Friday, June 25, 2010

Outliers

I've just finished reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, having immensely enjoyed his previous book Blink. Outliers is even more fascinating than Blink and deals with the phenomenon of success. By surveying a broad cross section of geniuses, billionaires, sports stars and successful people from all walks of life, Gladwell explains why some people are so successful and others are not. The stories he tells are so fascinating that I can honestly say I never remember being so captivated by a non-fiction book before. The book is a must-read for all parents who desire  for their children to succeed in life.

I don't have time to write a formal review or to explain those aspects which make the book so useful for parents, but if this wets your appetite for more, check out Steve Hayhow's review here or this discussion on Malcolm Gladwell's own website.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Androgyny!

When I first viewed Norval Morrisseau’s painting Androgyny, I was taken aback. With characters that can be deciphered as neither male nor female, or perhaps as both male and female, the painting is understandably confusing to the casual observer. For me, however, the confusion went deeper than the surface, prompting a crisis in my masculine identity. Click HERE to read more (and for those who may be tempted to take me too seriously, I want to state for the record that the article this link takes you to is a joke.)

If you like what you read, consider taking out a subscription to Salvo Magazine. If what you read disrupts your own sexual identity, you might want to consider the following brand of clothing.


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Friday, June 18, 2010

Resurrection or Disembodiment? Gnosticism in Evangelical Theology

Someone left an interesting comment on my post about Gnosticism, saying "I so often feel like an outsider with my hope not resting in the so-called immortality of the soul, but rather the resurrection from the grave. This being a belief that few hold where pastors constantly rail against it and deride any who hold such a belief."

That comment caught me at a good time, because I have recently been doing some writing and reading around this issue as part of the process of preparing a research proposal for  postgraduate study. It is indeed a sad indictment on the state of the evangelical church that much of its unofficial theology now functionally denies the doctrine of bodily resurrection and has been replaced by ideas more akin to Gnosticism and Greek philosophy than Christianity.

Let's talk about Greek philosophy first.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Glory of Institutional Religion

“I think the reason some people have condemned ‘institutional religion’, wrote someone in a Facebook discussion about my 8 Gnostic Myths You May Have Imbibed, “is because they see that many religious institutions are at odds with heartfelt faith, filled with people putting their faith in their religious works rather than submitting their lives to God. Many churches have pushed religion on people, making them feel unsavable if they can't do all the works of their religion well enough. Believing they can never be religious enough to go to heaven they leave the church. Others find that religion without faith is empty and hollow so leave the church. Some churches want those people to understand that religion and works need to come out of a love of Christ, not working to get to heaven. What they are really against is a religious institution for its sake rather than as an outgrowth of believers faith and understanding of the Word. Some churches want those people to understand that religion and works need to come out of a love of Christ, not working to get to heaven. What they are really against is a religious institution for its sake rather than as an outgrowth of believers faith and understanding of the Word.

Monday, June 14, 2010

So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore


The predominant theme of the book is issues surrounding the local church (and because I would like to keep this review reasonably short, I will deal only with this issue in the review). The overall teaching is that the church as most Christians understand it is a human institution and one designed primarily to gain and to protect power. The Bible, according to the authors, does not teach that Christians should be part of any kind of institutional church. This is not to say that we should leave mega-churches to join smaller house churches; rather, we should abandon this kind of church model altogether.

The Dualisms of William Young


The single most pervasive problem in the book was Young's tendency to draw various dualisms between "relationship" and whatever phenomenon he doesn't particularly like. So he has a dualsim between rules and relationship (198), between roles and relationship (148), between institutions and relationship (178), between hierarchy and relationship (124), between religion and relationship (179). While the last has been extremely popular in evangelicalism for many years, the other dualisms are related much more to modern American culture than to any sort of biblical wisdom.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

What's New Over at Alfred the Great

A number of new items have recently been posted on the Alfred the Great Society website. These include

The Devotion of J.S. Bach. This article explores the spiritual heritage behind Bach’s remarkable musical legacy.

Review of Robin Hood Movie. This review suggests that Ridley Scott’s recent adaption of Robin Hood, despite its aesthetic deficiency, has at least got Robin Hood’s politics right. Contrary to the popular myth that Robin was an egalitarian socialist, this article argues that the historic Robin Hood was actually a political conservative defending property rights against a tyrannical government.

Commentary on Current Events. This section of our website comments on some recent events, including an update on the national debt, what Obama is doing to turn America into a totalitarian state, how Bill Gates would like to decrease the surplus population and what recently went on at a blasphemous church service conducted at Westminster Abbey in honor of the European Union.

The Courage of Saint Columbanus. At a time when the Christians faith has been largely domesticated, having lost its rugged edge, Celtic saints such as Columbanus have something profound to teach us. This article explores the impact Saint Columbanus had in his own day and the relevance his example has for ours.

Christianity Under Attack in France. Learn how the French Revolution created a template from which France has still not recovered and which manifests itself in an institutional hostility towards the gospel. This article was written after careful interviews with a number of French Christians and reveals the shocking truth about their struggles with militant secularism.

