Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Two Elephants in the Room by John Bodycomb

Two Elephants in the Room: Evolving Christianity and Leadership, John Bodycomb, 2018, Spectrum Publications Pty Ltd, Richmond, Victoria.

John Bodycomb clearly has a long experience at the workface of the church and its ministry. His sociological, teaching and ministry skills are obvious in this short thesis on the two most significant elements challenging organised religion. He also demonstrates a wonderful sense of humour that ‘thinking’ readers will enjoy. He needs to be heard and responded to.
The two elephants:
• The future of organised religion in western society, and
• The future of professional ministry
are apparent at a time in Australia when the consensus is moving towards ‘no religion’ in their lives. Indifference to organised religion is steadily increasing. At the same time many young people still believe there is more to life than the material and view being ‘spiritual’ with its multiple meanings as a transcendent dimension that takes them to a higher experience of life.

Drawing on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs and motivation research, he explains why some people stay with the church and that here is a key element for church leaders to note when looking for answers to how to grow the church. What has intrinsic worth in our lives today is very different from that of previous generations. This includes ‘ethical axioms’ that no longer produce this ‘transcendence’. Nevertheless, Bodycomb is able to identify real benefits to people engaging with organised religion. He offers 12 fascinating ‘benefits’ that effective churches demonstrate, including:
• Developing proficiency in relating socially – getting along with others
• An aid to an effective ‘inner gyroscope’ – enabling one to preserve a placid interior, undisturbed by outside buffeting
• Bringing ‘inklings’ of transcendence through music, philosophy and theology.

But Bodycomb emphasizes that the intangible benefits for ‘living life to the full’, in the sense of Jesus’ teaching, is dependent on the inventiveness of the local church. The church needs to be a thinking institution. He sees the greatest risk to the church is its tendency to discourage thinking. Theology needs to be re-invented, re-defined. ‘God talk’ has been manufactured. Doctrines need to undergo close critical deconstruction and theological colleges need to open up this discourse and encourage it.

Whilst Bodycomb has seen the expiration of the church as we know it, he insists that the great ‘existential’ questions will still exercise minds e.g. Is there anything to describe as ‘transcendence’ beyond what we can physically see? “Is G-O-D a fantasy or …. a reality?” What is G-O-D? Like Spong, Bodycomb sees the imperatives for change – without evolution we will witness extinction of organised religion. Evolution has been going on since the European Renaissance and the Reformation, but change has always been met with counter movements to restore the ‘authority’ of the church. This is no longer working. Consequences of massive socio-cultural changes are no longer able to be stopped. The ‘back to orthodoxy’ movement is alive but now only impacting on a slim minority.

Bodycomb identifies the key adaptive responses as cerebral and visceral with the former being adopted by ‘progressives’ and the latter by those who are still holding onto unquestioning fundamentalism. He has a long history of asking questions about theological education and has challenged the theological colleges with learning lessons from Tillich and others who knew the value of pastoral ministry over having the ‘right’ theology. His ideas about church today should be heard and acted on. What he says makes so much sense and, if acted on, would re-connect the church with the secular world. His 10 disincentives and 10 incentives to consider when going into ministry today are critical lessons to all church teachers and ministry mentors. His model for moving ministry into a sphere of relating to the world and its pressing needs stands as a credible guide that should be informing training programs.

This thesis could have been titled – Asking the Right Questions about the Church and its Leadership. It has convinced me that the church enterprise needs urgently to move from its ‘maintenance’ model to an urgent energetic response to a world that needs help with massive life-threatening problems.

The author: Rev. Dr John Bodycomb is a Melbourne-based minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. He retired in 1996 after forty years as parish minister, Christian educator, University Ecumenical Chaplain and former head of the Uniting Church’s Theological Hall in Melbourne. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his promotion of religious freedom and to fostering ecumenism.

Reviewer: Dr Paul Inglis, 8th October 2018
Retired UCA Community Minister
Retired Academic, QUT Faculty of Education
CEO UC Forum – https://ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au

Where to purchase: Spectrum Publications

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Book review: A World of Difference by Stratford and McWilliam

A World of Difference: Ways of Being-in-the-World

Authors: Walter Stratford & Linda McWilliam

Published by: Morning Star Publishing

Linda is an Anglican priest and the Director for Mission for Anglicare, southern Queensland who holds a Bachelor of Theology (honours) and a Master of Counselling from ACU.

