About Me

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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).

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Counterfactual Theological Conversations

Here is a fun game (and not a pointless one - honest).

Imagine two great thinkers from different periods of time or different locations in the world. People who never met who may not know of each other (though one may know about the other). Then imagine how their conversation might go were they both to be whisked out of their time-stream for a few hours to have a discussion about interesting issues. How might those conversations go? How might it change the thinking of each thinker?

So who would you like to meet up? The possibilities are limitless. Let's throw in some theological people into the mix

- Wittgenstein and Augustine
- Aquinas and Kant
- St Paul and Simone Weil
- the author of John's gospel and Umberto Eco
- Irenaeus and Paul Ricoeur

Or imagine one person such as St Paul and think up a whole load of people that they could have fascinating conversations with

- Jeremiah
- John Chrysostom
- Muhammad
- Luther (I'd love to hear that one!)
- Julian of Norwich
- Karl Marx
- Charles Darwin
- Sigmund Freud

Clearly one can only make a plausible guess at how the conversations might go if one was immersed in the thought of both thinkers. And even then it is only our imaginative guess at how the conversation might go. I can imagine different experts seeing the conversation very differently (who gets the write the Paul and Luther discussion?).

So why bother?

I guess that there are many benefits to such counterfactual theological discussions not least of which is that you have the privilage of immersing yourself in the thinking of interesting, historically situated persons.

Here is another: I think that is good training for our own theological reflection. We do not seek to simply copy those who have gone before us. This locks us up in the past and makes us unable to engage fruitfully with our own context. We seek to learn from past masters but to bring their ideas into dialogue with others that they may never have known about. We are, in effect, asking how X might have responded to such ideas if s/he had been given the opportunity. We are wondering if the intellectual resources of one thinker might prove unexpectedly fruitful when cross-fertilised with another thinker. When you enter into a dialogue you never quite know what is going to come out of it.

Which leads to me another reason for doing this. It is extraordinarily hard to have a good stab at imagining such a discussion but I think that it could be really good fun.

So who would you like to have meet up and discuss ideas? Why?

Monday, 20 October 2008

India (Orissa) update - shocking anti-Christian violence continues

The following is a report sent on 15th Oct 2008 from some Christians working in Orissa

"We have never seen anything like this. We knew that Orissa was the most resistant and hostile State in India as far as the Gospel is concerned. And we brushed off the continuous threats and harassment we faced as we went about His work. But none of our staff imagined that they would see this kind of carnage.... And it seems to be totally under the radar of the Western Media ....

Let me explain.... A militant Hindu priest and 4 of his attendants, who were zealously going around the villages of Orissa and 'reconverting' people back to Hinduism, were gunned down by unknown assailants in Central Orissa last weekend. Immediately the Christians were blamed.. The cry rose up...'Kill the Christians!' And the horror began....

In the past 4 days, we have first hand witness to hundreds of churches being blown up or burned and many, many dozens of Christian tribals have been slaughtered. For no other reason than they bear the name of Christ. Night and day I have been in touch with our Good News India Directors spread across 14 Dream Centers in Orissa... they are right in the middle of all this chaos. In Tihidi, just after the police came to offer protection, a group of 70 bloodthirsty militants came to kill our staff and destroy the home. They were not allowed to get in, but they did a lot of damage to our Dream Center by throwing rocks and bricks and smashing our gate, etc. They have promised to come back and 'finish the job.' Our kids and staff are locked inside and have stayed that way with doors and windows shut for the past 3 days. It has been a time of desperately calling on the Lord in prayer. More police have come to offer protection.

In Kalahandi, the police and some local sympathizers got to our dream center and gave our staff and kids about 3 minutes notice to vacate. No one had time to even grab a change of clothes or any personal belonging. As they fled, the bloodthirsty mob came to kill everyone in the building. We would have had a mass funeral there, but for His grace. In Phulbani, the mob came looking for Christian homes and missions. The local Hindu people, our neighbors turned them away by saying that there were no Christians in this area. So they left.. We had favor.

The same thing happened in Balasore. All our dream centers are under lock down with the kids and staff huddled inside and police outside. The fanatics are circling outside waiting for a chance to kill.

Others were not so fortunate. In a nearby Catholic orphanage, the mob allowed the kids to leave and locked up a Priest and a computer teacher in the house and burned them to death. Many believers have been killed and hacked into pieces and left on the road.... even women and children. At another orphanage run by another organization, when this began, the Director and his wife jumped on their motorbike and simply fled, leaving all the children and staff behind. Every one of our GNI directors that I have spoken to said: 'We stay with our kids.... we live together or die together, but we will never abandon what God has called us to do.'

