Archive for May, 2013

st.athanasiosWell, I’ve been reflecting more on Big A’s On the Incarnation. Now that I’ve got over my initial horror, I can discern some good things there that are worth talking about. So rather than keep up the critique, I’m changing tack. Here’s some of them:

1. Athanasius understands by ‘incarnation’ the history of Jesus of Nazareth, from birth to resurrection and glory. He doesn’t exclude the element of time, as my dear friend Luke C recently pointed out here. This is not a mere analysis of issues of ‘nature’ or essence. Athanasius has a story to tell us, and it’s (something like) the gospel story. A dynamic, not a static discussion. Thank God!

2. He doesn’t limit his discussion to a part of the Jesus story, either, but deals with the whole thing. So incarnation becomes a large Christological category for him.

3. The story Big A really wants to tell, is of the restoration of humanity. Or of ‘human nature’ or ‘the human body’. (He seems to use the terms more or less interchangeably.) This is a really exciting thing about On the Incarnation. Athanasius has plenty of things to say about the achievement of Christ, including the idea of the payment of our debt at the cross. But the big idea, the overarching and truly integrating idea of his treatment, is this theme of humanity’s restoration in Jesus. Using this he manages to give coherence to his account of every part of Jesus’ life and work, from birth to resurrection. Which is something I haven’t come across often in the modern theologies I grew up with. In fact, the theme itself is hardly at the top of the list of things we evangelicals want to say about Christ’s achievements. So that’s pretty refreshing.

4. In telling the story this way, Athanasius achieves something not many theologians have managed since then: he holds creation and redemption together. Redemption is the renewal of the creation, not a restart, or an escape from it. He’s quite explicit about this:

But once man was in existence, and things that were, not things that were not, demanded to be healed, it followed as a matter of course that the Healer and Saviour should align Himself with those things that existed already, in order to heal the existing evil.

5. The way Jesus is said to rescue fallen and corrupt humanity is quite something. He redeems it by entering it. He takes it over from the inside, and then takes it down to the grave, and then up into life:

You must know, moreover, that the corruption which had set in was not external to the body but established within it. The need, therefore, was that life should cleave to it in corruption’s place, so that, just as death was brought into being in the body, life also might be engendered in it.

If death had been exterior to the body, life might fittingly have been the same. But if death was within the body, woven into its very substance and dominating it as though completely one with it, the need was for Life to be woven into it instead, so that the body by thus enduing itself with life might cast corruption off. Suppose the Word had come outside the body instead of in it, He would, of course, have defeated death, because death is powerless against the Life. But the corruption inherent in the body would have remained in it none the less.

Naturally, therefore, the Savior assumed a body for Himself, in order that the body, being interwoven as it were with life, should no longer remain a mortal thing, in thrall to death, but as endued with immortality and risen from death, should thenceforth remain immortal. For once having put on corruption, it could not rise, unless it put on life instead; and besides this, death of its very nature could not appear otherwise than in a body. Therefore He put on a body, so that in the body He might find death and blot it out. And, indeed, how could the Lord have been proved to be the Life at all, had He not endued with life that which was subject to death?

Good stuff, eh? Worth reading that over a few times. It really summarises his whole thesis about the incarnation.

6. Notice the pivotal significance of the phrase ‘risen from death’ in the quote above? Big A’s story climaxes at the resurrection. It reminds me of the shape of the NT story about Jesus – that’s pretty rare too, compared to our tradition. In Jesus’ resurrection, humanity is renewed and filled with glory and incorruptibility. Like. Have a listen to this:

…through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all.
 
You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be.

7. It’s important to notice, that foundational to Athanasius’s Christology is the idea that God the Son took to himself fallen human nature with all its weakness and corruption. This was the thing he redeemed. And he redeemed it by entering it fully. If he had taken a pre-sanitised humanity, he would have had nothing to do, for his mission was to take fallen humanity down to the grave, put and and to its corruption, then bring it up to life in resurrection. Big A insists that Christ could not achieve this from the outside, he had to get inside fallen humanity to do his saving work in it.

