About Me

My photo
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).

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Little Town of Bethlehem (movie trailer)

This movie looks like it might be good.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Reading Lamentations (extract from commentary)

Lamentations, like the personified Lady Jerusalem within its pages, often sits alone within the landscape of the Christian Bible calling out to those readers who pass by to take notice but, as with Lady Jerusalem, there is no one to comfort. Lamentations is one of those Old Testament books that have never really attained a place of prominence in Christian spirituality and reflection. This means that when attempting to think theologically about the book one does not have the rich heritage of Christian theological interpretation to draw on that one finds with books such as Genesis, Exodus, Psalms or Isaiah. Perhaps this is to be expected because Lamentations is only twice alluded to in the New Testament while a book such as Isaiah seems omnipresent. So when one comes to read Lamentations theologically as a Christian one has to start with a comparatively slender thread of prior reflection as a guide.

When reflecting theologically on Lamentations issues of method require some comment. First of all, Lamentations was not written to present a theology. As Berlin notes, “the book does not construct a theology of its own, nor does it present in any systematic way the standard theology of its time. It assumes the ‘theology of destruction’ in which destruction and exile are punishment for sin…” So one task of the theological reader is to bring to the surface the theology underlying the text and to seek to clarify its contours.

Second, Lamentations was not written by Christians, nor for Christians. The theology of Lamentations is not Christian theology. Nevertheless, Lamentations is part of the Jewish Scriptures accepted by the earliest churches as their own sacred Scripture. Jesus and his early followers saw their story as one of continuity with Israel’s story recounted in those holy scolls. Thus whilst Lamentations is not a Christian text it was received by the early church as one of the books through which God continued to address his people even if that people was now composed of both Jews and Gentiles united by faith in Jesus the Messiah.

But precisely how should Israel’s sacred texts be interpreted by this new community of Jesus? In the same way that Israel had always reinterpreted its own texts – in the light of the current thing that God was doing. For the early Jewish followers of Jesus, God had moved to do something radical in the current situation. In Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension the end of the age had come and a new age had broken in. Jesus was seen as the climax (though not the end) of God’s dealings with Israel and all of Israel’s traditions and texts were re-read in the light of Christ. Christians reading Israel’s scriptures cannot read those texts as if Jesus had not come. But, and it is an important ‘but’, to allow those texts to challenge and contribute to ongoing Christian reflection there is a critical place for seeking to hear them on their own terms. In other words, part of a Christian theological reflection on Lamentations will require the Christian reader to listen for the text’s distinctive, pre-Christian voice. The danger of only considering Old Testament texts in the light of Christ is that all one hears is what one already knows from the New Testament. But the Old Testament has much to teach Christians that they will not find in the New, often because the New took it for granted but then the later church forgot it. However, for the Christian, once one has heard the distinctive voice of Lamentations one has to bring that voice into dialogue with God’s revelation in Christ to discern how God is addressing the Church through it. This is an art, not a science. So our aim in the first part of the commentary is to hear the distinctive theological voice of Lamentations but, in the second part, it is to hear how the acoustics change when that voice is heard in the Cathedral of Christ.

It ought to be said clearly that that there will never be such a things as the Christian interpretation of Lamentations. This is because the meanings to which it gives birth are not so much ‘in the text’ as born out of the interaction of the text and the (hopefully) Spirit-led activity of its readers. Christian readers will be mixing the genes of Lamentations with the genes of other biblical texts, Christian theological reflections through the ages, the experiences of various readers and so on. The book is simply so pregnant with potential that the meanings to which it gives birth will be diverse even within the constraints imposed by canonical context, the Rule of Faith and the history of Christian interpretation.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Lamentations Commentary (extract from opening, 1)

Western cultures are notoriously averse to pain and tragedy. We spend an extraordinary amount of money and effort seeking to insulate ourselves against life’s vicissitudes. All kinds of precautions are taken to ensure the maximal safety of the environments we must inhabit – our homes, our work places, our schools, our social space, our transport, our public places – and, just in case something does go wrong, we are offered just about every type of insurance one could dream of. We do not want sorrow to knock at our doors and, when it does, we do not know what to do with it. Our default mode is to keep it out of sight and pretend that it is not there.
Unlike our Victorian forebears we are no longer shy about sex and we have innumerable ways to speak about sexual intercourse but we are hopelessly lost for words when confronted with grief and death. We don’t know what to do, where to look, what to say. Increasingly we lack the social practices, words and concepts necessary to grasp our pain by the horns and stare it in the face. We have been robbed of a vocabulary of grief and we suffer for it. The book of Lamentations accosts us by the wayside as a stranger who offers us an unasked for, unwanted, and yet priceless gift – the poetry of pain. We would be wise to pay attention.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Illustrated Guide to PhDs: The sober truth

If you want the sober truth about PhDs depicted in simple diagrams then click here.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Beautiful Things
All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make me new, You are making me new


Gungor, "God is not a white man": LOVE IT!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

"In the End, God..." New special edition coming (very) soon

Cascade books are publishing a new special edition of John A. T. Robinson's little book, In the End, God . . . (first published in 1950; 2nd ed. 1968). This book has been very hard to get hold of for a long time (it was a fair few second hand book shops I had to hunt around in before I found a copy). Bringing it back has been one of my pet projects over the past few months. Now it is here looking more snazzy than ever.

Here are the details:
John A. T. Robinson, In the End, God . . .: A Study of the Christian Doctrine of the Last Things. Special Edition
Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60899-983-5
RRP: $23

Here is the back cover blurb:

“Eschatology is the explication of what must be true of the end, both of history and of the individual, if God is to be the God of the biblical faith. All eschatological statements can finally be reduced to, and their validity tested by, sentences beginning: ‘In the end, God . . .’”
J. A. T. Robinson

The God revealed in Israel’s story is the Lord of history—a God with good purposes for his creation and a God capable of bringing those purposes to pass. All biblical eschatology arises from this fundamental theological insight. If God is this God then what shape must the future have?

John A. T. Robinson explores biblical eschatology with an eye both to the text and to contemporary culture. Revealing the foundation of eschatology to be the experience of God by the community of faith, he calls readers to embrace the eschatological vision of the Bible, but to do so in a way that is alert to its mythic character.

In the course of these explorations Robinson also lays bare his own theology of universal salvation. But, contrary to what one may expect, this universalism is one that seeks to take both human freedom and the reality of hell with the utmost seriousness.

This special edition of John A. T. Robinson’s classic text also includes a debate between Robinson and Thomas F. Torrance (played out across three articles from the Scottish Journal of Theology in 1949), an extended introduction by Professor Trevor Hart (University of St Andrews, Scotland), and a foreword by Gregory MacDonald (author of The Evangelical Universalist).
"Of all Bishop Robinson’s writings, few, if any, are more enduring and timely than this clear articulation of the contours and christo-logic of soteriological universalism. A very fine introduction and profitable appendices also help to clarify what Robinson was, and was not, championing."
Jason Goroncy, Lecturer and Dean of Studies, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, New Zealand

"A stimulating theological reading of Scripture that puts the doctrine of God at the heart of eschatology. Robinson's little classic, whilst not without its faults, still deserves serious consideration."
Gregory MacDonald, author of The Evangelical Universalist

John A. T. Robinson was a New Testament scholar who served as Bishop of Woolwich, England, and as Dean of Trinity College, Cambridge.

I don't agree with all Robinson's views (you'll be relieved to know) but I have read this book six or seven times and every time I find it thought-provoking and stimulating.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

"With friends like this ..." (When defending God is wrong)

I was reading Job 13 this morning and was struck by the following:
6 Hear now my argument;
listen to the plea of my lips.
7 Will you speak wickedly on God's behalf?
Will you speak deceitfully for him?
8 Will you show him partiality?
Will you argue the case for God?
9 Would it turn out well if he examined you?
Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?
10 He would surely rebuke you
if you secretly showed partiality.
11 Would not his splendor terrify you?
Would not the dread of him fall on you?

Job is speaking to his "friends". They are zealous, God-believing folk trying to make sense of a situation which challenges their faith and which they feel threatens God's honour. So they come to God's defence and put Job in his place so that God is seen to be justified.

But Job argues that, in fact, if God turned up he would expose the error of his own apologists and vindicate Job's righteousness.

By seeking to defend God they painted a portrait of the situation that dishonoured Job and dishonoured God.

Sometimes, when we try to act as God's friends and to defend him we actually misrepresent him and act, in effect, as his enemies. And on the day of judgement it is such apologists who will have to repent.

Of course, apologetics is not wrong per se — in fact, I consider it to have a helpful place — but it can be wrong: it can be unethical; it can fail to treat people with respect; it can end up misrepresenting the Lord.

What we need is wisdom to know when to speak, what to say, and how to say it. And we need to know when to shut up.
If only you would be altogether silent!
For you, that would be wisdom. (Job 13:5)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Conference on Evangelicalism and Universalism

Hmmmm. This one looks interesting. I think I might attend.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Talking God by Jonathan Chaplin

I recently read an excellent little book by the ever-insightful political thinker Jonathan Chaplin. It is called Talking God: The Legitimacy of Religious Public Reasoning (London: Theos, 2008).

