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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Value of Johannine Dualisms

I have recently been re-reading 1 John (and parts of John's Gospel). One of the things that always strikes me about Johannine literature is its dualism. Everything seems to fall into one of two categories: truth or falsity, light or darkness, love or hate, obedience or disobedience. Similarly people fall into these two categories: children of God and children of the devil, of God and of the Antichrist, those who walk in the light or those who walk in the darkness, and so on.

1 John in particular sets forth some stark oppositions. Here are just a few of them:

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth (1:6)

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked (2:3–6)

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (2:9–11)
And the book carries on in the same manner.

This can sound like our faith is either on or off, light or dark, pure or corrupt. And it can be very troubling because I imagine that almost all believers see their experience of faith as on something like a dimmer switch with varying degrees of light and dark and complexity. We might read 1 John as suggesting that if we see any darkness in us then the light is actually off.

I don't think that would be right. Before most of these challenging texts the letter has already made clear that all followers of Christ sin, that to deny our sin would be a lie, and that God has made provision in Christ to deal with our sin (1:8—2:2).

So what are those dualisms about? Well, I have never studied the book properly so I am not sure. Here is my best primitive guess:

What John is doing is setting forth the fundamental antipathy between light and dark, love and hate, obedience and disobedience, etc. It is not that any person exemplifies all of one or all of the other; every believer is an ever-shifting and complex mix of light and dark. However, to the extent that we are not loving a fellow Christ-follower (say) then to that extent we are not walking with God. John will not allow us to make excuses for ourselves.

Imagine a bottle that can either be filled with air or water. The value of the dualism is not in saying that the bottle is either full of water or full of air. Rather, the value is in pointing out that the air and the water cannot occupy the same space at the same time—they exclude each other. The extent to which you have air is the extent to which you lack water, and vice versa.

Looking at the dualisms in 1 John in this way may help put some of them in perspective and allowing them to function as they were intended—not as a means of making us insecure and depressed but as a challenge to draw closer to God and as a means of pulling the rug from under our excuses.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ian Paisley on Protestantism

True Protestantism is Bible Christianity, the Christianity of the Bible.
Protestantism is Christianity, the Christianity of Christ.
Protestantism is Christianity, the Christianity of the Apostles.
Protestantism is Christianity, the Christianity of the Early Church.
Protestantism is nothing less and nothing more than that Holy Religion revealed supernaturally to mankind in the pages of the Inspired Word and centered and circumscribed in the glorious adorable Person of the Incarnate Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ian Paisley, “Are We to Lose Our Protestant Heritage Forever.” August, 2004. Online: http://www.ianpaisley.org/article.asp?ArtKey=heritage.

This is a quotation I found in Joshua Searle's forthcoming book on apocalyptic and the Northern Ireland Troubles.

Wow! I am almost speechless. Every line of the quotation is simply wrong. On a positive "benefit of the doubt" interpretation one can happily concede that Protestantism aspired to conform its faith and practice to the teachings of the Bible — a noble aspiration indeed — so the words could be taken as aspirational.

But as a simple matter of brute fact the various versions of Protestantism are not to be identified with any of the things above, and emphatically not to be exclusively identified with them (to the exclusion of non-Protestant versions of Christianity).

I think that Jesus of Nazareth, the apostles, and believers in the early church would find many aspects of Protestantism in its many guises to be very alien to the "Christianities" they knew. And that's fine — the church develops over time. But to collapse the gap between then and now and to imagine that what we do is no different from what they did is simply self-deluded.

Steve Stockman, “The Belfast Beatitudes”

Cursed are the peacemakers
For they might compromise
Cursed are those who mourn
For they might apologise
Cursed are the poor in spirit
For they might confess and regret
And cursed are the merciful
For they might forgive and forget
And cursed are the meek
For they won’t ride their high horse
But blessed are the arrogant
For they will maintain this curse

I just found this in a book I am editing about the use of apocalyptic beliefs in the "troubles" in Northern Ireland. It's relevance extends far beyond the limited social context in which it was penned.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Friday, 7 March 2014

Shipping Forecast song—Lisa Knapp

This song is wonderful. If you know the British shipping forecast then it's a treat.