He clarifies that God the Son is not polluted or tainted in any way by thus filling fallen humanity. He as God does not take on the nature of the thing he fills. Rather he cleanses it so it takes on his glory.

So far as I can make out, this view seems to represent Nicean ‘orthodoxy’. Gregory of Nazienzus, for e.g., said the same thing. And he was the absolute bomb, so far as church- fatherly orthodoxy is concerned.

Athanasius’s On the Incarnation is a dangerously sub-Christian work, shockingly ignorant of the Trinitarian nature of the gospel story. However, by taking seriously Christ’s work as a narrative, and treating it as a whole, he gets a lot further than we normally do in giving a coherent account of the achieving of redemption. There’s plenty here to challenge and stretch our thinking.

What do you think of his thesis, that Jesus’ mission is the restoration of humanity from within?

imagesMy other main beef about Athanasius’ On the Incarnation has to do with how he sees Jesus’ humanity. Most of the time the Big A talks about it as simply a human body. Occasionally he mentions that it’s human nature the Son has assumed. Apparently this is more-or-less the same thing as human body. What is notably absent is any reference to human mind or personality in Jesus. There is no hint of human involvement in his will or intentionality. All the willing, all the acting, is initiated by the Word in the body.

Is humanity then merely a glove, a kind of shell, an instrument within which the divine mind can operate? Like a fork-lift, with the Word in the drivers’ seat? Athanasius often described it in much this way. Jesus’ body was:

the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt.

His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument.

though He used the body as His instrument, He shared nothing of its defect…

He was made man, and used the body as His human instrument. If this were not the fitting way, and He willed to use an instrument at all, how otherwise was the Word to come? And whence could He take His instrument, save from among those already in existence

It was natural and right, therefore, for the Word to use a human instrument

The Word of God thus acted consistently in assuming a body and using a human instrument to vitalize the body.

If the body was his instrument, was it truly him? Was he truly human? Could he, for example, put off the instrument again once the job was done? Could he, having restored humanity, leave it again? Athanasius never says, the matter is left uncertain. Uncertain, too, is the status of the humanity the Son assumed – did it become integral to his identity? We are not told, but the repeated language of instrumentality points pretty strongly the other way.

An human instrument that doesn’t seem to have a mind of its own: this all sounds very much like a famous heresy, called Apollinarianism. Apollinaris taught that the Word was dropped into a human body, so Jesus was a divine mind inside a human ‘shell’. No human mind involved. Interestingly, this heresy was condemned at the council of Alexandria, 361. And guess who the chief prosecutor was? You guessed it: Athanasius.

But it’s hard to see much difference between Apollinarianism and his own writing here in On the Incarnation. 

Curious…

Tomorrow: what’s good about On the Incarnation

Evangelism outside the walls

Posted: May 24, 2013 by J in Mission
Tags:

newman2If our insistence on bringing in the authority of Scripture is being a barrier to mission, then how can we do things differently? How can we talk about Christian faith with people who don’t yet accept that authority?

In marketing, there’s a technique often used where some of the product is put outside the ‘paygates’, so it’s free for customers to access without cost. It might be a free sample or a test-drive, it might be a trial period for software, it might be a website with limited free functionality, where the rest of the site is for paying customers. The idea is, customers can get a taste of the product, find out if they like it, without having to commit themselves. Then they have a chance to find out whether it’s worth paying. Theory is, they’ll be more likely to take the plunge and dish out for a product they’re already involved with, for a known quantity, than they would be for something quite unknown.

My suggestion is, we can do the same thing with Christian faith. If our friends and neighbours are going to be Christians, they’ll need to accept the authority of Scripture. Eventually. They’ll need to go through that ‘paygate’. But it doesn’t need to be upfront, the first thing they encounter. It could be a later result of commitment to Jesus. It could be some way down the line. And accepting the authority of Scripture cold-turkey is a big sticking point for ordinary people out there. So let’s stop putting that paygate upfront. 

