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, 30 May 2013

Bonhoeffer on Imprecatory Psalms

Can we, then, pray the imprecatory psalms? In so far as we are sinners and express evil thoughts in a prayer of vengeance, we dare not do so. But in so far as Christ is in us, the Christ who took all the vengeance of God upon himself, who met God’s vengeance in our stead, who thus — stricken by the wrath of God — and in no other way could forgive his enemies, who himself suffered the wrath that his enemies might go free — we, too, as member of this Jesus Christ, can pray these psalms, through Jesus Christ, from the heart of Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 47.

Daniel Nehrbass, in his new book, Praying Curses (Pickwick, forthcoming), comments:
This Christocentric reading has several unique features. One must not equate the eschatological or prophetic readings with the Christocentric interpretation. Bonhoeffer, for instance, is not saying that in the psalter Christ was praying for a future vengeance upon his enemies. Instead, Christ becomes the object of this vengeance. He becomes the enemy and incurs the wrath of God. He writes, “I pray the imprecatory psalms in the certainty of their marvelous fulfillment. I leave the vengeance to God and ask him to execute his righteousness to all his enemies, knowing that God has remained true to himself and has himself secured justice in his wrathful judgment on the cross, and that this wrath as become grace and joy for us.”
Interesting. Not 100% sure that I "get" it but it opens up new ways of staring to think about imprecatory prayers in the Bible (and both the OT and NT contain rather a lot).

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Justin Martyr on Sunday, creation, and new creation

And we assemble together on Sunday, because it is the first day, on which God transformed darkness and matter, and made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead on that day; for they crucified him the day before Saturday; and the day after Saturday, which is Sunday, he appeared to his apostles and disciples, and taught them these things which we have presented to you also for your consideration.
Justin Martyr

Exactly! There are some Christians who would like to move Christian worship away from Sundays in order to make the point that all days are alike. But something is lost in such a move. Sunday was "the Lord's Day" not for some random reason. It was "the first day" of creation in Genesis 1, the day on which God said, "Let there be light!" And it was the first day of the new creation—the day that Jesus was raised from the dead. Sunday holds together creation and new creation and Sunday worship is a fitting way of sanctifying time.

Monday, 27 May 2013

A sad word association: "Reformed" = angry men

What has happened to me? I have always had a great respect for the Reformed tradition (and, when I am thinking clearly, I still do). But one's feel for a word can be affected by the associations one makes with it.

I was just reading a assertive theological spiel that, while polite, expressed a suppressed anger, which made me immediately think, "I bet he's Reformed."

And when I reversed the idea in my head and just said the word "Reformed pastor" I immediately pictured an angry man launching theological rockets at his enemies both within and without the faith.

Now I am very well aware that most Reformed pastors, theologians, and ordinary folk are not like this. (Some of my best friends are Reformed, as they say.) I also know that the tradition has many riches to offer the church — I myself have often drawn from it. So how have I got to the point that when I hear the words, "he's Reformed" I groan and brace myself for a "manly" biblical bombardment all in the name of defending God's honour against Christians who wander from the narrow line of doctrinal purity?

So thank God for all those good Reformed folk who give the lie to the caricature. May their tribe grow and may the ranks of the angry men diminish.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

"Hell and Beyond" by Michael Phillips

Hell and Beyond is a new fantasy e-novel about the afterlife (you can buy it here). There is a noble tradition in the West of voyages into the realm of death and the beyond — from Homer's Odyssey through Virgil's Aeneids and later Dante's Divine Comedy on to more recent works, most notably C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce. It is in this tradition that Michael Phillips seeks to locate his fantasy. What makes it different is that it is funded by a more universalist vision than any previous explorations in the genre. I suppose you could say that it is for some forms of Christian universalism what Dante was for late medieval Catholicism. The spirit of George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis loom large over the novel (indeed the Professor and "the Scotsman" are both guides through parts of the afterlife in the book).

It is important to flag up Phillips' own disclaimer in the afterword: This work is a fantasy and NOT a speculation about what will actually happen after we die. "With Lewis, I would not hazard 'even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us.' But one thing I am certain — God's love and eternal plans are much deeper and more wonderful than we can hope or imagine." What he aims to do is to "set forth possibilities about what may be in God's heart to accomplish in eternity, but not in any way to predict how he might work towards such ends." We are urged not to read the book as a doctrinal tract but rather as an imagination-expanding work of fiction. This is a helpful warning, although the book is inevitably theological and as such is open to theological evaluation, even if not at the level of details.