Walter is a retired Uniting Church minister who has a number of degrees and completed a PhD in 2012.

How I wish this book had been available to me twenty years ago!

The authors demonstrate how ‘meaning’ is found when philosophy meets history, culture, ethnography and religion. It is also about a human search for truth and justice that is a both analytical and practical. It is a useful analysis of ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ concepts illustrating how spirit and soul have captured the minds of many over millennia. The authors manage to separate these from long standing claims of the church and its teachings on eternity. They place the many notions of ‘being’ and ‘life’ in the lived experience drawing on Martin Heidegger’s sociological interpretation of ‘being-in-the-world’.

The authors have obviously experienced life at close quarters, both professionally and privately. This shows in the way they mesh spirituality with our complex social values as a counter to all the conflicting values of secular society and in a way that honours all life within creation. This is done against a context of claims on the ‘right’ faith perspective and the destructive path of fundamentalism and the way the latter has dismembered societies and produced a great movement of refugees across the world.

Our woeful history of religion that inevitably attempts to create God in the image of the practitioner is a persistent problem for authentic spirituality. But “making spirituality visible can be considered as contained in compassion, justice, kindness, honesty, and a commitment to peace”.

This is very much a commentary on today’s world of religion, politics and social mores. It is not about a spirituality that hides from the realities of a world in trouble – it is responsible spirituality finding value in self rather than in soul-less and mechanistic structures, and liberated from all restraints.

Meaning is found in covenants in all walks of life – marriage, community capacity building, with the environment and those sourced from Abrahamic traditions. These are all vulnerable and subject to human frailty, greed and power seeking. We are at a time in earth’s history when religious and political claims that assert value over each other are futile. The imperative of the future of humanity obviously depends on a universal covenant with the earth. This is a spiritual exercise.

Central to the human condition and influencing everyone is suffering in the world. This is not simply physical but existential as it challenges our search for meaning in events that affect us daily. For many, it goes beyond physical to impacting psychological and spiritual trauma. Guilt, depression, loss of hope, failure to discern any moral compass, loneliness, disconnection and hardening of hearts call for acknowledgement that all of this needs to be addressed spiritually. Sadly, for many ‘suffering’ is where they know ‘meaning’.

Attachment, Solitude and Community are closely examined as remarkable sources of spiritual energy. Grace and Presence (religious and secular) are viewed as part of human life and interactions, and Prayer is given a lot of attention. The latter is a contentious subject and all its facets and uses are explored and the question raised – What if the faithful lived the prayers rather than say them? What might happen?

Story as an essential part of all cultures helps in the search for meaning from the past and into the future. It is also a vehicle for increasing well-being. Finally, Hospitality, grounded in a sense of Spirit presence provides a framework for putting life meaning into practice. A powerful commentary on how all of this is a gateway to a world of difference I will leave for the reader to discover along with much I have not covered.

Concluding comments:

This discourse needs to continue beyond the book into conversations amongst groups. The impact of these conversations must be felt widely within the religious and secular communities. I look forward to seeing that happen.

Paul Inglis 18th August 2018.

Where to purchase this book: Morning Star Publishing $29.95 plus postage and from  Book Depository $30.95 delivered free from UK.

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Book Review: Australia Re-imagined by Hugh Mackay

Australia re-imagined: towards a more compassionate, less anxious society

by Hugh Mackay

The author: Hugh Mackay is a social researcher and best selling writer. This is his 19th book. He has examined many aspects of Australian life over six decades. He has been awarded honorary doctorates from five Australian universities and in 2015 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Austraia.

Among many appointments, he has been deputy chair of the Australian Council of the Arts, chair of trustees of Sydney Grammar and inaugural chair of the ACT government’s Community Inclusion Board. He is currently patron of the Asylum Seekers Centre.

This is a great resource reference for teachers, preachers, politicians, social commentators and most of all for thinking Australians who want this to be a great place to live and grow our children and grandchildren. I made great use of Chapter 7 – Religion’s noblest role: promoting compassion” in a sermon this morning.