More than 5000 Christian families have had their homes burned or destroyed. They have fled into the jungles and are living in great fear waiting for the authorities to bring about peace. But so far, no peace is foreseen. This will continue for another 10 days.... supposedly the 14 day mourning period for the slain Hindu priest. Many more Christians will die and their houses destroyed. Many more churches will be smashed down. The Federal government is trying to restore order and perhaps things will calm down.

We ask for your prayers. Only the Hand of God can calm this storm. None of us know the meaning of persecution. But now our kids and staff know what that means. So many of our kids coming from Hindu backgrounds are confused and totally bewildered at what is happening around them. So many of their guardians have fled into the jungles and are unable to come and get them during these trying times.

Through all this, I am more determined than ever to continue with our goal: the transformation of a community by transforming its children. Orissa will be saved... that is our heart's cry. If we can take these thousands of throw-away children and help them to become disciples of Jesus, they will transform an entire region. It is a long term goal, but it is strategic thinking in terms of the Great Commission. What can you do?

First, please uphold all this in fervent prayer.

Second, we must get the word out and increase our prayer base for this is spiritual warfare at its most basic meaning. We are literally fighting the devil in order to live for His Kingdom. The next 10 days are crucial. We pray for peace and calm to pervade across Orissa. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please pass it on and help us to get as many people to partner with us on this cutting edge effort to fulfill His mandate: Go and make disciples of all nations.... Prayer works!"

Friday, 17 October 2008

Hell found by Geologists in Siberia

Here is a news item I read a few years back in a Christian evangelistic newspaper (which shall remain nameless). It has, I gather, done its tour of the Christian world (the following version is from a different Christian source).
Geologists drilling 9 mile hole hear the screams of lost souls in Hell
The shrieks of condemned souls have been heard coming from the world's deepest hole, where terrified researchers fear they've unleashed the evil forces of hell upon the earth. "The information we're collecting is so astounding that quite frankly, we're afraid of what we might find down there," declares Dr. Viktor Azzakov, director of the project to drill a 9-mile-deep hole in remote Siberia. Geologists were dumbfounded when, after drilling several miles into the bedrock, the drill bit began to spin wildly.
"The only explanation is that the very center of the earth is hollow," states amazed Dr. Azzakov. Another surprise was the extreme heat detected in the depths of the earth. "Our calculations indicate temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit," notes Dr. Azzakov. "This is 10 times higher than we expected. It almost seems as if a fiery inferno is raging within the earth's core."
The latest discovery, however, is so earth-shattering that scientists are afraid to continue with the project. In an attempt to listen to the shifting of the earth's different levels, a high-sensitivity microphone was extended into the shaft. What they heard turned the logical-minded Russian scientists into trembling wrecks! "There was a faint high-pitched noise, which we thought was our equipment," explains Dr. Azzakov. "But after we made some adjustments, we realised it was indeed coming from the earth's center. We could hardly believe our ears. What we were listening to was the unmistakable sound of a human voice, screaming in pain." "Although one voice was prominent, we could also make out, as if in the background, the screams of thousands, perhaps millions of tormented souls." Since the ghastly discovery, half the scientists have resigned in fear. "Hopefully, whatever's down there will stay down there," adds Dr. Azzakov
The evangelistic newspaper was absolutely serious in claiming that these scientists had got close to drilling a hole into Hell. I can imagine the readers trembling in fear and asking, "What must we do to be saved ... from these idiots?" So I though I would offer a theological reflection on the story. Here is my theological reflection:
What a load of crap!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Not "Where is Jesus?" but "When is Jesus?" (the problem of the location of the post-ascension body of Jesus)

OK - I am going to throw out a crazy idea to see what you think of it. It is very 'raw' and unrefined (in fact the only reflection I have done on it is what is happening as I type! Reckless, eh?). It is quite likely stupid. Still - I'd value your thoughts.

Christians affirm that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. As part of being fully human Jesus had and retains a human body. Jesus was raised bodily from the grave and remains forever incarnate; forever man-for-God on our behalf. After the resurrection Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father where he now resides. OK, so far so orthodox.

Here is the problem (and it is a well known one): If Jesus retains a human body that (presumably) occupies physical space then Jesus must still be occupying physical space. So where is he? Would we discover Jesus in heaven if we flew up far enough in a space rocket in the right direction for?

Most of us feel that it is very misguided to seek to hunt out where in our universe Jesus's body is currently located. We think that it is not currently anywhere in our physical universe. But if Jesus has a physical body, as Christians claim, then one suspects (though I am open to correction) that it must occupy space. So where is it?

Here is my crazy idea:
What if, instead of asking where Jesus went to after the ascension, we ask when Jesus went to.