If you have no idea what all these weird words refer to then a map is below.



Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Wisdom from Simone Weil

We can . . . be almost certain that those whose love of God has caused the disappearance of the pure loves belonging to our life here below are no true friends of God. Our neighbor, our friends, religious ceremonies, and the beauty of the world do not fall to the level of unrealities after the soul has had direct contact with God. On the contrary, it is only then that these things become real. Previously they were half dreams.
Simone Weil, Waiting for God, p. 142

Wisdom from Thomas à Kempis

What good will it do you to be able to talk profoundly about the Trinity, if you be wanting in humility, and so displease the Trinity? It is certain that learned speeches do not make a man holy and just; it is a virtuous life that makes him dear to God. I would rather feel sorrow for my sins than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible by heart, and all that philosophers have said, what use would it all be to you without the love of God and grace?
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ 1.3

Friday, 21 February 2014

The problem with analogies for the Trinity

This is a fabulous video on the problem of taking analogies for the Trinity too seriously. It's funny and it's right.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Idealism—it's a no-brainer

I am not a philosophical idealist, by which I mean that I do not believe that the only reality is mind/consciousness. But if the only alternative to idealism was materialism (the view that nothing exists but matter) then idealism wins hands down. It's a no-brainer! (Excuse the pun.)

After all, doubting the reality of consciousness is as close to impossible as anything gets. Of course, there are hard-core materialists that try very hard to do precisely this, but don't hold your breath! Success is as far from them as it ever has been and as far as it ever will be. Doubting the reality of matter, however, is a different kettle of fish. That is indeed possible. After all, we only have access to it via the mediation of consciousness.

Idealism can be imagined to be true (even if it is false) but while I suppose that one can possibly make sense of the claim "materialism is a possible state of affairs in an alternative universe," I am at a loss to understand how anyone can even imagine that believing "materialism is the truth about our world" is even possible. The very imagining of its truth is inexplicable in purely materialist terms and so if one can imagine that the proposition is true then the proposition must be false. Or so it seems to me.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Mini-rant on foreign aid budgets

The UK is currently experiencing some pretty bad weather. We have just had the wettest January on record and February seems no better. Consequently there is a lot of flooding, including in my own city of Worcester.

As usually happens in these times of relative hardship loud cries go up from the public complaining about the government's foreign aid budget. Why are we giving away all our hard earned money to foreigners when our own people are suffering? After all, these corrupt foreigners only spend it on weapons and space programs! We need to claw back that money and let charity begin at home!

There is currently a swell of public opinion in the UK that shares such sentiments.

I do NOT like it.

The UK is due to reach the giddy heights of generosity this year of giving away 0.7% of our GNP in overseas aid. It is a lot of money but as a percentage of the whole it is tiny. We spend almost all of our tax money on ourselves. And this is as it should be. Governments have a duty first to their own citizens. Maybe charity does begin at home, but even if it does it already has!

What frustrates me is that there are all sorts of budgets from which money could be diverted to help people whose houses and businesses are flooded. Why is it that the immediate reaction is always to stop the tiny bit that we give to help others?

I think that it is a good thing for a nation to seek to help others that are less well off. I think it is a virtuous thing. I think that it is a deeply human thing. That is the kind of nation I think Britain, or any nation, should aspire to be. To divert foreign aid money to flood victims instead of diverting money already allocated for UK spending would, I think, be a wrong move. Yes, times are hard and money is tight but when we only see our own problems and cannot see those of others we are in danger of gaining the world but losing our souls.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Brief thought on the problems of intelligent design

I have been asked why I think that ID is problematic. It's a good question so here are my brief and inadequate thoughts on why I find it unhelpful.

The problem with it is its tendency to look for God in the gaps of scientific explanations. Irreducible complexity is seen as evidence of God because science cannot (in principle, we are told) explain it. If future science did actually explain any alleged instances of irreducible complexity then such instances would cease to be evidence of God.

The problem here is that God is pictured as one being among others (albeit a more intelligent and powerful one) acting as a cause in the world in the same manner as other causes act in the world.