At the outset he poses questions that are common, eg – Will my job be replaced by a robot? Is religion really on the way out? Why has politics become so annoying? Are gender distinctions becoming irrelevant? Will I be able to understand what my grandchildren are talking about? and so on.

He closes with a list of things we’d like to be able say about an ideal Australia – things we’d like others to say about us. The Reader is asked to tick those they agree with. eg

  • I want to live in a society where people respect each other, especially when they disagree, and most especially when they disagree on politics or religion.
  • I want to live in a society where we err on the side of generosity when it comes to our treatment of refugees; where we can rise to the moral challenge of dealing humanely with some of the world’s most desperate, vulnerable people who manage to make it to our shores by whatever means, and so on….

In between these bookends he deals comprehensively with the culture of busyness, diversity and choosing our words carefully; empathy and education; a better world starting in our own street; gender wars; religion; politics, choice as threat to public education; the real state of the nation and finally the best side of our profile – big hearts and open minds.

This is a fully indexed text with a large reference list. I think it should be part of the resources of every thinking Australian and especially those who want to remain relevant to their audiences (in the pews or classrooms). For ordinary Australians like myself, it has huge value in making me aware of the context and influences on my life and I can confidently talk to intelligent friends and hold their attention!

Available from bookshops and online, just search for Australia Re-imagined. More information about Hugh Mackay and his other books can be sourced from his publishers Pan Macmillan.

Paul Inglis 12th August 2018

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New from Rex Hunt – Seasons and Self

Seasons and Self: Discourses on being ‘At Home’ in Nature, Rex A. E. Hunt

Rex’s latest publication is another handy resource as well as a good read.  John Cranmer also has eleven original poems in the book. Two reviewers have this to say:

Michael Morwood
“For progressive religious thinkers Rex Hunt provides ground on which to stand as they explore the often-asked question, “Where do we go from here?” This book will delight and inspire”
(Michael Morwood. Author of It’s Time. Challenges to the Doctrine of the Faith.”
Noel Preston
“This collection is a timely reminder to the religious that an ecological theology is now a necessity while, to those who eschew religion, justifiably in many instances, this book asserts that deep ecological consciousness is essentially spiritual.
The result is a valuable, accessible resource for both progressive preachers and activists who know that there is no other vocation more important than the defence of life on Earth”
(Rev Dr Noel Preston, AM. Adjunct Professor in Applied Ethics, Griffith University, member of the Australian Earth Charter Committee, and author of Ethics With or Without God)
John Cranmer comments:

Seasons and Self is a courageous exploration into religious naturalism – sometimes called the ‘forgotten alternative’ – as well as contemporary critical biblical studies by one of Australia’s leading progressives, Rex A. E. Hunt. A self-professed religious naturalist, progressive liturgist, and social ecologist., he belongs squarely within a post-liberal/ ‘progressive’ orientation.

The author acknowledges the principle attributed to the Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves: “I am not after conclusions… Conclusions are meant to shut… Every conclusion brings the thought process to a halt”.  The present collection is an invitation to readers to become curious and excited about what they read, and to explore further – beyond the tyranny of clear and distinct ideas! The author is concerned about ‘likelihoods’ and being ‘open-ended’ rather than closing any discussion with persuasion by argument. The intent is to strike a chord rather than ‘shoehorning’ something – ideas, answers, doctrine, correct belief – into people, often challenging the parochial and limited claims of traditional religions, or so-called pious biblical argument based on a proof-text zeal.

[Picture of Rex with Joe Bessler at the book launch last week]

While both science and progressive religion are to the fore in the topics and chapters of the collection of sermons, addresses and keynote presentations, there is also a strong hint of the poetic – all evoking a sense of awe and wonder at nature and the natural, rather than the supernatural. A radical theo-eco-logy! Themes addressed include evolution, earth, cosmos, food and wisdom, as well as Autumn, children, celebration and humour. All grounded in the Ordinary… in the hope that, collectively, they will stir one’s own imagination.

“Nature and naturalism are for us today the main game for any progressive spirituality,” writes the author. “We are fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality, and where the metaphor of ‘web’ is used to describe this interrelatedness – we create the web and the web creates us…” 

How to get a copy:  Go to Coventry Press, Melbourne. $34.95 + p/p

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Book Review: How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian

How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian

By John Dominic Crossan

The Bible teaches us how to be kind and loving people. Right? Those of us brought up from childhood as churchgoers and people of Christian faith, take this for granted. Millions upon millions of Bibles are given away or sold at concession prices every year by such institutions as the Bible Societies, and Gideon’s.

