, including the Romans one.

So Paul probably isn’t referring to the bible as we currently know it. Peter, on the other hand, uses the same Greek word for the Hebrew Bible, translated as ‘Scripture’ to refer to a collection of Paul’s writings (2Peter 3:15-16 — there is an uncanny numerical resemblence to the piece from 2Timothy). But what is Scripture? It is widely accepted that the Book of Isaiah had not one but three authors, concerning close but historically separate times in Israel’s history. The Book of Job is an ancient poem and parallels of it can be found in other literary traditions. Elihu, the young eavesdropper in the story who gets a word in to rebuke Job and his friends just before God turns up is not mentioned at the start when Job’s other friends turn up and nor is he mentioned by God, who should really approve of his actions. He was probably written in at a much later date. Should I still consider what he says when reading Job or just flick past him? The Comma Johanneum, in 1John 5:7-8, is a later insertion by trinitarians which can not be found in any early Greek manuscripts. Until recently it was included in English bible translations.

The Book of Revelation was still being disputed as canonical five hundred years after Jesus had risen. Dionysius of Alexandria, quoted in Eusebius, writes, “I, however, would not dare reject the book, since many brethren hold it in esteem, but since my intellect cannot judge it properly, I hold that its interpretation is a wondrous mystery.” Dionysius had an esteemable intellect. His view is a profound contrast to the dogmatic end-time theologies people have constructed around this book. Hebrews, because of its unknown authorship and theology around apostasy was also widely disputed. The Shepherd of Hermas was, along with other writings not included in our New Testament, widely read and accepted by many early Christians, but the Church later rejected it because of its adoptonist theology, that is implying that Jesus became God’s Son at baptism. Now that the Church is concerned by things other than orthodoxy it’s not such a big issue, so imagine if a new council arose in modern times and James was excluded because of theological leanings to works-based salvation or 1Timothy for asserting that women would be saved through childbearing.

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That is the crux of what I’ve been exposed to so far, but there’s a lot more learned people out there who can give a decent critique of our current canon. I hope you enjoyed the whirlwind tour. If anything, problems with inspiration, biblical unity and canon should point to something that we can all agree is inspired by the Holy Spirit, that the bible uniformly makes clear and which every saved soul has experienced: Love God; love others.

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¹The quote is a paraphrase. I came across it in ‘Deep Church’, a book that looks for a midway point between postmodern and traditional Christianity.

²I may be wrong.

³Earlier on in Jude, the author also cites a confrontation between Michael and Satan, not mentioned elsewhere in the bible. You may be interested to also know that Paul quotes three Greek (?) poets throughout his writings.

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This is the second post in a three part introductory series on monastic vows. Probably one of the most distinguishing features of a monastic (monk/nun) to the modern eye is singleness/celibacy: What’s going on?

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Probably the best thing about living in Christchurch is Eastercamp. It’s a huge (relative to Christchurch) Christian youth camp that runs the duration of Easter and is filled with every kind of both aesthetic and spiritual goodness. I have this acute memory from the first camp I attended as a leader. In an attempt to maintain piety while away from home I was reading through Matthew. I came to the part where the Jesus and the disciples are talking about divorce: ‘The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it”‘ (19:10-12, NIV).

I remember feeling like poos after reading this. Having prized the prospect of marriage in life so highly, to think that I could be one that God called to accept celibacy was beyond what I could bear at the time. In a very good way, however, this experience helped me to give more of myself in realizing that there was still a lot of my life I was holding back from Him.

Fast forward a couple of years later: The question of celibacy is found to be still flailing tempestuously inside as I attempt to give myself completely over to God again. That question, “Do you require me to live a single life for you?” Maybe the answer goes something like this, “I require you to be willing”. Talking this over with one of the pastors at my church, I got the impression that I wasn’t going to know yet. In fact, there’s also the possibility of celibacy for a season, rather than a lifetime. It’s like in Star Wars Episode I when Qui Gon Jinn takes Anakin to the council of the Jedis so they can see if he’ll be a Jedi or not. There are pulls within Anakin’s spirit, leading him in two different directions and Yoda can’t make what will happen of it: “Clouded, this boy’s future is”.

* * *

At a recent youth group boy’s night (you know where this is going), we talked about the perils of unbridled sexual desire (because ‘unbridled’ goes so well with those words!). I don’t want to generalise, but it’s generally safe to say that when there’s a men’s event with a church group, pornography, lust and general sexual deviance is going to be a hot topic. Everyone tip-toes around it to start, but when some brave soul flings the poo at the fan, it’s everywhere.

A high point of this night though, was looking at the non-physical side of sex. You see, you don’t need to burn with lust while looking at a woman to objectify her. You don’t need to manipulate someone to fulfill your sexual desires to use them. Before I explain, there are two things I must say: Firstly, I don’t want to underplay the importance of discussing issues around lust by emphasising the ‘nicer’ side of sexuality. Secondly, I really hope you don’t get the impression that sexual desire and sex in itself are condemned by Christianity. Rather, they are things to be celebrated, but that’s a-whole-nother conversation.

