Author Archives: Paul Inglis

About Paul Inglis

Paul Inglis is a long time member of the Uniting and Anglican Churches in Australia. He recently retired as the Community Minister for Dayboro and Mt Mee Uniting Churches, just north of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. He accepted an invitation to become the Queensland's first Uniting Church Community Minister and continued in that role for more than 10 years. Previously he had been a State primary school teacher, school principal for 11 years and then Lecturer in Education at the Queensland University of Technology for 25 years. He has served on UCA Assembly, Synod, Presbytery and Congregational Councils. In retirement he is actively involved in family, church, and community. His commitment to 'progressive' Christianity emerged from contact with the late Professor Rod Jensen who founded the Lay Forum in 2004 and from his experience in ministry with people seeking an authentic faith. Paul's PhD from the University of Queensland is in Adult Learning.

An Invitation from the Caloundra Explorers

From John Everall, Mob 0408 624 570 Email: jjverall@bigpond.com

The Caloundra Explorers Group’s Evening Service is coming up and we invite you to add this activity to your diary:

GATHERING     Sunday Evening   20th October 2019   5.30pm.

THEME: SCIENCE AND THEOLOGY

LEADER: Rev. Brian GILBERT

The theme is a fascinating one – I’m sure you will have discussed this at many levels at some stage.  On Sunday evening, we have it presented by an Elton John fan – Rev. Brian Gilbert.

Inspired by his song “Rocket Man”, and adding in a number of people stressing the link between love and justice eg, JP2nd, Crossan, King, Dowdell, Brian develops love without justice is sentimentality, or banal; justice without love is legalism or brutality.” 

He says “ Explorers would be familiar with that. I want to draw a relationship between science and theology – “either without the other can be dangerous, or meaningless.”  “ Just because science can do things (even very well), is it right? – should we do it?.”

Our evening will include music and song and our meditations will draw on thoughts by Michael Morwood and Matthew Fox, the keynote speaker at Common Dreams 2019.

 Enjoy your byo light meal/finger food – relax in discussion around your table – “Science and Theology”.

Everyone is welcome.  We discuss and debate within a safe and non-judgemental environment

Explorers are very mindful in discussion that each of us may have a different personal understanding of G.O.D that underpins our thinking at this stage of our life journey.      So, come along and join in what will hopefully be a very satisfying evening for you among friends, and new friends.    

CONTACT:  Leaders – Brian Gilbert – Mob 0417 002 274  or  John Everall Mob 0408 624 570

WHEN:    Sunday 20th October 2019 at 5.30 pm thru to approx 7.30pm

WHERE:  Caloundra Uniting Church HALL, 56 Queen Street Caloundra.

EMAIL:    jjeverall@bigpond.combmgil@westnet.com.au

Caloundra Explorers Group                                        Faith And the Modern Era

Mars ain’t the  kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don’t understand
It’s just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man

oOo

Continuing discourse: Why I do/don’t go to church

From Tim O’Dwyer

Hi guys,

Thanks for this.

Here is a snapshot of my introductory remarks at our last “exploration”:

On the wall behind the pulpit at the Thompson Estate Methodist Church where I grew up was a large painted scroll with these words: “Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness”. Have been reflecting on that text for more than six decades…

Gained some insight as an adult when I discovered Micah 6:8 :

8 He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

My Aussie paraphrase:

The good oil from God:

Fair go, cobber; be a mate, mate; and let’s all be humble little Vegemites.

Meanwhile, I found much the same message in the Gospel’s setting for Jesus’ Good Samaritan parable where Jesus essentially tells the trickster lawyer to never mind asking who your neighbour is – just be a freaking neighbour!

At the same time, I’ve always been gobsmacked by this New Testament insight: “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” (From 

1 John 4:16)

So to the term “God” which Lloyd Geering in “Christianity without God” has not only had a long and complex history but also has become a very confusing word. After suggesting that we can functionally take “God” to refer to the highest values which motivate us, Geering favourably quotes Theologian Gordon Kaufman’s observation that  even in a secular world the term “God” can still have for us a useful function as “an ultimate point of reference”. Hence “To believe in God is to commit oneself to a particular way of ordering one’s life ans action. It is to devote oneself to working towards a fully humane world…while standing in piety ans awe before the profound mysteries of existence.”

Finally why I “go to church” is summed up in part by this provocative passage from Don Cupitt’s “Radicals and the Future of the Church””

“…we should stay in the church and attempt by deception, by reinterpretation, by political stratagems and by perverting the minds of the young to do something for the transformation of Christianity and the future of religion…Self-imposed exile right outside the church may be the right thing for a few very creative people, but…many of us will find it more stimulating to be internal e iles, plotting, scheming and suspected, inside the church…(thinking) of the carefully thought-out deceptions by which we plan to use the old vocabulary as a disguise for smuggling new ways of thinking into the church.”

oOo

Continuing discourse: Why I go to church

On going to church
Rodney Eivers
23rd August 2019
These notes were prompted by a presentation to be made to the Progressive Christian Network at Merthyr Road Uniting Church New Farm by Tim O’Dwyer on 31st August 2019.

Tim put the questions: Do you still go to church? If so, why? If not, why not? He invited me to throw in a few remarks from my own experience, so here goes. I have attended church probably from the time I was a baby in my mother’s arms and presumably before then when in my mother’s womb. My earliest memory of any sort, as related in my coming memoirs, was of returning from some function – perhaps a birthday party – alone. This, remarkably at the age of about three or four years. I looked down on my family home from the adjacent traffic bridge and pondered life and the future.