The assumption is that if only people would read the Bible they will become good people by following the examples set by the stories within.

But is this necessarily so? John Dominic Crossan suggests that we read the Bible in “full”. If we do this we find that the scriptures send very mixed messages indeed. This applies right from Genesis to Revelation. What would a perceptive reader coming in objectively to read the Bible without a background of religious faith find? In taking the writing at face value she would find that the non-violence proclaimed initially as the characteristic of God and Jesus initially, falls away in due course to recourse to power and aggression.

Crossan sees this pattern occurring from the stories of the Garden of Eden, right through the period of the kings and prophets to the gospels and on to the writings attributed to Paul.

He explains this duality through the changing context (his preferred term for this is “matrix”) of the times at which the various books of the bible came to be written. Through my 70 years or so of Bible study I was aware of this and allowed for it, but John Crossan brings new emphasis and new clarity. His recognised reputation as arguably the most acclaimed biblical scholar of this generation comes through in his historical referencing. The bonus is that in this instance, at least, his writing is very readable.

Crossan’s description and analysis of the setting of the Jesus story and the writings of Paul in that first turbulent century of the Common Era would be as clear as any I have studied. It matches well other insights I have had recently into the link between, the developing Christian theology of that period, Greek philosophical thought and the divine political status of the Roman emperor.

Crossan describes the see-sawing in Biblical thrust as between distributive justice (the loving side of God and Jesus) and retributive justice (the violent, vengeful side of God and Jesus). He makes a big thing of the Bible and its story about justice. Some would argue that justice requires vengeance – we see this in the newspapers and TV every day.

The author, however, makes this plea.

“Justice is the body of love and love is the soul of justice…We have separated what cannot be separated if each term is to retain its full power. Justice without love may end in brutality, but love without justice must end in banality. Love empowers justice and justice embodies love. Keep both or get neither”

So let us read the Bible in full. But let us indeed be selective in what we take from it, In observing that swing between goodwill and violence to be found there, may we extract, from the context, the message of justice with love. The responsibility to do so lies within our personal faith convictions as well as with the decision-making councils of our Uniting Church.

A couple of footnotes:

  1. For The Love of God – How the Church is Better and Worse than you ever imagined”. – There has been some recognition recently of the mixed messages on violence promoted by Christians over the centuries in this informative documentary produced this year (2018) by the Centre of Public Christianity. It is recommended viewing.
  2. Some, like me, would initially, reject the description of Jesus in the Bible as violent and vengeful. For those claiming to be “Biblical Christians”, however, John Crossan and I would recommend that you read the Book of Revelation in full.

Rodney Eivers, July 2018

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Book Review: Deep Work – spiritual practice in our workday world

Thanks to subscriber to the UCFORUM, Professor Peter Fensham for this review:

Available from Mediacom.

Deep Work: Spiritual Practice in our Workday World: Jenny Tymms, MediaCom Education, Inc.

This book is addressed to all those who find it hard to giving attention to their inner life in the face of the expanding demands of our everyday lives during the week. The author, still in employment, has persons like her very much in mind, but the pressures and complexities of modern society make many others feel concerned about the problem of holding the spiritual and everyday life together.

The book has an interesting layered structure. The first layer is set in the eight-fold rhythm of a day beginning with Waking Up, Heading Out, Showing Up, Working, Taking Time Out, Toiling, Finishing Up and Heading Home, and Resting and Recreating. Its other layer provides five sub-themes of each of these eight stages, and gives a variety to them that mirrors the differences the days of many working and everyday weeks can have.

It was pleased to see that each of the sub-themes is introduced by both a short extract from the secular and more contemporary literature, juxtaposed with a relevant biblical piece. This use of the secular spiritual writing can open up what follows to the majority of today’s seeking persons who are not as familiar with the Bible as a resource as are regular church goers.

