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).

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Paul Helm on the benefits of consumer religion

As one would expect - here is a really thought provoking post from Professor Paul Helm on the benefits of consumer religion. It is called "Hip! Hip! Hooray! Hip! Hip! Hooray!" Two Cheers for Consumer Religion.

I love Paul's stuff! He writes with such beautiful clarity and is always sure to stir up a neuron or ten.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Why is there such little Christian sf?

Christians have written fiction in all sorts of genres (e.g., childrens literature, Romance, historical fiction, fantasy literature). But not much crime fiction (Crime and Punishment does not count), not many thrillers, and even less science fiction.

So why the lack of Christian sf? We do have some. C.S. Lewis wrote a kind of sf trilogy but it was not your typical sf (deliberately so) and I am not sure how much it counts. Stephen Lawhead wrote two Empyrion books and Dream Thief which are proper sf. We have a postmillennial trilogy by [gone blank on name] but not much else.

The best known religious sf writer is the Mormon Orson Scott Card but Mormonism is like an sf religion of its own so is perhaps more conducive to that kind of thing.

Why if sf a mostly Christian-free-zone?

1. Is it because Christian beliefs about the return of Christ make imagining far futures which do not feature Jesus suspect? (Of course, you can do near-future sf like La Haye and Jenkins' Left Behind series.)

2. Is it because imagining alternative worlds to the one that God chose to actualize is considered ... suspect? Playing God?

3. Is it a problem with imagining intelligent life on other planets? Would this dethrone humanity from the place that God has given it?

Is good science fiction written from a Christian worldview possible? (I hope so because I do love good sf)

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Divine love, human worth and Nicholas Wolterstorff

I spent Thursday and Friday last week at a conference in Oxford based around Nicholas Wolterstorff's new book Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton University Press, 2008). It was excellent and I got to spend my 40th birthday having a chat with NW about the musings below.

I have not read the book but my understanding is that NW argues that
* justice should be understood in terms of rights.
* some rights are conferred upon humans whilst others - inherent rights - are not.
* Inherent rights inhere in a certain 'worth' of a person.
* Human worth is grounded in the worth-bestowing love of God for humans. This means that even a human that lacks capacities that we value (e.g., a person in a coma, a person with alzheimer's) still has worth because their worth is ultimately grounded (in part) in God's love for them and not in their capacities.

This got me thinking.

Does God love me because I have worth?
Do I have worth because God loves me?

The problem with the first view is that it grounds my worth in certain features about me (perhaps rationality, my capacity to act in certain ways, etc). But if I lack those capacities then I lack worth and, on NW's account, lack rights. This lays some humans open to abuse.

The problem with the second view is that it seems to make God's love arbitrary. In part God sets his love upon humans irrespective of any worth that they possess. It is his love which confers worth upon them. But he could just as easily have set his love upon jellyfish or mushrooms. This seems wrong.

Does God's love confer worth upon us (so NW) or does God love us because he recognizes our worth?

I (tentatively) think (contra NW) that our worth is grounded in certain features about us as humans (NW does grant that some of our worth is grounded in such things).

But does this not fall prey to NW's concern that humans who lack those capacities lack worth and so lack rights? Well, it does in a secular framework but not in a Christian framework. Here is why - God has committed to bring creation to resurrection (obviously in cooperation with creaturely freedom). So whilst there are certain humans who might currently lack the qualities that give them worth God has committed to bring it about that they will, one day, possess such qualities.

So perhaps a human has value (and thus rights) partly because of certain properities that they currently possess and partly because of certain properties that they will, in the grace of God, possess. God's love then is not that which confers worth but that which brings it about that a creature has worth.

But that does not seem quite right either. Surely God glorifies/resurrects humans because he loves us. His love does not follow our having the properties that give us worth. He loves us even though we are not yet what we will be. So he loves the unlovely and we are back with the problem of his love being arbitrary.

Or are we?

Perhaps my worth now is grounded on the property that I possess now of being the kind of creature (i.e., a human) that God has created to share in his glory. I currently possess the potential for glory simply by virtue of being a creature of a certain kind. And I am such a kind of creature now even if I lack many or perhaps all the worth-bestowing properties that a perfect human would have.

