“TAKING THE BIBLE AS IT IS”

Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. A dubious adage if taken universally, it certainly captures an aspect of human experience. Perhaps more accurately, if less sagely, it could be said that familiarity transforms our relationship to things (and vice versa). For me, one of those transformative familiar things is a compilation of ancient texts, the Bible. Raised in the WASPy heartland of evangelicalism in Canada, the Bible has been part of my moral and imaginative vocabulary since I was a child. It has indelibly shaped the way I see the world. While I may no longer hold to the certainties ostensibly derived from it, and acknowledging its limitations, I am in fact quite grateful for the education evangelicalism gave me. Part of that gratitude stems from evangelicalism’s earnest attempt to maintain the sense in which a text from the past, the Bible, can speak to us in the here and now. Though it scarcely needs to be added that evangelicals are not alone in this. Just this week, on the bicentenary of her death, Jane Austen has been honoured with a place on the ten pound note in the UK. Several essays have been duly published in various newspapers and magazines that attest to the lasting influence her novels continue to wield. Continue reading ““TAKING THE BIBLE AS IT IS””

HOLY WEEK: READING AND REMEMBERING

This Holy Week past I read the Gospel of John on the assumption that there is something to be gained by doing so in the form we currently have it. That may seem rather obvious. It’s certainly not a novel approach. And it’s worth observing that it doesn’t negate other readings. Those remain possible, fruitful, relevant. In my case I had started reading the Gospel of John because it was part of the liturgical schedule at church. What I mean by reading John’s Gospel as we have it is reading it in its final editorial form, as it has taken its place in the Christian New Testament. Biblical scholars remind us that this Gospel was probably first written for a particular community at a particular moment in time. This must certainly be the case in a general way, i.e. for the early Christian community (as scholars Richard Bauckham and others suggest), or in a more specific way, i.e. for the Johannine community (as scholars John Ashton and others suggest). Still, the challenge of understanding what the Gospel of John says remains complex. Continue reading “HOLY WEEK: READING AND REMEMBERING”

SEEING “THE CASE FOR CHRIST”

All together there were five of us sitting comfortably in the dark. Truth be told, I was a little surprised I wasn’t the only one there. This movie wasn’t going to break any box office records after all, and it was 10am on Friday.

I first read The Case for Christ as a teenager. My mom worked at an evangelical Christian bookstore in Red Deer, Alberta, for much of her life. It was called “Gospel Books and Music” before it relocated to much bigger premises and strategically rebranded under the banner of an American franchise: “Parables Christian Marketplace.” Thanks to online retailing and digital books, the store is now a shell of its former self, run not so much for profit as for conviction. Continue reading “SEEING “THE CASE FOR CHRIST””

DIARY: MAY, 2017

WEEK 8 – May 1, 2017. TOURISM

You’re supposed to see the main attractions. That’s what you do when you travel to a new city. In the past two weeks Candace and I traveled to Sydney and Melbourne. And yes, we went to see some of the main tourist sites. If you’re in Sydney it’s a given that, from some vantage point or other, you’ll see the Opera House. Yet when we returned to Canberra I found myself somehow slightly dissatisfied. Each time we travel I’m becoming increasingly reluctant to see the trip in terms of a checklist of places to see or things to do. Travelling around for food and drink remains immune to this malaise for now. As Aristotle pointed out long ago, in his discussion of the virtue of temperance, those are needs that have to be met by all human beings. Happily, I can still easily justify searching out Sydney’s best ramen or Melbourne’s most tantalizing nitroglycerin gelato (yes the latter is a real thing). Continue reading “DIARY: MAY, 2017”

NEOLIBERAL JESUS: READING JAMES CROSSLEY

Is all history political? In at least one sense, yes. If we take this statement to mean that all history-writing is political, then it is so because historians write from a particular perspective and so their arguments, however critical and objective, still belie a political orientation of some kind. Some scholars think objectivity is possible, others do not, and much depends on how we understand the historian’s methodological process. To me there is no “ideology free” approach to the past, but there is a distinctive set of practices and a community which constitutes critical history, and which distinguishes it from things like communal memory. But I think both critical history and communal memory are political, in a broad Aristotelian sense. When I approach the topic of atheism in early modern Europe, I’ve done so governed by the norms and practices of critical history, but I still do so in ways shaped by an ideological framework that is itself informed by my personal history, by my beliefs, and by my own social, cultural, and political context. Continue reading “NEOLIBERAL JESUS: READING JAMES CROSSLEY”

SPEAKING OF GOD

This past Sunday I gave a talk at church on the Apostle Paul’s visit to Athens as recorded in the seventeenth chapter of the New Testament book of the “Acts of the Apostles”.  This is the fourth time I’ve spoken at church in the past two years or so. I had a little fun with my talk by trying to summarize the book of Acts as if it was tv series, which I punned by calling it “Better Call Paul”. This was, of course, done in my own layman’s terms, and certainly without any pretense to knowledge of the relevant historical-critical scholarship or deep theological insight. That said, I felt confident enough to speak because I’m partial to the view that being Christian means knowing, living, and retelling the stories about God recorded in Scripture. Continue reading “SPEAKING OF GOD”

AUGUSTINE’S MANTLE: CHRISTIANITY AND HISTORY

How do we recognize the hand of providence? All historians have to confront this question in some form. Considered in literary terms providence is a trope, one emplotment of structured explanation amongst many. In the attempt to understand and explain the past historians offer scholarly stories in which evidence is intentionally collected, critically evaluated, and discursively represented. Historians tell contested stories. Continue reading “AUGUSTINE’S MANTLE: CHRISTIANITY AND HISTORY”

EVANGELICAL TESTIMONY AND CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS

One of the most influential visions of Christian apologetics in the history of Western Christianity comes from Augustine’s De doctrina Christiana, where the figure of the apostle Paul encountering Stoic and Epicurean philosophers at Athens (Acts 17) becomes inflected with the oratorical skills of a Ciceronian rhetorician: Continue reading “EVANGELICAL TESTIMONY AND CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS”

AN EVANGELICAL MIND: READING MARK NOLL

Nearly 20 years ago Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, a clarion call for evangelical Christians to re-examine their attitude towards the life of the mind. Noll wanted to understand why contemporary evangelicalism seemed to ignore the life of the mind in preference for a more affective faith, and how this fact could be explained historically. In so doing Noll also alerted readers to the sometimes sophisticated intellectual life of evangelicals in the past. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind extends these aspects of the Scandal’s aims by outlining more concretely the resources upon which evangelicals might draw in order to cultivate the life of the mind as an integral part of their faith. Continue reading “AN EVANGELICAL MIND: READING MARK NOLL”

A GRAND STORY: READING PETE ROLLINS

Pete Rollins writes what is basically an engaging form of deconstructionist theology under the aegis of someone who wants to effect practical change in the Christian church. How (Not) to Speak of God, The Fidelity of Betrayal, and The Orthodox Heretic are short, punchy, and demanding works of philosophical theology done within the context of and for practicing Christians today. The crux of the matter, at least for a historian like me, lies in the background story which gives Rollins’ parables, paradoxes, and jokes their meaning and force. And this story is basically the story deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida have put forward, where the history of western philosophy is bedeviled, among a series of other spectres, by the something called the metaphysics of presence. Continue reading “A GRAND STORY: READING PETE ROLLINS”