What if God the Father relocated Jesus to the eschatological future. The body of Jesus would then be located in the past and in the future but not in the present. Thus Jesus' body would occupy space but not, from our perspective, currently. For now let us suppose that moving Jesus to the future is metaphysically do-able.

Well that solves one problem but it creates some others

(1) The NT speaks of the current reign of Christ from heaven 'until' the end of the age which implies that Jesus' reign in heaven is happening in the present and not in the future .

1. This is a major problem for my suggestion and is probably enough to kill it. But perhaps not ...

2. One may - with a bit of imagination - construe the 'present' work of Christ in heaven as work that (from our perspective) he will do in the future renewed creation on behalf of what is, from his perspective, the past. So his intercessions to the Father for us are, from our perspective, yet to happen. Nevertheless - the prayers that Christ will pray for us are the prayers that inspire the Father to answer those prayers in our present. So God answers Christ's prayers before he prays them but only because Christ will pray them. I think that an intelligible account of this suggestion can be given. However, I must confess that finding it a little cumbersome.

3. Perhaps the future reign of Christ is a present reality for us through the mediation of the eschatological Spirit. So we can still speak of Christ as ruling now and being exalted now. The basis of that rule and exaltation (the life, death and resurrection of Jesus) is indeed past and its final fulfilment is guaranteed. The Spirit makes that rule break into our present experience.

(2) Does my suggestion commit us to the view that Jesus does not currently exist and, if so, what are the implications of that?

1. Classical Christian theology maintains an a-temporal view of divine existence and so God can be thought to exist without having to exist in the past, present or future. God, on the classical view, is not 'in' time at all. He exists timelessly. Now the divine Logos (God the Son), in classical theology, also exists timelessly and relates to past, present and future in the same way. The Son is as 'present' right now as he is at any other point in time. Of course, the Logos is incarnate in time and so on this suggestion he does not in a literal sense currently exist in that form. However, we must qualify this bold statement as follows: there is no discontinuity in the incarnate life of Jesus. It is not that Jesus - the Logos incarnate - existed, then ceased to exist, but will some day exist again. No. From Jesus' perspective there is no discontinuity at all. He was incarnate in our past and was transported instantaneously to our future but his existence was not disrupted in the process. The Logos-incarnate was not dis-incarnate for a time.

2. Christians are used to the idea that Jesus is not currently on earth and yet can still be present on earth through the mediation of the Holy Spirit. The same could apply with my suggestion. Jesus' eschatological presence can be mediated to the church in the present through the work of the Spirit. The Spirit enables us to taste the coming reign of Christ right now.

Do I think I am right? No, but the idea is worth thinking about. Cor - doing theology on the hoof is flipping risky so please don't burn me! Just kindly correct me.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Hell with an Exit? Theological Reflections on the book of Lamentations and Hell

The world-shaking nature of the fall of Jerusalem is clear in the application of the “Day of the LORD” motif in the book of Lamentations. The coming Day of Yhwh was quite likely originally understood as doom for the nations and blessing for Israel but the prophet Amos reversed that perception:

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD!
Why would you have the day of the LORD?
It is darkness and not light (Amos 5:18)
Amos, and later prophets, saw it as a ‘day’ for the destruction of evil not only amongst the nations but also in Israel. Lamentations too sees it as a ‘day’ of fierce judgment (1:12; 2:1; 2:21-22). The battle motif is prominent in “Day of Yhwh” texts as Lamentations 2 illustrates. The invincible Yhwh fights against his people and none can stop him.

Unusual in Lamentations is the designation of the Day of Yhwh as past (cf., Isa 22:1-4; Jer 46:3-12). Clearly then it was not seen as the end of history but as a time when God acts openly to bring judgment in history. Thus it can recur in different periods of time. Indeed, Lamentations contains prayer for, and an expectation that, the nations who oppress Israel shall taste that ‘Day’ for themselves in the near future (1:21-22; 4:21-22). So the Day of Yhwh is not, in Old Testament theology, a single one-off judgment at the end of the world.
  • Lamentations looking back to Day of LORD for Judah
  • Lamentations looking forward to Day of LORD for Enemies

The New Testament takes up the motif of “the Day of the Lord” and applies it to the parousia of Christ. This is the ultimate Day of the LORD that all the previous Days of the LORD had pointed towards. Whilst Lamentations is emphatically not about the end of the present evil age it can be re-approapriated as a type of the final Day of the Lord. God’s judgment on Jerusalem is a picture of God’s final judgment on a fallen world. Here it has to be emphasized that the New Testament and the Christian tradition have been just as insistent as the Old Testament that God will act in space-time history to punish sin whether it be that of Israel and Rome at, from the perspective of New Testament authors, some point in the not too distant future, or the world more generally on the final Day of Judgment.