So perhaps God creates humans to share in his glory. This capacity and potential confers worth on humans (and thus some basic rights) and makes them appropriate objects of non-arbitrary divine love. God's love does not bestow-worth on humans but recognizes the worth that is there by virtue of creation and its telos. God's love also perfects humans and enables us to realize our potential.

This is a very fuzzy, inarticulate idea that needs a lot of ironing out. But I think that it avoids the problems that NW is seeking to avoid with attempts to ground human worth in properties that we possess.

And yet ... I think it still needs modifying to factor in the graceful, undeserved quality of God's love.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A troubling argument about genocide

Here is an troubling dilemma (formulated by Randal Rauser) that relates to some troublesome texts in the OT

(1) God is the most perfect being there could be.
(2) Yahweh is God.
(3) Yahweh ordered people to commit genocide.

(4) Properly functioning, moral adults have another powerful intuition that genocide is always a moral atrocity.

In addition, it seems very plausible that

(5) A perfect being would not order people to commit a moral atrocity.
(6) Therefore, a perfect being would not order people to commit genocide. (4,5)
(7) Therefore, Yahweh did not order people to commit genocide. (1,2,6)

So - how do we reply to this one?

Saturday, 16 May 2009

'Great' arguments against God's existence

A list of top logical arguments against the existence of God. Use these in internet debate and you'll win every time...

- Argument from comparison
1. The idea of God shares many of the qualities of the existence of Santa
2. Santa Claus doesn't exist
3. Therefore, God doesn't exist

- Argument from ridicule
1. Theism is stupid
2. Therefore, God does not exist

- Argument from objective morality
1. Objective morality doesn't exist
2. God performed objectively morally repugnant acts
3. This makes God a disgusting monster
3. Therefore, God doesn't exist

- Argument from philosophical preference
1. The universe gives the impression of design
2. Design is not necessary because evolution has happened
3. Since design is not necessary, a designer is not necessary
4. Therefore, God does not exist

- Argument from comparison (2)
1. The Jesus Story exhibits many of the attributes of other ancient stories
2. Therefore, Jesus didn't exist and neither does God

- Argument from outrage
1. God did abominable things in the Old Testament
2. Therefore, God does not exist

- Argument from intellectual superiority
1. Atheists are smarter than theists
2. Therefore, God does not exist

- Argument from misunderstanding
1. The ontological argument is hard to understand
2. Therefore, God doesn't exist

- Argument from hand waving
1. Theology is so stupid its not worth debating
2. Therefore, God does not exist.

- Argument from a priori ruling
1. Theists can only use logical fallacies
2. The argument from contingency is a logical argument
3. But theists can only use logical fallacies
4. Therefore, the argument from contingency is a logical fallacy
5. And God doesn't exist

Argument from lack of proof
1. There are no proofs of God's existence
2. The ontological argument is a proof of God's existence
3. But the ontological argument is stupid
4. So there are no proofs of God's existence
5. Therefore, God does not exist

- Argument from narrow evidentialism
1. God cannot be measured using the scientific method
2. We should not believe anything which cannot be proven by the scientific method
3. Therefore, God does not exist

- Argument from burden of proof
1. There is no hell
2. There is no God
3. Theology is stupid
4. The scientific method is the only way of knowing things
5. Atheism is the most sensible position
6. Therefore, the atheist does not need to provide any evidence for anything...ever.

Argument from fear
1. We absolutely do not want a return to the dark ages
2. Therefore, God does not exist

Argument from hypotheses
1. If there was a God we would expect to see uniform perfection in the world
2. We do not see uniform perfection in the world
3. Therefore, God does not exist

Argument from personal experience
1. I've never experienced God
2. Therefore God does not exist

Argument from molestation
1. The Catholic Church exists to molest young boys
2. Therefore, God does not exist

Argument from lack of knowledge
1. If someone has experienced God, they should know everything
2. No one knows what happens to babies when they die
3. Therefore, someone who has experienced God does not have all the answers
4. Therefore, God does not exist

Argument from parenthood
1. My parents made me go to church when I was a child
2. I hated it
3. Therefore, God does not exist

Argument from subjective truth
1. It is absolutely true to say that there is no absolute truth
2. Oh...

Steveheathdiddit

Monday, 11 May 2009

Restored Land or Restored Creation? A False choice?

Just a very quick thought. I regularly hear biblical theologians and NT scholars saying something like the following:

"The Old Testament texts looked forward to the restoration of the Promised Land but the New Testament texts looks instead to the restoration of creation."

The idea is that Christ's followers have no interest in the restoration of the Promised Land because the Kingdom of God has now transcended such parochial concerns. In fact, the promises that God made to Israel about the restoration of the Land are fulfilled in the far greater reality of the New Creation.

Right?

Well, I remain to be convinced that this opposition of Land-focus v. creation-focus is at all necessary.

After all, the idea of the restoration of the creation-order is not a NT idea but an OT idea. The new creation motif first occurs in Isa 65:17 and the NT explicitly draws on it. But, in the context of Isaiah this was a restoration of all creation that was connected to the restoration of Israel within the Promised Land (Isa 65:18). There was no either-or nor a sense that this new creation was instead of the (parochial) restoration of Israel. The restoration of Israel in the Land was accompanied by the renewal of creation. The idea that the restoration of Israel would renew creation predates Isa 65. One finds such imagery in various restoration promises from Israel's prophets.

Now this makes perfect sense: If, as Tom Wright argues, Israel-in-the-Land plays out a parallel role to Adam-in-Eden (or Humanity-in-the-Earth) then the symbolic link between a restoration of Israel in its Land and Humanity on the earth is intelligible. I suspect that the book of Acts hints at such a link too (e.g., Acts 1:6; 3:17-21) (though I am not Acts expert! and I'm sure that those who are will kick my donkey for suggesting this)

So why must we choose between the restoration of Israel-in-the-Land and new creation? The one, I suggest, may well be the precursor of the other.

NOW, I know that such theological speculation feed into a highly contentious contemporary political dispute so let me state the following caveat:

Any eschatological restoration of Israel, in my view, would follow (or coincide with) the return of Jesus (e.g., Acts 3:21; Rom 11:26-27; etc.). It is not the place of humans to 'bring it about' before then. So it does not follow from the theology I have suggested here that modern day Israel has a blank cheque to do as it wishes nor that Christians should support Israel come what may! (Though I do think that Christians should not oppose the right of the State of Israel to exist). Speaking for myself, I would defend a two state solution as the only just road forward.

Now I'll just sit back and wait for the hate mail. :-)

Friday, 8 May 2009

Do I have to believe 1 Enoch?

I might have asked this question before but I'll ask it again because it bugs me.

Jude 6 says, "And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgement of the great day ..."

In a similar way 2 Pet 2:4 says, "For God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgement."

I used to think that this was a story about the original fall of the angels - when they became demons.

It is not.

Almost certainly 2 Peter and Jude are referring to the elaboration of Genesis 6:1-4 in 1 Enoch. Genesis 6:1-4 is the odd story about the 'sons of God' who married the daughters of men and had offspring. In 1 Enoch those 'sons of God' are angels that transgress the divinely established boundaries and had sexual intercourse with humans. (In Genesis the 'sons of God' might be angels, or perhaps human kings, or perhaps human kings with a semi-'divine' status)

The Enoch traditions tell how those angels were thus banished to dreadful prisons where they were kept until the day of judgement. Their offspring (the Nephilim) were killed and their ghosts became demons (quite a different account of the origin of demons than the standard fall of Lucifer story which, incidentally, is not found in the Bible).

I must confess - whilst I love 1 Enoch I don't find myself terribly inclined to believe its elaborate retelling of the Genesis 6:1-4 story.

But it looks like Jude and the author of 2 Peter believed it.

We know that Jude takes 1 Enoch seriously. He says that 'Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying ...' and then he quotes from 1 Enoch 1.

1 Enoch was not really written by Enoch yet Jude speaks as if it was. Quite possibly he really believed that it was. But it was not.

But Jude and 2 Peter are Christian scripture. They are inspired by God, authoritative, and so on and so forth.

So does that mean I have to believe that 1 Enoch was written by Enoch and that its story of fallen angels is a true story?

Of course, I do not have to believe 1 Enoch to learn from Jude's and 2 Peter's use of it that sin is serious, that it will be judged, etc., etc.. I can hear God speaking through those texts.

And yet ... must I say that whilst Jude and 'Peter' really believed in the story about the angels in chains as literal fact I must treat it as helpful fiction? It can still be authoritative but I cannot believe it in the same way that they did?