At the end of each sub-theme a practice is suggested, so the book introduces forty practices in all. These practices are ‘intentional disciplines that foster and nourish our desire for spiritual depth. They shape us into people who joyfully participate in God’s compassionate and justice making work in the world.’ Among them I found some that fitted my limited understanding of spiritual practice, and a few that I fairly regularly do. Many more of the practices are actions I haven’t thought of in spiritual terms, but can see would be worth a try.

The book is available from www.mediacom.org.au

Professor Peter Fensham  19th June 2018.

Note: Jenny introduces her book with:

I believe there is a growing thirst in our western contemporary culture for depth, purpose and meaning in our lives. It feels like our world is speeding up. Economic pressures are leading to workloads that are ever-increasing. Our capacity to attend to our inner lives weakens in the face of expanding external demands. We often feel either wound up or worn out. Yet we are aware of our alienation (although sometimes only dimly) even in the midst of our frantic busyness. We do sense our dis-ease.

Rev Jenny Tymms currently works for the Uniting Church in Queensland as a member of the mission team.

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Book Review: A Scandalous Jesus-How three historical quests changed theology for the better

Professor Joe Bessler is coming to Australia. Watch for information about his presentations for Common Dreams on the Road

Thanks to Rex Hunt for this book review

Joseph A. Bessler.
A Scandalous Jesus: How Three Historical Quests Changed Theology for the Better
Salem: Polebridge Press, P/Back, 250 Pages, 2013.

I had been waiting for this book since late 2006.

John Smith, Dick Carter and myself met with Joe in Santa Rosa, CA. in 2006 to invite him to come to Australia in 2007 to the first Common Dreams Conference in Sydney. We shouted him a beer and he told us about the book he was writing. He accepted, came, and was brilliant.

Bessler is a theologian, affectionate known as the ‘Jesus Seminar theologian’, stationed at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa. His book covers each of the three quests of the historical Jesus—from the original quest in the early 20th century, through the new quest of the 1940 and 50s, to the renewed quest in the late 20th early 21st centuries, initiated by the Westar Institute and its famous ‘Jesus Seminar’. He seeks to capture the historic questions that surround and shape each of these research endeavours and assess the impact of these differing quests on theological and cultural life.

He is critical of neo-orthodoxy—justifiably so I reckon—because in their rejection of the historical or human Jesus in favour of the Christ of faith, they missed something. What they missed was the possibility that the question of the historical Jesus was in fact, “not only a historical question but also a historic question—a question that created a series of profound social, political, and theological impacts that have continued to shape and reshape our world” (Pg:2).

In short, the ‘quest’ for the historical Jesus “is not (and was never) simply about the historical Jesus; it was always already about larger issues involving churches’ theological self-understanding and their relation to broader society. And… the theological rejection of historical Jesus research was almost always a refusal to deal with those larger issues” (Pg:3).

Moreover, there was not simply one quest, but differing quests that emerged within distinct periods and places. Quest One: 18th and 19th century and Reimarus, Strauss, Schweitzer, and medieval background, and emergence of new tensions; Quest Two or ‘New’ Quest: Bultmann, Kasemann, Robinson, Kung; and Quest Three or ‘Renewed’ Quest: as expressed in the work of Funk, Patterson, Taussig, Crossan, Scott, and the Jesus Seminar.

There is theological continuity across these quests “in that they press the Christian institutions of their period to alter long-held theological assumptions in order to make room for a new depth and range of discourse” (Pg:4).

How have they challenged the institution? Q1—move beyond the use of ecclesiastical power to control civil society and embrace greater religious freedom; Q2—embrace the full historical humanity of Jesus and be open to the full range of human experience in modern life; Q3—reject the politicised power of Christian fundamentalism and open up modes of faith beyond the too-narrow confines of right belief.

The publication of such historical Jesus scholarship has often created a climate of scandal. “Blaming scholars for confusing and disturbing the faith of the simple believer, outraged officials have sought to mock and suppress such inquiry as a kind of treason against the church. Historic questions are often the most scandalous precisely because they raise basic, fundamental challenges about the assumptions governing their societies” (Pg:5).

Bessler has written an important book. It deserves to be widely read and internally digested. I am grateful for his research and publishing efforts. For, in each time and place where a ‘quest’ has become important theological inquiry, “what has appeared initially as a threat and as a scandal, has brought both greater openness and vitality to discussions of faith” (Pg:227) even as it has brought the human Jesus and his teachings into clearer view.