Here’s what I’m suggesting: we can afford to put a whole lot of the content of Christian faith outside those gates. Look at how the apostles announce the good news in Acts. They talk about Jesus, about his death and resurrection, his establishment as King, about the Holy Spirit, about forgiveness of sins, about judgement – all without appealing to the authority of Scripture to prove their claims. People from the greek world who heard them certainly wouldn’t have automatically accepted the Scriptures. If they accepted Jesus, that would be something they’d have to learn about. But at the start, it’s not an obstacle, epistemology is not a distraction from the gospel.

We could do the same today. Everyone in our culture is hung up on epistemology, no one knows how to prove anything to be true. Soccer Dad spent about 20 minutes quizzing me about the Scriptures, about dating and authorship etc. I didn’t raise it – he did. On both sides of the divide, we’re obsessed with these issues. But we could push them to the background, de-emphasise them.

I’m not suggesting we hide the fact that we believe the Scriptures. Just that we stop putting it in the spotlight. Let’s de-centre epistemology and bring the spotlight back onto content: i.e. Jesus.

How can we do that? By telling the story. Instead of rabbiting on about how we know the story is true, let’s just tell the gospel to people. You can do it like this:

In the Christian faith, Jesus is the one God specially sent to bring us back to him.

Or like this:

Jesus’ apostles tell how he rose from the dead, not as a spirit, but bodily, so they could touch him.

Or even like this:

Christians have always believed that God is active among us today by his Holy Spirit, bringing in his kingdom

It can even work to say:

In the New Testament, Christians found that trusting in Jesus brought a new joy into their lives.

All of these statements have in common that they de-emphasise authority questions (‘how we can be sure it’s true’), and highlight the content of the truth statements themselves. They invite people to think about and engage with the gospel story, rather than provoking their epistemological hangups. None of them are functioning as arguments to logically convince. They are rather examples of storytelling.

I have found that if you take the spotlight off the point of maximum tension (‘how can we trust the Bible’), you can have full and helpful discussions with people about Jesus. People get exposed to him and his message of the kingdom, they can get a feel for him and have a chance to respond, without distractions.

That’s powerful stuff. People fall in love with Jesus pretty readily! The Holy Spirit is going to take those stories and make them stick, and disturb people’s hearts, and draw them to Jesus. If only we don’t let our own insecurities about epistemology derail things!

It will take courage, we will feel a bit insecure talking about faith without ‘proving’ our assertions. We will feel exposed. we will be exposed. Because what we’re really doing, is to walk outside the gates to where people are. It would be going out to them to meet them on their ground. Where it’s not safe. There’s no agreed foundation for knowledge out there. People might make fun of our beliefs. We will be tempted to retreat to the safe territory of ‘but the bible says it’. They might try to push us there, challenging ‘Why should I believe any of that?’ We know where that will end – in a half hour argument about epistemology. I’m suggesting we just don’t take the bait. Don’t go there. Not in a first encounter. Not in a fourth encounter. Starve this obsession of oxygen. Let’s leave it in the background, and let people say what they like.

Once people are feeling attracted to Jesus, there’s time to talk helpfully about what the Bible is.

So how do we answer when pushed about authority?  Try to get back to the story, don’t let it derail a helpful conversation. Try something like this:

Jesus had these followers, his disciples, and they reported all about him, and people believed them and put their trust in Jesus. And the stories were published, and we can read them.

You’re still telling the story, see. You’re still not trying to prove anything. You are inviting the question, should we trust the apostles’ witness? That’s a good question, a helpful gospel-story question. Not at all the same as the abstract question ‘Is the Bible an authoritative source of truth?’ – which we get hung up on. That’s the one to avoid.

There’s an epistemological wall that threatens to cut us off from our society, so we live in parallel universes, never truly engaging. Christians have always known what to do about walls that divide. We go through them to those on the outside, we follow Jesus who went outside the city, and was crucified there.

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A dad at soccer training tonight figured out that I’m a pastor. He immediately told me a story he was frustrated about. He is a practising catholic but from a liberal tradition – but he has an adult son, who has joined a pentecostal church. Soccer dad recently tried recently to engage his pentecostal son in a discussion about Christian faith.

He asked him, ‘What do we really know about Jesus? Who is he? Son of God? Is that literally true, or is it a metaphor for something?’

Son replied, ‘We don’t have to ask that question. The bible tells us Jesus is God’s Son, so we know he is.’ – at least that’s how Soccer D heard the reply. Pretty annoyed he was about it too. ‘Don’t tell me what the bible says!’ he replied angrily.

He was disappointed too, I think. He felt his son effectively shut down the conversation. There was no way to talk about it any further.

It struck me afterwards this whole story is a metaphor for something. For the divide between evangelical Christians and the rest of the world.

Think of the irony of the story. The skeptic wants badly to discuss Jesus. The orthodox believer is unable to, because his use of the bible leaves him feeling there is nothing to discuss. Or perhaps that such a discussion is not safe with a non-believer. Skeptic cannot get access to help from evangelical, and feels shut out.

In my time churchplanting, I’ve discovered that many, many people want to talk about Jesus. About God. About the Church (whatever that is!). Many of them have not been able to talk about these things for years, but they want to. When I give them half a chance, they go for it. I’ve never had so many conversations about Jesus before. All started by neighbours.

Funny thing is, I never before thought of ‘ordinary people’ in this way – that they were bursting to talk about faith. Why don’t they do it more often?

My feeling is that there’s no one for them to talk to. Most people know nothing helpful. And the evangelicals are not accessible. Why not? Partly there aren’t many around, and they tend to keep to themselves. But it seems to me it’s also this thing about how we use the Bible.

Think about this son’s response. He goes straight to the fact of the bible, claims its authority, and thus short-circuits the question. Bible-authority is the only ground on which he is willing to play. It’s the entry point into faith discussion. But his father is not willing to accept this authority. So he can’t even get into the discussion. They are left with no common ground, no shared language in which to talk. All they can do is miss each other, and feel frustrated.

The son is using the Bible to provide what is called epistemological foundations. I.e., he’s wanting to start by finding a solid basis of knowledge. How can we know anything about religious stuff? How can we arrive at definitive answers to faith questions? The Bible is the authority. Let’s look there.

These sort of epistemological questions have loomed large in the western mindset for about the past 200 years. Before that, people didn’t use to talk so much about how we know things. They just talked about the things. Christians didn’t use to discuss ‘the Bible’ that much – they talked about the things in the bible, about Christian faith.

Nowadays we feel we have to justify our beliefs carefully, and ‘the Bible says it’ is the standard approach. We’ve brought epistemology right to the front in how we talk about the faith. This has helped us feel ok about holding beliefs that our society doesn’t respect any more. By putting our commitment to Scripture’s authority at first base, we evangelicals have given ourselves a strong shared language in which to discuss our beliefs, a level playing field on which to debate faith issues in relative safety. But it’s come at considerable cost.

The cost is mission-failure. That’s what happened with Soccer Dad. Other people, like him, don’t share our commitment to the authority of Scripture. Of course they don’t. They’re outside those epistemological gates. But all the dialogue goes on inside the gates. They’re not going to buy into our view of Scripture straight away. But until they do, it’s difficult for the outside world to communicate with us. We lack a shared language, a piece of common ground on which to have the conversation.

It goes like this. Some of our beliefs seem fair enough to outsiders: God the creator and so on. But others seem pretty odd: Noah’s ark, resurrection from the dead, Trinity. If people are interested, they might try to investigate, and they’ll probably do it by questioning. How can God be one and three? Do you really believe that? Why do you believe that?

We tend to interpret this questioning as an attack on our faith, we feel under threat, and so retreat to our safe position: the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. Probably it’s the only answer in our manual.

That works ok for us. But not for them. Either the discussion breaks down at that point, as it did for SD, or else it degenerates into yet another debate about epistemology: ‘Why do you trust that old book?’ ‘Wasn’t it all written down hundreds of years later anyhow?’  ’How do we know stuff anyway?’