The message of Jeremiah in the first part of his ministry was equivalent to the Christian call, “Be reconciled to God … Behold, now is the favorable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:20b; 6:2b). But the “day of salvation” was not held open forever and Jeremiah records how Judah passed beyond the point of no return making the day of wrath inevitable. Lamentations provides a portrait of the aftermath of the Day of the LORD for those subject to punishment. As such it serves as a type of what Christians call ‘Hell’. The actual ‘second death’ will be the eschatological climax of divine judgments in history and hence not identical with them. Nevertheless, Hell is not utterly discontinuous with historical divine judgments. Judah suffers ‘Hell’ in exile and Jesus suffers Hell on the cross.

Calvin (and the subsequent Reformed tradition), instead of interpreting the descent of Christ into Hell as an event that occurs after the crucifixion, sees it as a theological comment on the nature of the crucifixion. On the cross Jesus suffers the second death. So the creed states that Christ was “crucified” indicating his outward suffering in the sight of men. It also says that he “descended into hell” which describes “that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God.” The theology of descent into hell is, for Calvin, grounded in the cry of dereliction. Christ’s dreadful feeling of being God-forsaken and God’s silence in the face of Jesus’ cries is nothing less than the experience of Hell. The doctrine of the descensus ad inferna is a powerful interpretative tool for understanding the wrath of God experienced by Jesus on the cross and its biblical foundation is found in the Passion narratives as much as in the ‘standard’ texts (Acts 2:27; Rom 10:6-7; Eph 4:8-9; 1 Pet 3:18-20; 4:6).

In the tradition of Calvin, Barth writes that Christ

“must suffer the sin of many to be laid upon him …, in order that he may bear it away … out into the darkness, the nothingness from which it came and to which it alone belongs … For this, in our flesh, according to his human nature, as the Son of David, He must be the Rejected. He must be delivered up by His people to the heathen, descending into hell, where He can only cry: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”

Christ’s experience of Hell, however, whilst incorporating Jesus’ experiences on Calvary, also includes the apparent triumph of death itself and consequently takes in Easter Saturday. Here Balthasar is more helpful than Calvin and Barth. For Balthasar Easter Saturday is about Jesus’ solidarity with the dead: his passive “being with the dead”. If Christ’s actually being dead is not included in his ‘descent into hell’ then he has not experienced the full reaches of God-forsakenness.

“If Jesus has suffered on the cross the sin of the world to the very last truth of this sin – godforsakenness – then he must also experience, in solidarity with sinners who have gone into the underworld, their – ultimately hopeless – separation from God, otherwise he would not have known all the phases and conditions of what it means for man to be unredeemed yet awaiting redemption.”

In the spirit of “providing christological answers to eschatological questions” (Moltmann) one has to ask how a theology of ‘Hell’ can be developed that is consistent with these insights. Whilst much contemporary theology has little interest in the theology of Hell it seems to me that it is a fundamental strand within New Testament and historic Christian theology and simply cannot be jettisoned. Can Lamentations, read through the cross, contribute to our contemporary Christian reflections on the ‘Hell’ that many people suffer around us and the final reality of Hell that we believe is still future? Perhaps the following thoughts inspired by Lamentations might have the potential for development.

1. The fact that Lamentations focuses on the suffering of those in ‘Hell’ rather than their sin (though the sin is certainly clearly asserted) and seeks to elicit compassion for them suggests an appropriate Christian attitude towards those who suffer ‘Hell’ both now and in the eschaton. The classical Christian theology according to which the redeemed saints in heaven look on the torments of the damned and joyfully worship God for his perfect justice is simply inappropriate. God himself does not delight in afflicting people even if he is acting justly (Lam 3:33). Lamentations calls not for gloating or celebration but compassion for the ‘damned’.

2. It is not inappropriate to voice our honest feelings to God about the torments of ‘Hell’ and to ask God to deliver people from their ‘Hells’.

3. Does the nature of God, as revealed in Lamentations 3, hold out hope for all who experience the Day of Yhwh?

“For the LORD will not cast off forever, but, though he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lam 3:31-32).

Does the message of comfort and restoration given in Isaiah 40–55 in reply to Lamentations’ cry of pain, have hopeful implications for those who taste ‘Hell’ both now and perhaps even in the ‘Lake of Fire’? Might Hell have an exit? Does the resurrection of Christ from death indicate that the human predicament cannot ever pass to a point beyond the redemptive reach of God? Where sin abounds might grace abound all the more?

These reflections are offered tentatively in hope and humility.