The reason that this is a problem is that classical theology did not picture God in this manner — as a being, as one cause among and alongside others. Rather divine Being was of a fundamentally different kind from creaturely being and divine causation acted at a different level altogether. God was the one who imparted be-ing to the whole of created reality and who enabled all of the powers of causation within creation to be. So God was the explanation for the whole but was not to be found in the gaps.

The explanations of the empirical sciences function at the level of secondary causation within the created order and pay no attention to metaphysical questions of primary causation. As such, God does not feature in scientific explanations. This is unproblematic so long as scientists don't imagine that reality can be encompassed within the realm of what science can explain — that road ends up collapsing in on itself. Treating some things in the world (but not others) as the result of God rather than of inner-creational causes is to mix up these different levels of explanation. Setting divine and creational causes up in opposition as some kind of zero sum game is unhelpful.

Furthermore, the MOST that ID could ever demonstrate is that certain things in the world (but not the the world as a whole) were designed by a very intelligent (though not omni-intelligent) and powerful (though not all-powerful) being. But such a being is more like an archangel than God and of such a being we may still ask, "Who designed it?" for it would certainly not be the kind of thing that could explain its own existence. This intelligent designer would be as infinitely removed from God as a flea.

I am not for one moment suggesting that those who believe in God will not look at complex systems within creation that ID proponents look at and marvel at how they manifest God's goodness and power — after all, such complex systems live and move and have their being in God, manifesting the Divine Logos — but that is a very different issue from seeking to find them as evidence of direct divine intervention. There be dragons!

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Watts the hell are you talking about!

Just found this Isaac Watts hymn quoted in a book:

What bliss will fill the ransomed souls
When they in glory dwell
To see the sinner as he rolls
In quenchless flames of hell.

This is one of the nastier sides of the traditional view of hell. I hope I don't really need to explain why.

Hart to Heart: a rocking book!

I am reading David Bentley Hart's latest offering, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Yale, 2013). I came across it in a review in The Guardian newspaper written by someone sympathetic to atheism. This guy was raving about the book and described it as the one book every atheist should read. I am well into it now and I can see why he thought it was so good.

In essence all that the book seeks to do is to offer some generic clarification for the word "God." This is not a work in specifically Christian theology but it draws deeply on the classical Christian tradition.

The reason for the need for clarification is that much of the contemporary "God debate" begins with an assumption that we all know what we mean by "God" and so we can get on with the business of showing whether God does or does not exist. However, it is pretty clear from the arguments of the New Atheists that what they are arguing against is not God but a god; not Being Itself but a being, albeit a supreme being. And it is not simply them. The Intelligent Design movement also operates with a reduced notion of the divine as one causal agent operating in the world alongside others, i.e., a god, not God.

Not only does Hart beautifully spell out the classical notion of God but in so doing dissolves most of the so-called arguments against God and exposes the incoherence of naturalism.

Highly recommended.

Friday, 31 January 2014

So heavenly-minded that you are no earthly use?

Here is C. S. Lewis, that wise old bird of Christian Platonism:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither
Mere Christianity, 116–17.
Quite so!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Rambling Thoughts on Joshua and Biblical Inspiration

I have just been reading a very good book on different delineations of the Promised Land in different biblical texts — All the Boundaries of the Land by Nili Wazana (Eisenbrauns, 2013). Anyway, this morning I was reading about the allocation of tribal allotments in the second half of Joshua. The book argued pretty convincingly that the tribal allotments were put together from diverse sources and synthesized into a new literary whole. Some of these originals were likely boundary lists drawn up by rulers for the purposes of taxation. In their new location they serve a different function.

This raises a question that could be raised in many ways from many different texts, namely, what are the implications of this for the doctrine of Scripture?

The synagogue and the church have historically considered the book of Joshua to be part of inspired Scripture. But, of course, this does not require us to believe that God dictated it nor that it did not have a complex pre-history. Many biblical books may have rather complicated journeys towards the final form that we know today. And it is the canonical form that is regarded as Scripture, not previous versions of it nor the sources that may have been used to write it.

Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, a boundary list used by a king for taxation was reused in the book of Joshua as part of the tribal allotments. Was that taxation document inspired by God? Was it inerrant? Was it Scripture? The answer is no to all three questions. But then it is picked up and reused by the author of Joshua. The text was adopted, adapted, and reappropriated by the author of Joshua for his own purposes. His new use of it confers a new meaning and status on it.