As Bessler says: “if one can see the importance for models of faith that go beyond official claims of right belief and supernaturalism to speak in publicly assessable ways, then what appears to others as scandal assumes the weight of a risk worth taking” (Pg:227).

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Book Review: An Eternal World, messages from the other side

By Rev Ron Ramsay

Reading Ron’s book, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a serious writer telling of his journey through a world of psychic experiences. Time and again I thought I was reading a mystery novel. His writing style is loaded with building anticipation and new turns and twists in a dramatic and fascinating set of experiences.

As a somewhat critical skeptic, I was often tempted to pass judgment against this retired Uniting Church minister. But as I persevered, it became harder to easily dismiss the many episodes of ‘life after death’ that he reported. But the eternal life he gives evidence for is not physical and in many ways not greatly dissimilar from that of the orthodox or traditional view taught in many churches.

However, the range of existing spiritual perspectives I have come across is huge and this is just becoming obvious to researchers. The complex nature of these perspectives makes it unproductive to categorize thinking Christians.

So my motivation is to encourage inclusive discourse and to give voice where so often there is derision, and therefore I can recommend coming to this text with an open mind. Readers may not agree with all the arguments, but they are likely to enjoy the way they are told and to be fascinated by Ron’s personal challenges and decisions.

 

This is a real life story full of personal experiences ranging through dialogue with the dead to coming to grips with reincarnation. Ron’s world view has taken a long time to evolve and to be come coherent to himself, but his writing is clear and precise. He now challenges both orthodox Christian teachings as well as liberal perspectives. For Ron, these experiences have answered two vital questions – ‘Who am I? ‘ ‘Why am I here?’.

I am always looking for the Jesus factor in conversations about spirituality and in this two elements are important to me – ‘joy in life’ and ‘sharing with justice’. The Jesus ethic calls for living life in abundance without the threat of fears and doubts. It also calls for living a life of sharing in justice and compassion. These elements did not jump out at me in Ron’s book, but they were there in the way he sought to ease the mental torments of others and his search for a truth that brings peace of mind.

I found a different kind of good news – being able to stay in touch with deceased family and friends! That produced enormous satisfaction for many of Ron’s acquaintances. This seemed like a very risky enterprise to me. It could also have fed old conflicts.

For people like Ron Ramsay and many he has met in his life journey there is an element of ‘ joy in life’ coming from discourse with the spirit world – the assurances, warnings and support they receive from all of this. But as someone who has never had such experiences and been tutored to think suspiciously about them, I cannot see how it would benefit the world to be able to do so. That didn’t stop me enjoying the book as it filled a giant gap in my understandings.

This is a book that will challenge because it is piled high with ‘evidence’ that cannot easily be dismissed. Every reader will have their own response based on their own view of reality and life experiences. I enjoyed the book but was not significantly changed by it. It would be good to have other reasonable viewpoints on this book.

Paul Inglis 13th May 2018

Can be purchased as an e Book through Amazon Australia for around $11.99…you can read the first 2 chapters before buying.

Before buying the book, consider reading Ron’s short essay first at no cost: ‘Valid evidence for a spiritual world view.’ Just send him an email request to:

rjsmramsay@bigpond.com

 

Review:Christmas, Myth,Magic and Legend

Making sense of the Christmas stories. by John Queripel. John is a UCA minister  with a diverse set of experiences … city, rural, university and prison ministries. John is committed to scholarship and authenticity in faith.

 

A myth is not a lie. With that introduction, John Queripel captured my interest and held it to his last words. And his last words are good to read…We are not to pretend that the stories are history but rather to enter the experience and be transformed by them. I can think of no better way to be transformed than to use this book as a guide..John’s forensic skills have produced a classic critical analysis of the Christmas narratives, unpacking the true meaning of Christmas, and bringing into focus the powerful symbolic and metaphorical teaching. At the same time he has dismantled the a huge amount of overly simplistic thinking by sourcing the forces that have shaped and politicized the gospel writers.John helps us to see past our Western scientific mindset, profoundly shaped by Aristotelian logic of factual, objective and verifiable truth.

Most affected by the populist scientific framework is the literalist reader of Scripture.  Richard Dawkins is also influenced by the same logic!