Any helpful thoughts out there?

1 sentence theology (what is the church?)

Q - What is the church?

answers in no more than 1 sentence please.

1 sentence theology (what is the gospel?)

OK - here is a simple question. Please post your considered answers in no more than 1 sentence.

Q - What is the gospel?

Tricky huh?!

Monday, 4 May 2009

On the violence of Christendom

I have a love-hate relationship with the notion of 'Christendom'. Its legacy is so mixed and so ambiguous. However, at its heart lies a fundamentally dangerous construal of the relationship between church and state.

Here is Meic Pearse commenting on the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) in which Protestants and Catholic tensions in Europe burst out into terrible acts of violence.

"That such incidents have any place at all in a history of the Christian church is a condemnation, not merely of the participants, but of the entire phenomenon of a politicized Christendom whereby churches have, and claim, a legal monopoly on entire populations. The Thirty Years' War (like the Crusades or the Inquisition) is not an accidental product of this idea, nor an aberration, but its inevitable consequence." (The Age of Reason, p. 160)

Sadly I fear that he is correct. The same message comes out time and again in the history of Christendom in its diverse Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant manifestations. I hope that Africa does not repeat our mistakes here.

When it comes to church and state I find myself very sympathetic towards the Anabaptists and the later non-conformists. Free church, free state.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

In (qualified) praise of evangelical pragmatism

So there I was this morning thinking about how squabblish (that's a new word I just invented) Christians can be.

I've been reading Meic Pearce's wonderful book The Age of Reason (about global church history in 16th-18th Cs). Meic Pearce has such a gripping and funny writing style. Anyway - they were all at it. Protestants fighting Catholics, Catholics fighting Protestants. Protestants fighting other Protestants (e.g., Lutheran v. Calvinist, Lutheran v. Lutheran, Calvinist v. Calvinist), Catholics fighting other Catholics (e.g., Dominican v. Jesuit, Jansenist v. Jesuit), and so on. The Orthodox were no better and everyone was fighting the Muslims (in self-defence, I ought to add).

And I thought about all those vicious arguments today that Christians have over all sorts of issues including theology. The word 'heresy' is so liberally thrown around in some circles ('heresy' here meaning anyone who takes a different theological view than God [i.e., me]).

Don't mishear me - I do want to hold on to the category of 'heresy' but much of the stuff that goes by that name these days is not heresy at all (mistaken theology is not necessarily heretical theology - e.g., limited atonement is wrong - even seriously wrong - but not heretical).

And don't get me wrong. I think that good doctrine matters and I do want to have a sound theology. But some Christians past and present seem willing to spill blood and throw generous amounts of bile around in the name of Jesus over such matters. We are called to speak the truth (and this will mean honest disagreement between Christians) but to speak it in love. It's the love bit that we need to keep revisiting if we are the kinds of Christian who emphasize the importance of doctrine.

It make me realise the virtue of the much maligned strand of evangelical pragmatism which refuses to divide over non-central issues if faith in the same Lord is shared. (I'm not suggesting that all evangelical share in this pragmatic strand).

It also made me realize just how good it is that the oft-criticized Evangelical Theological Society in the USA embraces Calvinists, Arminians, Pre,Post and amillenialists, feminsits and anti-feminists, creation scientists and Darwinians, Modernists and postmoderns, penal substitutionists and ... those who are not into that, and a whole bunch of other theological isms.

I know that there are tensions within ETS and I know that some think it too theologically narrow (e.g., by making inerrancy central thereby ruling out a whole bunch of evangelicals from joining the evangelical theological society) whilst others think it too theologically broad (e.g., Open Theists can be members and this really annoys some. As an aside, the Pope could sign the statement of faith so perhaps he could join ETS too!!!). But the society has held together people with some very different perspectives on theology and they have not killed each other yet. That's good, right! They disagree and debate. Sometimes a few members do so in harsh and unkind ways (and when that happens many members wince) but they still stick together.

It's just about the ever-present knife-edge walk of navigating the tension between affirming the importance of 'truth' and making love for the 'other' a priority. It's easy to overlook theological error when we don't care about theological truth. But when we love those who love the triune God we will be far more careful how we treat them when we disagree.