Friday, June 11, 2010

8 Gnostic Myths You May Have Imbibed

I've recently been researching the history of Gnosticism and I am struck by the number of Gnostic tendencies that the modern church has imbibed without realizing it. This post assumes readers will know what Gnosticism is, but if you do not and would like a good overview of it, see the following articles:

Following are eight Gnostic myths that much of the contemporary evangelical church has adopted (and obviously I am generalizing, a practice I defend here).

Gnostic Myth # 1: Christianity isn’t a Religion, it’s a Relationship

By relocating the nexus of religion in the private experience of each individual and self-consciously downplaying the public and corporate aspects connoted by the word “religion”, much of contemporary evangelicalism has unknowingly drunk deeply from the wells of Gnosticism. In the process, much of the modern church has lost the categories with which to think about Christendom, viewing the faith primarily through an individualistic lens.

Those interested in exploring this aspect further should consult the following resources

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Forgotten Founding Father


Stephen Mansfield's biography of George Whitefield is a very good introduction to the work of this remarkable revivalist.

The book begins at the Bell Inn, in Gloucester England in the 1720’s where, had you been a visitor, you would have witnessed an unusual site. A small boy was acting out a sermon for the entertainment of the guests. It was not uncommon for this boy, the youngest among widow Elizabeth Whitfield’s seven children, to engage in theatrical re-enactments of sermons and Bible stories for the guests at his mother’s inn. But this time, something was different. Reciting the sermon he had heard on Sunday as a type of game, young George Whitfield was quite unprepared for the response he received as some of the onlookers began to weep.

It was a portent of things to come. When George grew up and became a famous preacher, he found that his words had a strange affect on people, provoking emotions for which he was often unprepared.

Born in 1714, George’s childhood was far from easy. His father died when he was only two, leaving the running of the inn to Elizabeth. After a disastrous second marriage and divorce, George’s brother eventually took over the management of the inn, while George was sent to the cathedral school of Saint Mary.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Gnosticism, Marriage, Singleness, Matchmaking and Martin Luther

  
I have been thinking a lot about Gnosticism recently because of an article I have been asked to write on the subject for Christianity & Society and this has forced me to revisit my earlier thoughts on the relationship between Gnosticism and courtship.In my book, The Twilight of Liberalism, I observe that


"The Eucharist, and indeed all the sacraments, have become especially troubling among evangelicals for whom the matter/spirit dichotomy is the uber-presupposition. Since modern evangelicals find it offensive that God’s grace would be mediated through physical means or instruments (even as classical Gnosticism found it offensive that God would be incarnated in flesh), so the sacraments are reduced to mere symbols for what goes on inside the individual. As Ollif points out, the “physical manifestations” are simply epiphenomena of a relationship that can be fully defined apart from those physical manifestations. The Protestant tendency to separate spirit from matter means that the Eucharist can become merely an appendix to the Word, a disguised sermon or an approximation for our own spiritual interiority but certainly not a rite that objectively conveys grace."
   

Friday, June 04, 2010

Is Jesus Kingdom of this world?

I was intrigued after I learned from a Greek scholar that in John 18:36 Jesus never said that his kingdom is not of this world. The RSV translates the verse closest to the original: ‘My kingdom is not from this world.’ 

Christ’s kingdom is certainly of and for this world, but it does not arise out of or (from) this earth. It comes from heaven to the earth just like Jesus did. That is why Jesus taught us to pray, ‘thy kingdom come on earth…as it is in heaven’ (Mat. 6:10). The phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the gospels has this same underpinning, referring to the rule of heaven (that is, of God), being brought to bear in the present space-time world. This draws on the theological backdrop of passages like Daniel 7: 26-27 and is the same crowning vision we find in Rev. 11:15, (which is not a future description, by the way, but a present reality) where we are told that “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ…”

Those interested in reading further on this subject, and what this means practically for the church today, would do well to consult my article 'Political Christianity in the Early Church' as well as the following resources by Tom Wright:




Thursday, June 03, 2010

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Review of Robin Hood


With a name such as mine, I have always emulated Robin Hood as a kind of patron saint. It was therefore with great anticipation that I went to see the new Robin Hood movie.

I was not impressed. The film offers neither good character development nor the type of sustained suspense of an action thriller. Completely bereft of all poetry and romance (not to mention the absence of any sword fighting or a good quarter staff brawl), the movie had little continuity with the Robin Hood of myth.

But there was one thing the movie gets right: Robin Hood was no socialist.

We know very little about the historical Robin Hood. But we do know that he was not a proto-Obama figure, redistributing wealth to achieve a utopia of economic quality.

But didn’t Robin Hood steal from the rich to give to the poor? If the legends are to be believed, he merely attempted to give back to the people what the government and the corrupt clergy had taken from them. Ridley Scott gets this exactly right in portraying Robin Hood as the defender of a people being taxed to death by a corrupt government.


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