The hot issue at the heart of the book is the place of religious reasons used as justifications for proposed laws and policies in public debate.

There are an increasing number of very vocal opinion-shapers who are of the opinion that to allow such "justifications" would be to abandon secular democracy and to start rolling back towards some kind of theocracy. Chaplin's goal is to gently take the case for such a view apart.

Chapter 1 examines the meaning of "secular democracy". He contrasts two visions of secular democracy:
(a) programmatic secularism (of which liberal secularism is a species). This approach seeks to impose secularsism on the public realm and to relegate religion to the private sphere.
(b) Procedural secularism (of which Christian secularism — Chaplin's own view — is a species). This approach seeks a posture of neutrality and impartiality towards rival faith perspectives in public life. So the public sphere in a pluralist society is indeed open to religious arguments and the powers that be must protect the public space for people from differing faith-perspectives (liberal secularists included) to be able to present their cases.

In Britain, however, liberal secularism has achieved the ascendancy. The rest of the book is Chaplin's case against that mode of secularism and his case for a more tolerant mode of secularism.

In chapter 2 he argues that liberal secularism has a misplaced understanding of "equality" underpinning its view of religion in public life. It mistakenly supposes that a respect for the equal treatment of persons requires that any public reasoning must be equally "accessible" to all persons. So, for instance, anyone who uses God as part of their reason for a certain public policy has produced an argument that is not "accessible" to atheists and is therefore illegitimate in the public sphere. So society must discriminate against religious talk in the public sphere. Chaplin argues that this approach is hardly liberal and misunderstands what is required by the requirement to respect all people equally!

In chapter 3 he critiques the liberal secularist view that religious reasoning is necessarily "private" whilst secular reasoning is inherently "public". On the contrary, maintains Chaplin, some religious reasoning is just as public as secular reasoning.

Chapter 4 sets forth Chaplin's vision of Christian secularism/Christian pluralism. Chaplin maintains that this vision is probably more "pluralist" (more open to divergent forms of public reasoning) and more tolerant than so-called "liberal" secularism.

Finally, chapter 5 develops the answer given by Christian secularism for when religiously-grounded reaoning is (and is not) appropriate in public.

Chaplin has been shaped in his political thinking by the Dutch Reformed tradition of Abraham Kuyper and Hermann Dooyeweerd. From this perspective he (rightly) resists the notion that religious reasoning is "faith-based" whilst "secular reasoning is ... not. For Chaplin "religious" and "secular" beliefs are both equally "faith-based".

Here is my view on this book
1. very clear
2. very concise
3. very relevant
4. "on the ball" in its respectful but pretty devastating critique of liberal secularism.
5. Thought-provoking.

In a nutshell, it is classic Chaplin!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Saturday, 2 October 2010

The Burning Bush—awesome

New movie about the life of Hildegard von Bingen

Job on friendship (Job 6:14–21)

14 "A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends,
even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
15 But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams,
as the streams that overflow
16 when darkened by thawing ice
and swollen with melting snow,
17 but that cease to flow in the dry season,
and in the heat vanish from their channels.
18 Caravans turn aside from their routes;
they go up into the wasteland and perish.
19 The caravans of Tema look for water,
the traveling merchants of Sheba look in hope.
20 They are distressed, because they had been confident;
they arrive there, only to be disappointed.
21 Now you too have proved to be of no help;
you see something dreadful and are afraid. (NIV)

I read Job 6 this morning and was struck by his reflections on true friendship. True friends will stick with you even in the valley of the shadow of death; even in a spiritual desert; even in a faith crisis; indeed, even if you "forsake the fear of the Almighty"

Job's comforters have turned out to be like wadis in the desert that gush with water but which, in the dry season, are empty. Then they have nothing to offer to thirsty travelers. He imagines those crossing the expanses of desert, desperate for water, turning aside to their old "friends"—the wadis—where they have found water in the past. They come thirsty but with hope and expectation. They find nothing but disappointment.

I was struck by the way in which Christian friends can sometimes evaporate on a fellow believer who is struggling with difficult and dark questions. Perhaps, they fear to be forced to confront such questions themselves; maybe they are uncomfortable at the thought of having to rethink their own theology; possibly they don't want to be around when God's 'lightning bolt' strikes their Job-like friend dead.

The book of Job suggests that it is the pious "friends", and not Job, that stand under divine judgment.