Either way, the questioner doesn’t get help with their questions. We either bar them or else sidetrack the discussion. What we don’t do is talk to them helpfully about Jesus.

This epistemological paygate effectively creates a great barrier to faith-dialogue, with evangelicals on one side and the rest of the world on the other. If people want to discuss real faith content with us, rather than just discussing the preliminary question ‘how do we know stuff?’ they really need to come through the gates, over to our side first.

Most people won’t do that. So no gospel conversation is possible. There’s no way forward for them to explore Christian faith. At least not with us.

What’s the alternative? It takes a bit of courage, but I think there’s another way. A way to remove the paygates. Without compromising our view of Scripture. I think this because we’re doing it all the time here at our church, every time someone asks us about Christian stuff.

Ikone_Athanasius_von_AlexandriaI’ve been reading Athanasius’s classic work On the Incarnation. It has much in it that is interesting and insightful. However, overall I was distressed by its failure to give a Christian account of Jesus’ story. I will try to articulate what I find so troubling about it. It’s a complex work, it won’t be easy. Here goes.

1. Big A’s argument about the incarnation is deeply non-Trinitarian. Though Jesus is sometimes called the Son, he doesn’t function like a son in Big A’s account of him. ‘Son of God’ functions as a title that effectively means ‘God’, but he rarely describes the Son doing anything sonlike. Normally he calls him the Word. A much less personal, relational title is prefered to a familial one.

More troubling by far is the complete absence of any mention of the Holy Spirit in the entire discourse. Stop for a sec, read that sentence again. It’s staggering. Scandalous. Perhaps it’s just the translation I was reading, but it just wasn’t there. The whole incarnation story was something the Word achieved himself. Apparently by his own power. At every point Big A attributes to the Word the efficacy to carry out the incarnation plan, as something which he possesses in himself. Conception, birth, life, miracles, death – even the resurrection! In this story, there’s no need for a Spirit at all. You might say, no room for a Spirit.

Now this is seriously sub-Christian. It’s just too, too bad. Jesus effectively represents the presence of a monadic God who acts alone.

Compare this to the NT way of talking about Jesus:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. (Mat. 1:18)

But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you. (Matt. 12:28)

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee… (Luke 4:14)

…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10:38)

the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God (Heb 9:14)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18)

and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:4)

I find it distressing because in it I recognise my own Christian upbringing, I hear the ways I was taught to talk about Jesus. Non-trinitarian ways. Telling a story about one person acting solo, rather than three persons acting in concert. And I realise, it goes back to the fourth flippin century. The rot had already set in by then, it’s been with us ever since. I find that a depressing thought. So wrong, for so long.

There’s more. But this is the mother of all failures. I’ll get stuck in farther into Athanasius in a later post.

infographic: Ideas that STICK

Posted: May 10, 2013 by J in General

Grace Invader

ImageI recently read this book by Chip & Dan heath, on how to make the ideas we speak about “Sticky” – memorable. The book contained some well thought out ideas for communication that I intend to revisit in the “packaging” aspects of my sermon writing. As with any attempt at being persuasive, one always needs to guard against being manipulative. If we fail to LOVE OTHERS, or LOVE the TRUTH with our ideas, the whole point to our speaking is undermined: we’ll end up being nothing more than a noisy gong (that is an example of point 3 below).

In reading these kind of books I often forget the details. So I’ve whipped up an infographic to remind me. Below it is an explanation of each key point.

Image

Here are some quotes from the book to fill out the bare bones of the infographic above:

1. Sticky ideas are SIMPLE…

View original post 398 more words

In Psalm 8, David marvels at God’s kindness towards man:undefined

4    what is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him?
5     You made him little less than the gods   [or angels]
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6     You made him lord over the works of Your hands;
You put everything under his feet.

The writer to the Hebrews takes up this text in his argument about Jesus’ superiority over angels. He reads it Christologically, no doubt taking ‘son of man’ as a link to Jesus. Nothing unusual there.

But what he does with the text is interesting. Later theologians in the Nicaean tradition might have seen here the distinction between Jesus’ humanity and his divinity: in one respect he was lower than angels, but in another, he was crowned with glory and over all things. Man and God. The psalm does seem to read as a static comment on the nature of man, after all.

But our writer reads it in quite a different, indeed a revolutionary way. He quotes the LXX:

elattosas auton brachu ti par angelous

You made him a little lower than the angels

But he reads the adverbial phrase brachu ti  in a new way. While it is normally translated ‘a little bit”, here it seems to be read as ‘for a little while’. Elsewhere in the LXX, brachu ti  certainly is used to mean ‘for a little while’, translating as it does the Hebrew adjective me’at, which can also have a temporal sense. So the reading is technically justified, though it sits a little strangely in Psalm 8.

In other words, the writer introduces an element into the reading which we might not have thought of in reading Psalm 8: the element of time. By taking brachu ti temporally, the writer diverts the discussion right away from nature and into narrative. We are no longer reflecting on the static nature of mankind, and his relation to the world. Now we are following a story.

What story is that? The tale of a man who was for a time placed lower than the angels, but in the end crowned with glory and honour, with everything set under his feet. Shades here of that favourite psalm of the early Christians, Psalm 110, ‘sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.’

At present we do not see everything put under his feet. But we must introduce the element of time. As Psalm 110 puts it, ‘My Lord’ must wait for ‘the LORD’ to make his enemies his footstool. But meanwhile he is already sitting at the right hand of God. So here, though we don’t yet see all things under his feet, we do see Jesus going through the death of the cross, and then crowned with glory and honour. He is already raised, and glorified by his Father as Lord and Christ. So we can be confident that the rest is only  matter of time.

In taking the psalm’s description of man Christologically, the writer to the Hebrews has also temporally activated it. It becomes the story of ‘what has happened to the true man, Jesus’. What has happened is that he has sat down on the throne of God. This daring reading has been suggested, or perhaps necessitated, by the writer’s understanding of the gospel. For him to read the psalm Christologically means to give it this temporal dimension. His Christology is inherently narrative.

Why is this surprising to us? Because we live on the other side of Nicaea. This element of time and narrative is what is so sorely missed in the whole Nicaean tradition of Christology, with its insistence on static categories. What is there in that whole tradition that would ever push us to read Psalm 8 in this novel, dynamic way? Nicaea takes back out the time dimension that Hebrews put in.

For all that we value the achievements of Nicaea, it was a bit of a dead end, theologically. Fossilised our thinking, rather than propelling it forwards with the flow of the gospel.

Backwards holiness

Posted: May 3, 2013 by J in Bible, Mission, Pastoral issues, Theology

Growing up as a Christian, I was taught that holiness was about keeping separate from sin. It was symbolised in the OT by the laws on purity: touch something unclean and you yourself become unclean. So don’t touch – keep distance. So with holiness, it’s fragile, easily contaminated or tainted by the sinfulness of the world. It needs to be protected, kept at a safe distance from the wickedness and pollution all around us.

Naturally enough, as a young Christian I chose Christians as my friends. All my friends. They were clean. The non-Christians were a contaminating influence. Over the years, I found it helped if I limited my contact with non-christian people. Christian boss, church friends, etc. I’d be friendly to my neighbours, but not get too close. Separate. Holy.

Over the past few years I’ve been taking a long, hard look at Jesus, and I’ve been unsettled by what I’ve seen. He kept going near to sinners. He kept touching unclean people. Jesus was always getting in trouble for hanging with the lowlife. He didn’t seem to want to spend much time with the super-religious Pharisees. In the end, he finished his life hanging between two criminals. Whatever Jesus’ holiness was, it wasn’t about keeping separate.

But more than that, when Jesus touched the unclean ones, they became clean. His holiness was not fragile, it didn’t seem to need protection. Rather, it seems to have been aggressive, expansionist, infiltrating the lives of the people around him. It was sin and uncleanness that turned out to be fragile. Look at how the unclean spirits react when Jesus comes on the scene: terrified. Look at Jesus touching the leper (Luke 5). He doesn’t become unclean: the leper becomes clean.

Look at what happens when Jesus eats at Zacchaeus’s house (Luke 19). This little outcast tax-collector abandons his greed and corruption, and starts using his money for the poor! Jesus’ goodness invades and conquers this household.

We could go on multiplying examples.

Jesus’ holiness seems to be all backwards. Instead of being about withdrawal, separation, it’s about arrival, contact, expansion. Jesus explicitly subverts the Mosaic laws of cleanness. For his cleanness is something that comes near, it’s a missionary force, a transforming power that impacts the world around him. In the face of Jesus’ holiness, evil beats a hasty retreat.

So why is it that Jesus’ holiness is so different from ours? If we’re doing mission with Jesus, and he’s the leader, then why does he set this unhelpfully confusing example to us? It’s all very well for Jesus. But we disciples can’t go reaching out into the muck of this world, getting caught up in the middle of it all, making connections with the sinful people who live there, and expect to see transformation, and hope to stay pure in holiness ourselves.

Can we?

Or is it my view of holiness that’s backwards?

First have a read of this:

I am a Uniting Church minister who has married people in traditional man-woman marriages, where I have had the couple wanting to end the marriage 2 days later. I have gay friends who, some of them, have been in committed relationships for decades, who are as committed to one another as my wife and I are. And I have young gay friends who long for the opportunity to publicly confirm their commitment to one another in marriage.

Marriage has not always been between a man and a woman. Sometimes it has been between many women and a man. Sometimes it has been between many men and a woman. And for those who have a literal view of scripture among some of the popular faiths, there are plenty of examples of marriage that would be illegal in Australia today.

Regarding a referendum, I might just say too, that at some point, politicians are surely to lead, not to follow. It doesn’t matter if the whole population of Australia were to believe that slavery was a good thing. I would expect politicians to legislate for what is right, not what is popular.

Commenter
Andrew Prior
Location
Western Sydney
Date and time
April 30, 2013, 10:55AM
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I checked out Andrew Prior, he blogs, and yes he is what he says he is, a Uniting Church minister. A prominent one. A Christian minister who takes time out from his busy schedule to write to the Herald in favour of gay marriage.
The article he’s commenting on is by secular commentator Gerard Henderson. Henderson claims that ordinary people don’t want such a fundamental change to society imposed on them – government tampering with the meaning of marriage. He says the issue is so important, it deserves a plebiscite – let the people decide.
And our Christian minister, above, writes in to say, it doesn’t matter if people want gay marriage or not, they should have it forced on them because it’s right.
A rather extreme position, you might think! A little odd for a church leader?
I grew up in the Uniting Church, it is still dear to my heart. And it is dying.
I think it’s dying because since its creation in the 70s it has been infiltrated by people of minimal Christian faith, with radical social agendas. These people have not remained in the pews. They have captured the leadership. And they use the church platform to dignify and legitimate their own agendas.
The rank and file, who by and large do have Christian faith, are apparently powerless to prevent this – to prevent these people speaking in their name is if they represented their views. Speaking in Jesus’ name as if they represented his views.
In reality, the song sheet leaders such as Prior are singing from is straight out of the Greens Party. ‘Impose radical social experimentation on the masses – it’s good for them.’
Not all Uniting Church ministers are like this. But the extremists tend to be activist and gain a high profile. They determine the church’s public face.
Of course the question that arises is, can a church group maintain its existence under such leadership? Can it afford to have its energies diverted into these causes, which are apparently little connected to Christian faith or mission? It’s not as if future existence is guaranteed for any religious group. And Uniting Churches are closing down all over the place.
Jesus can look after himself. But I do feel for the poor helpless passengers on Uniting Church Airlines. They’re trusting their pilots, but it seems the plane’s been highjacked – who knows where it could end up? It very much looks like a nasty crash landing.