Reflecting on this year so far, I’ve seen how awesome it’s been for my female friendships. I feel I’ve gotten to know more closely some of my friends ‘from the other side’ and been a lot more comfortable meeting and making new ones. One truly beautiful thing about being single is having the opportunity to hang out with a lot of girls. Wait. No, I’ve really enjoyed it, learnt a lot, and deepened some important friendships. But I’ve continually got to ask myself, “What needs am I seeking to be met through developing my female friendships?” And this isn’t a gender-biased question either because I’ve used a lot of male friends in the past to meet emotional needs. The point is that I’ve found it really easy to use girls to feel good about myself in the same way I could objectify someone sexually. Sounds intense? Sorry for ruining the fun. I’d love to hear some opinions.

But Camo, there must be an alternative? What I’ve been attempting to attempt to work harder at is considering other people’s needs in a friendship or hang out: What are they there for? How can we bring mutuality to the friendship? Even, how can we bring God to the center of this? Will any hurt arise out of this friendship if it continues or ceases for various reasons? At what point is transparency important to set boundaries, yet at what point does it limit a friendship going further? The alternative then, may very well be to take the focus off from myself and bring it onto God and others.

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Anakin from http://images.wikia.com/swfanon/images/4/46/LittleAnakinASWS.jpg

Pepe from http://www.blast-o-rama.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/pepe.jpg

Thank you!

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Hey friends, this is post #1. As I sometimes had some thoughts to share on Facebook, I thought a blog might be more appropriate. I’m hoping this will continue then!

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The title, which you may recognize, is the three vows monastics (think monks and nuns) take when they enter into the religious life. To some extent all of them have had an effect on my life. In sum — and by this I mean to do injustice to the definitions of the vows by defining them each in a couple of words — you take up to vows to say you’ll live on what you need or less, as a single man/woman, seeking to follow the direction of those above you (in your monastic order).

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In a recent effort to curb the amount of possessions I own, I’ve met with idealism, failure, self-disillusionment, and success, sometimes in a very short space of time within that of each other. Firstly, if you want me to justify myself, I dreamt of the awesomeness of owning very little: You could move around so much. Imagine owning just a pillow, sleeping bag and mat, a couple or few sets of clothes, journal, pencil and a bible, possibly soap included? You could go pretty much anywhere, serving the church or for the sake of the gospel, whatever, and rely on God to feed you and look after you. Pretty keen to fight off wild beasts in Ephesus sometime too! One of the primary reasons for diminishing my stock is itinerancy: You are not bound to a place by the weight of that which you own. What else? Some of you will know how long you and I spend on Facebook. That’s all good, but I wonder how much more time we’d spend in prayer, study, preaching (?), social justice (?) if without a computer. Not that Facebook is evil, but its overavailability can be damaging sometimes, among other things. This question is probably better considered by practicing monastics, but here’s something I don’t think they had to deal with too much back in the day: Immaterial/semi-immaterial possessions. Facebook, bank account, email address, passport, etc. Practically, these ‘items’ don’t take up a lot of space so they might not limit one’s mobility as much as a bookshelf.

One thing I’m still mediating though, is the tension of settling in the land and being ready to move out at any moment. I’m sure many have felt the call to settle down as part of a community and contribute in some way long term. I’ve been slowly collecting important kitchenware to maximize future cooking opportunities, herbs and spices included. My arts and crafts collection is increasingly substantial. My library grows monthly in variety and depth. Some real men collect tools for their toolboxes too, etc. Ha. The difficulty is, at this time in life, making decisions regarding storing and saving or embracing bare essentials when you don’t know what the future holds. People have referred to the early church sharing everything they owned (cf. Acts 2.44-45) and then others have pointed out that it’s an ideal rather than a workable reality for modern times, or whatever. I like the former. What about even working towards it? What about rupturing the idea of individual ownership by freely allowing people to make good, unconditional use of your items? As Barnabas, a writer in the early church, said, “Give your neighbour a share of all you have and do not call anything your own. If you and he participate together in things immortal, how much more so in things that are mortal?”

Another difficulty I have found in loosing the grip of that which I own is that I haven’t managed to be quite as consistent in working with fleeting possessions. In a moment of passion I can give away a trinket, sell a piece of furniture or consecrate and destroy a relic from my pre-Christian life. The effort required to regain the likes of these is withstandable. However, the effort required to pass by some expensive takeaways or a nice night out is a lot more unpredictable. Once a more permanent item has been rid of then that’s it. But the opportunities to splash out on expensive meals and social times are myriad and my dealing with them is often inconsistent. If I one day own less than twenty five items then I can only call myself a fake if my social and eating habits don’t match the humble non-extravagance of my non-perishables.

Where to now? The purpose of this is not so much to warn everyone in their sinfulness in hoarding possessions and expensive living (although, consider Luke 12:13-21), because the very danger of a monastic vow is that it is seen as a requirement for salvation. Rather, I hope you can see some of the ways that this could play out in your lifestyle, as well as some further questions, and some of the benefits for the Kingdom of God that come with that. Be blessed!

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Image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/22/The_Great_Traveller_Charles_Alexandre_Lesueur_in_the_Forest_by_Karl_Bodmer_1832_-_1834.jpg

Thank you!

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