The story told is of an internationally celebrated atheistic apologist who unexpectedly dies and finds himself "on the other side" to discover that he was seriously mistaken. The tale is the difficult afterlife voyage he must undertake towards transformation. He must traverse all sorts of imaginative environments (the town of isolation, the desert of introspection, the hill of betrayal, the sea of burnished souls, the city of debt, the lake of fire) before finding wholeness in communion with the triune God.

On the whole I thought that Phillips executed his task well. It is a difficult genre to work with in the contemporary West; people find it hard to take seriously in ways previous generations would not have. But as with all works in this tradition it is as much about how we live with other people, ourselves, and God right here, right now as it is about life after death. And as a means of exploring the significance our everyday lives and everyday choices from the perspective of eternity it works rather well.

There were times when it felt a bit twee or simplistic and verged on preachy. For instance, the first companion the atheist meets on reaching the afterlife is Charles Darwin. (Darwin, along with the other guides, is not named but his identity is clear.) Darwin has renounced his godless theories and is appalled at the way they have misled millions. I must confess that this made me groan and want to give up reading (Christian anti-evolutionism is a lifelong frustration to me). But it is worth pressing on. Darwin was a blip and things pick up after that.

What I found most helpful — indeed THE great strength of the book — was that it shows in a very imaginative way how a universalist vision does take the dreadfulness of sin with full seriousness. The gospel is not about simply being forgiven — it is about being transformed and the voyage of transformation is painful. It requires acknowledging and owning what we have done and making restitution. Phillips, in the tradition of MacDonald and Lewis, is really at his best here.

For a penetrating interview with the author about the work see here.

I do not have time for that level of engagement but I do have one theological question: The book does at various points make reference to the cross but it is never explains how the cross is related to the transformation and salvation of this ex-atheist. Now I do appreciate that this is not a theology book so I appreciate that we cannot press things too far. Yet it is a book that has a lot of implicit theology and I would be interested to know what role Christ's atonement plays in the salvation envisaged here.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

James Brownson's new book on same-sex relationships *****

So I have just finished reading James Brownson's new book on same-sex relationships and Scripture. I have no intention of offering a detailed analysis. I simply wish to offer the back cover blurb and then to make a few comments.

Here's the blurb:

In Bible, Gender, Sexuality James Brownson argues that Christians should reconsider whether or not the biblical strictures against same-sex relations as defined in the ancient world should apply to contemporary, committed same-sex relationships. Presenting two sides in the debate - "traditionalist" and "revisionist" - Brownson carefully analyses each of the seven main texts that appear to address intimate same-sex relations. In the process, he explores key concepts that inform our understanding of the biblical texts, including patriarchy, complementarity, purity and impurity, honour and shame. Central to his argument is the need to uncover the moral logic behind the biblical text. Written in order to serve and inform the ongoing debate in many denominations over the questions of homosexuality, Brownson's in-depth study will prove a useful resource for Christians who want to form a considered opinion on this important issue.

James V. Brownson is James I and Jean Cook Professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan.

OK. Some comments. There is an AWFUL LOT that one could say about this issue and about this book. I will not.

But I will say this. The burden of proof for a change in the church's traditional attitude on this issue lies firmly with those who wish to revise it. The default stance is, as with any issue, the traditional one. And any attempt to change this position will have to do some serious biblical and theological work, taking what Scripture says very seriously but also reflecting on Christian theological loci such as creation, sin, incarnation, atonement, etc. It is not enough to complain that traditional Christians are out of touch or are unloving or
intolerant, as if that should settle the case. The traditional position is integrated into a certain way of construing Christian theology and biblical texts and unless that is taken seriously there will be no progress. And one cannot simply dismiss traditional biblical and theological teaching, because that approach is not going to help the vast majority of Christians (straight and gay) for whom this text is Holy Scripture.

So if revisionists wish to persuade the church then they need to take both Scripture and theology very seriously and make the case that certain kinds of same-sex partnerships are actually consistent with a high view of Scripture and orthodox Christian theology. That is the task.