But even the author of Joshua was not intentionally writing Scripture (Joshua was not considered "Scripture" until quite some while after it was written) and quite likely was not conscious of being "inspired" in the way that a biblical prophet such as Ezekiel may have been. However, Israel and subsequently the church came to recognize the hand of God in the composition of this text and to see it as a site of ongoing divine encounter between God and his people. This recognition was not understood as conferring inspiration on the text but as recognizing it retrospectively in light of the experience of the community with the text over sustained periods of time.

What is recognized by the church and synagogue? That the new text is in some way inspired by God? Yes, though I stress "in some way" because inspiration worked in very different ways for a text like Proverbs, say, than it did for a text like Revelation. In some ways to speak of Joshua as "inspired" is to use an analogy drawn from prophetic and apocalyptic literature and to stretch it into a new shape.

It may also be helpful to think of God's relation to Joshua in the way that the author of Joshua used the king's taxation document. Through the medium of the community of God, God picks up Joshua, adopts it and reappropriates it by adapting it (by means of placing it in new interpretative contexts within the canon and within the life of the community). The synagogue and the church do not consider Joshua as Holy Scripture on its own, in isolation from the rest of the Bible. It is Scripture only when read in the context of the canon and in the context of the community of God. Likewise, it is authoritative only when engaged with in such contexts. It is not a stand-alone authoritative text! Removed from the right reading contexts it is not Scripture at all, even if we think that God was at work behind the scenes in its composition.

This is a rambling thought and I'll shut up and get back to work.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Great blog post on atheism's straw-man version of God

Here is a VERY good blog post by Oliver Burkeman at The Guardian on David Bentley Hart's new book — The Experience of God (Yale University Press, 2013). Burkeman writes as one sympathetic to atheism but who thinks that most atheist attacks on God are attacks on a straw-man version of God rather than the God that informed believers have believed in. He recommends Hart's book as an antidote. If atheists wish to attack belief in God then this is the issue they need to grapple with. Absolutely. This is very wise comment. I too am fed up with people claiming that belief in God is dumb and then it turns out that what they mean by belief in God is not what I mean. When someone now tells me that they do not believe in God my first instinct is to ask "what exactly is it that you think you don't believe in?" I no longer take it for granted that we are speaking about the same topic.

I won't repeat the content of this blog post — it can speak for itself.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Something new I learned about the Lord's Prayer

At ETS I was chatting with Jonathan Pennington about the Lord's prayer. He pointed out something fairly obvious when you look at the text in Greek (which I had not bothered to do until after the conversation) but that I had never noticed.

I had always encountered the prayer in traditional renderings with traditional patterns of speaking it. According to those patterns the prayer opens with two thoughts

1. Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name

2. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

I always took "on earth as it is in heaven" to qualify both "your kingdom come" and "your will be done." However, the revelation for dim-old-me was that it also qualifies "hallowed be your name."

The prayer is three requests that all run in parallel

Your name be hallowed [on earth as it is in heaven]

Your Kingdom come [on earth as it is in heaven]

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven

I had missed this insight because:

(a) the traditional English translations obscure the parallelism by having a different word order in the first request from the second and third. (In Greek all three are parallel.)

(b) the rhythm of the traditional English performance of the Lord's prayer makes a clear distinction between the first request and the next two. (Just say it to yourself and you'll see what I mean.)

I thought that this was quite interesting.

It is also always worth reminding ourselves that "hallowed be your name" is a request that God cause his name to be hallowed and not, as I saw on one recent attempt to put the prayer in contemporary language, the equivalent of "Praise your name!"

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Deep Church Rising cover

Very excited! Andrew Walker and I now have a cover for our forthcoming book Deep Church Rising. (We also have a title. It was previously called various different things, including Deep Church and the Recovery of Christian Orthodoxy.)

Hope you like it. We love it.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Podcast interview with Robin Parry about demons and exorcism

Here is Randal Rauser's podcast interview with a very confused man (myself) on the demonic.

It is about this book: