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).

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Dawkins' musical tribute to Darwin

— leaves one speechless in astonishment

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Trinitarian speculation of the day

Here is my trinitarian speculation of the day. If it is heretical then please ignore it.

The tradition speaks of the Father eternally begetting the Son and spirating the Spirit.

I have always considered these to be two distinct inner-Trinitarian actions. But what if they are the same action viewed from two different perspectives? Might we imagine that the Father begetts the Son by means of the spiration of the Spirit? That the one action, viewed in terms of the Spirit, is procession from the Father but also, viewed in terms of the Son, begetting by the Father.

The Son, in turn, gives himself in the Spirit back to the Father in eternal self-giving.

Just thinking ...

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Handling Gaps in the Creeds

Professor N. T. Wright spoke at our Cathedral a couple of weeks back. He was very good and along the way he made a generally valid observation about the creeds (by which I mean the ecumenical Creed — i.e., Nicene—and the two other major Western creeds — Apostles and Athanasian): they contain big gaps. NTW had no objections to what they contained but was worried about the holes in them. If all we teach is the content of the creeds we'll have a misshapen faith.

To illustrate what he means, observe that the creeds all skip from creation to Jesus (missing out the story of Israel, i.e., most of the Bible); they jump from Jesus' birth to his death (missing out his teaching and ministry, i.e., most of the Gospels); they leap from creation to redemption with no account of sin.

I have a few reflections on this gap-problem.

First, of course the creeds could say more. They are not seeking to say everything that Christians have to say; they are, rather, laying out the fundamental contours of the Christian belief in the triune God revealed in Jesus. They are not the final word about Christian beliefs and practices but they are an essential dogmatic statement about the divinity of the Spirit and the Son with the Father and of the humanity of Jesus.

Second, what the creeds do say is intended to provide the normative theological framework within which everything else should be understood. As such they provide us with the context within which we understand the story of Israel or the ministry of Jesus or the doctrine of sin or the theology of humanity or whatever else we care to consider.

Finally, and importantly, the creeds are the tip of a theological iceberg with implicit links to all sorts of theological themes not overtly discussed. Take as an example the missing story of Israel and the Nicene Creed. The Creed does not tell the story but it does allude to it.

Consider first an indirect reference to the central prayer of Israel, the shema, in the following words: “We believe in one God . . . maker of heaven and earth. . . . We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made.” Behind this part of the Creed lie Paul’s words in 1 Cor 8:6, “for us there is one God . . . from whom all things come . . . and one Lord, Jesus Christ through whom all things exist.” And 1 Cor 8:6, as numerous NT scholars have pointed out (N. T. Wright among them), is an interpretation of the shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, YHWH is one” (Deut 6:4). For Paul, Jesus is included within the identity of the one God of Israel, hence his radical take on the shema. The Creed preserves this Pauline interpretation of Israel’s prayer thereby implying the bigger story of Israel.

That bigger story can also be seen in the words “Lord Jesus Christ,” for the title Christos (Heb. Messiah) refers to the promised ruler of Israel and the world spoken of by Israel’s prophets. To unpack this title requires that bigger story. (Arguably, the title “Lord” also alludes to the name of the God of Israel, YHWH. Jews in this period—including Jesus and the authors of the NT—would never speak the name YHWH but would substitute the word kyrios, Lord. The use of the title “Lord” for Jesus in the early church did draw on this connection with the divine name.)

Again, little phrases such as “he rose again, according to the Scriptures” refer to the holy texts of ancient Israel (what Christians call the Old Testament) and thereby gesture at the story of Israel contained in those texts and also at the christological interpretation of them taught to the church by Jesus (Luke 24:25–27).

My point is that the Creed does not explicitly tell the story of Israel but it does gesture to it and require its telling. Thus the church does indeed need to give a good account of God’s way with Israel (as Tom Wright correctly notes) but we should not mistake the lack of that account in the Creed as indicating otherwise.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Christian eschatology and Merleau-Ponty

I read an interesting passage in Maurice Merleau-Ponty, twentieth-century French phenomenologist, the other day. He is exploring the notion of time in the light of music.
Just as the painter is struck by a painting that is not there, the body is suspended in what it sings: the melody is incarnated and finds in the body a type of servant. The melody gives us a particular consciousness of time. We think naturally that the past secretes the future ahead of it. But this notion of time is refuted by the melody. At the moment when the melody begins, the last note is there, in its own manner. In a melody, a reciprocal influence between the first and last note takes place, and we have to say that the first note is possible only because of the last, and vice versa. It is in this way that things happen in the construction of living being.
— Merleau-Ponty, Nature: Course Notes From the Collège de France. Compiled with notes by Dominique Séglard. Translated by Robert Vallier. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2003, 174.
It struck me that this resonates very deeply with Christian thinking about eschatology. The end is in the beginning; the beginning is in the end. The beginning is possible because of the end; the end because of the beginning. We often think of creation reaching its intended goal in the eschaton (the beginning in the end) but it is worth exploring the ways in which the telos of creation is there, in its own manner, in the beginning.

Thoughts on a postcard to Robin Parry, Theological Scribbles, cyberville

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Christopher Hitchens on violent religion

I have just read an excellent critique of Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Great (by Andrew Shepherd, a free-lance researcher and teacher in New Zealand).

The essays was called "Face to Face with Violence: Hitchens and Religion, Hospitality, and Peace-Building" and is found in a forthcoming collection of essays called Taking Rational Trouble over the Mysteries (Pickwick, 2013).

I confess that I have not read Hitchens' book but if the argument contained in it is anything like that set forth and critiqued by Shepherd I am shocked and staggered!

To caricature the summary, it appears that the argument is predicated on a simplistic association of violence and religion that is myopic in its understanding of both violence (many kinds of violence are simply passed-by; perhaps because they implicate secular societies too much) and religion (which is understood in purely functional terms). Religion is more or less defined as violent and violent behaviour is more or less defined as religious. So Hitchens can, of course, list of many instances of religious violence. But when he considers counter-examples things start to get silly:

* atheistic violence (which the twentieth century saw many shocking examples of) Hitchens redefines as "religious."

* instances of religious non-violence (e.g., Martin Luther King Jr) are redefined as secular-inspired rather than Christianity-inspired. Why? Because Christianity is violent so King's peaceful work cannot have been inspired by Christianity. (A claim that anyone even remotely familiar with King will know is simply false.)

I am almost lost for words. That an intelligent person could try to argue in such a fashion seems almost beyond belief. A stunning ability to decide on a theory in advance and then not to allow any evidence to get in the way of it.

Even more worrying was what appeared to be Hitchens' positive, unapologetic, and indeed even gleeful affirmation of the use of lethal violence against certain religious groups. Apparently violence is bad ... unless it is used by secular humanist governments to enforce and defend secularism. Then it is good. (Although, as it is violent would it not be ... religious?)

(OK, I have simplified things above, but ...)

Shepherd then offers a much more helpful and hopeful analysis of religion and violence, drawing on the philosophers Derrida and Levinas.

There are very serious issues to do with religion and violence that need addressing — everyone knows that religion can most certainly be linked to violence. However, if we want constructive solutions to religious violence then the resources for them will need to come from within religious traditions themselves.