James Brownson seeks to undertake one critical part of this task — arguing that Scripture's teaching and Christian holiness are compatible with committed, marriage-like same-sex relationships. He also engages the theological questions insofar as they relate to the biblical texts he deals with (and often they do). He is a wise theological interpreter of Scripture with an eye for biblical-theological currents. (For a short but intelligent attempt at making a more systematic theological case see C. Norman Kraus, On Being Human: Sexual Orientation and the Image of God)

What marks this book out from many others on both sides is that

(a) unlike some revisionists his exegesis is not strained but very plausible. Really — I actually learned a fair few new things (and I thought I'd read around this issue rather a lot).

(b) unlike some traditionalists he takes the hermeneutical question (in terms of theological and cultural hermeneutics) seriously. Determining what the author of Genesis or what Paul had in mind is only the first step, not the last.

So this is a very sophisticated and, thankfully, a very irenic book. Indeed, it is the best book I have read on this topic from a revisionist perspective (quite possibly from any perspective).

In summary: a very thought provoking and constructive contribution to the debate, one that those on both sides will need to seriously engage with. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Hugh Laurie on the Blues

Love Laurie
Love Blues
Love this documentary

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A few books wot I read recently that I fort were good

I read lots and lots of books but some stand out as especially interesting. Here are a few that struck me recently:

E. Janet Warren, Cleansing the Cosmos: A Biblical Model for Counteracting Evil (Pickwick, 2012).

This one is a fascinating attempt to build a very different biblical model for understanding and resisting evil than the standard "spiritual warfare" metaphor. Warren argues that this battle metaphor is actually a lot less prevalent in the Bible than its dominance would lead one to believe (and not always pastorally helpful). Her alternative is to develop a very interesting spatial model for engaging evil in which evil exists at the liminal boundaries of the reality of divine presence. She traces the model through biblical teachings on Creation, Cult, Christ, and Church. Thought-provoking stuff.

Jamie Howison, God's Mind in That Music: Theological Explorations through the Music of John Coltrane (Cascade, 2012)

This book is an unexpected gem. It is so well written and so very helpful as a guide to the general issue of theology and music and also as a way in to the music of John Coltrane. I had not bothered to listen to too much Coltrane before I read this but now I have got myself several albums. It is the theology and music equivalent of a well-run wine-tasting course.

Oliver Davies, Meister Eckhart: Mystical Theologian (Reprint. SPCK, 2011)

This one was an impulse buy. I had no special interest in Eckhart (fourteenth-century Dominican and mystical theologian). But Oliver Davies knows his mystical onions and offers here a very helpful guide to this oft-perplexing theological mind. The first section introduces Eckhart in his social and historical context, the second part focuses on his theology, especially his theology of mystical union with God, and the third section offers reflections on Eckhart's use of language, his Christian orthodoxy, and his influence. Good stuff.

Kyle Roberts, Emerging Prophet: Kierkegaard and the Postmodern People of God (Cascade, 2013)

Here Roberts, a Kierkegaard scholar and emerging church missional theologian, gives us a solid and stimulating set of reflections on the prophetic contemporary relevance of the nineteenth-century Danish writer Søren Kierkegaard. I thought that this would be good but it is not—it is great. (And the cover alone is enough to make one weep with joy.)

Dru Johnson, Biblical Knowing: A Scriptural Epistemology of Error (Cascade, 2013)

There has been a lot of work by Christian scholars in recent years on philosophical and theological epistemology but precious little on the implications of biblical teaching on "knowing" for philosophical and theological reflections. This book fills that gap ... with a vengeance! The author is one of that most rare breed—someone trained in both philosophy and biblical studies. I have done quite a lot of thinking on the Bible and epistemology over the years (I even co-edited a very good volume on the subject) and I can say without hesitation that this is by far the best book I have read on the issue—it really made me start thinking about things in different ways. Highly recommended. If this does not generate some discussions I will eat my hat.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Hellbound the Movie on DVD and Blueray

The long-awaited DVD and Blueray release of Hellbound the Movie is here.

For those of you who do not know, it is Kevin Miller's excellent documentary on Hell that did the round of cinemas in the US and Canada last year and this. What I am particularly looking forward to are the interview outtakes. There will be people, such as Thomas Talbott, that were interviewed but never made it into the actual movie. So I'm keen to see some of those interviews.

| Running time: 85 minutes
| 16x9 Widescreen
| 5.1 Surround Sound

| English, French and Spanish sub-titles
| Region-free

| Interview outtakes
| "The Hell and Back" Featurette
| Director's commentary

In Canadian money it is $20 for the DVD or $25 for the blueray

You can but it here:
It will ship out on 14 May.