But truth lies in  myth….

The Christmas Story is simply not factual but possesses deep truth in another way. Not to realize this means missing out on greater understanding of the purpose of biblical stories such as that of Adam and Eve.

Literal reading produces an ideological outcome serving self interest, eg of woman being born of man! Many biblical myths have had tthe power of ensuring men’s dominance over women and human dominance over the rest of creation. John carries out some of the best theological research to illustrate the development of the birth and crucifixion legends and myths. He makes it easy to see why it is foolish to take the stories literally and the consequent dumbing down of Jesus human role and purpose.

He has much to say about the way in which we have blended in the ttwo different biblical stories of Matthew and Luke. In his wonderfully attention grabbing writing style, he opens up to analysis many of the taken for granted assumptions about the world of Jesus. He shows how important is an understanding of the radical changes taking place in Judea at the time of the gospel writings.  This includes Challenging traditional views about pharisees, the Jesus Jews and the rabbinic Jews and their differences from the sacred traditions.It is important to understand the ‘anti Jewish agenda of Matthew.

I found his expose of the different infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke and finding their common ground and emphases ffascinating as well as informative. Each gospel writer has a different agenda. Knowing about these agendas is part of the exploration of honest theology.

Having dismantled the notion of Jesus being born of a virgin, the doctrine of perpetual virginity of Mary, and the Christian aversion to sex, the doctrine of immaculate conception is left with nothing to support it. Since the latter was only established in 1854 it is not hard to rrealize that the Church has played a major role in distracting us from the valuable mythological values.

After reading his comments about the jjourney to Bethlehem on foot over ten days while heavily pregnant and only so Joseph could be included in the census of males it is not hard to accept that the narrative has another purpose of fulfilling ancient prophecies about where the Messiah will emerge.

Highly recommended. Very transformative and loaded with brain stimulation and fabulous thinking.

Paul Inglis 29th April 2018.

See an earlier post for ways to purchase.

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Wind Blows Where It Chooses

The quest for a Christian story in our time – by Kevin Treston

This is a text that is hard to put down. It is a powerful work addressing Christianity’s crisis of authenticity and integrity. But once outlined effectively, it does not dwell on this crisis. Instead it offers ways to recover the authentic Jesus and presents a way to a lived spirituality based on hope and positive seeking that does not deny the reality of the secular world, nor modern scientific advances, or the evolution of humankind.

The author has the right credentials (academic and experiential) to offer this guide to moving forward – practical and applied theology, work with learners and leaders in the churches and a wonderful knowledge of our Christian heritage beyond orthodox and traditional practices.

This is an aid to facilitating a renewal of a faith that incorporates everyday living, rapid social change, evolving family and community structure, the process of aging, and dealing with the many challenges of life. For those who want it, it also offers a way forward for progressive church reform. To do all of this, one needs to have a helicopter view of society, a method for telling the Jesus story to inhabitants of an increasingly secular world, a way to eliminate the irrelevant doctrines and dogmas that obscure this story, and ways for enriching and living life ‘in full abundance’.

For me, it was good to read  for my own learning. But the book is also useful as a guide for small group study. It is loaded with resource references. As a tool for church councils at all levels and across denominations in the Western world it is bound to provoke worthwhile discussion and action.

While reading the book, I kept telling myself that this material is very timely – a post truth era, the diminishing identity of Christianity in our culture, the competition for people’s allegiances, the proliferation of aggressive ideologies, the fragility of world peace. Where is Jesus in all of this? The author urges us not to retreat into secure enclaves to shut out the world, but to live among the cutting edges and paradoxes of life lived in reality – no more fantasy, just awake to what is happening and calling up the teachings of Jesus as a guide.

Kevin Treston calls up new scholarship to recover the authentic Jesus story and helps the reader to unpack the accumulation of uncritical baggage that diminishes the real value of the cosmic Christ and links him into all of creation. In this, there are some strong messages for those leaders who have substituted clericalism for ministry and widened the gap between priest and people and reduced the people of God (laity) to passive observers.

But there is much more ….. I won’t tell you…go get the book and enjoy!

Scroll this blog for a recent post for the details for purchase. Or contact Kevin Treston

Dr Paul Inglis 22 March 2018

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