It would be easy to say that from that period on till my now 9th decade I have more or less regularly attended church because I accepted the invitation to be a Christian, or more accurately, as I would put it this way today, a follower of the ethical principles proclaimed by the wandering sage, Jesus of Nazareth some two thousand years ago. But the questions being put by Tim are part of a wider issue and we need to narrow it down quite a bit. I shall assume that going to church and being Christian in ethos and practice is not necessarily the same thing. I shall be referring to belonging to a specific congregation and attending weekly services on “the Lord’s day” more or less regularly. I have been doing that for nigh on 80 years. Why have I been doing this? It is largely habit. It is one of my life’s rituals. Presumably this routine has some benefit to it.

That need not have been the case for everybody. Only the other day when I suggested that the church is an institution which undertakes to make the world a better place, my table companion responded that this has not been the experience for her. An immediate response to the original question may be that the church is my “community”. It is a community which caters for our social, personal and some might say “spiritual” needs. It does that in contrast to just about all other communal institutions, from the cradle to the grave.

We engage in that community at our baptism, we engage in that community at our marriage, we engage in that community in the moral guidance of our children and grandchildren, we engage in that community often in sickness and at our ending with our funeral. I am reminded of the large part a congregation played for so many of my family and acquaintances in our entertainment and social interaction.

Most of my social dancing was with church groups, any girlfriends I might have had would have come from church congregations – not necessarily my own – I met my wife outside the doors of a church in Port Moresby. I have written recently on the impact of Christian Endeavour in nurturing confidence as a public speaker and office-holder in secular as well as religious groups.

One concern I have with the loss of attendance at church by children and young people is that disappearance of an important source of “moral guidance” for those growing up and establishing a place in an adult world. That a congregation provides moral guidance is not taken for granted these day and I would be the first to challenge the negativity which comes from the supernaturalism and rules which come from the preaching in most of our churches. Some of the old stories of vengeance and slaughter in the Hebrew scriptures are truly horrifying. When reading or preaching from the Bible one does need to be selective and in practice this is what preachers and especially Sunday School teachers do.

One can take stories from a recent Sunday as an example. The lectionary reading was from Luke Chapter 13 where Jesus was chided for healing on the Sabbath. The moral guidance from this surely is that acting in a caring spirit is more important than complying with restrictive rules and regulations which can entangle us in exercising the practice of love. Or take the Bible story that my grandson absorbed this morning at his Sunday school class – that of Paul and Silas freed from prison because of an earthquake. After returning home the youngster – six years old – was able to repeat the whole story. It clearly provided for him the lesson of caring for others through its punch line. That is that Paul and Silas the two prisoners chose not to run to freedom because they recognised that this would mean big trouble for their prison guard,

Another aspect of a congregation which draws me is that it is a great social leveller. I am talking largely of the non-conformist Protestant tradition here. Any persons of whatever social class can be officers in the congregation. She or he can rub shoulders, for instance, as an elder, with peers from any level of society.

I recall in my teen years belonging to a congregation whereby the local mill manager shared a pew with people who would have been his employees. For me, personally, it also provides the opportunity to develop administrative and leadership skills. It is rare for me to be associated with an organisation and, in due course, not end up holding some office or other. Such offices are usually within that congregation or with other associated entities. It provides me with a vehicle through which to further my life-long aim of seeking to leave the world a better place than when I came into it.

Some might respond, “But how can you put up with all that supernaturalism and gobbledy-gook language which goes along with the enjoyment of companionship and familiar music, songs and liturgies?”

Well, one may well be swamped by starchy, unintellectual tradition but there is also the opportunity to introduce congregation members to new songs, new ceremonies and even new ways of looking at the scriptures. You have to be in it to win it and it may be that some of the examples we set as individuals may rub off to become new ways of being appropriate for a 21st century community.


My recent sermon on the Trinity (https://ucforum.unitingchurch.org.au/?p=2990&cpage=1#comment-273795 ) led some to say, “I had never thought about it that way before!” One privilege that we have in the Uniting Church is that anyone may address a congregation from the pulpit and additionally there is always the opportunity to express points of view in the variety of study groups.

So yes I continue to “go to church” and what’s more, I enjoy “church crawling” when I am travelling to other places and other countries. Although not to the same extent as with Roman Catholic followers, for whom going to church is regarded as a moral obligation, I enjoy seeing how other Christians express their faith through their church services. The familiarity of the liturgies and the communal environment helps me to sense the connection which Christians have with one another all over the world.

So I anticipate that I shall continue to go to church until they put me in a box. Hopefully this will be after I have cautioned my family and the presiding minister to express none of this supernatural “in my father’s mansions” hope at the final “celebration of my life”.

oOo

What do Unbelievers believe?

What Do Unbelievers Believe?

We get atheism wrong if we see it simply as a detached, philosophical (dis)belief in God, argues Nick Spencer. 06/06/2019

My colleagues Elizabeth Oldfield and Lizzie Stanley had to go to Rome last week. It’s tough working for Theos sometimes. 

I tease. It was work, and rather interesting work at that. They were recording a Sacred podcast from a major conference, hosted at the Pontifical Gregorian University and part of the Understanding Unbelief programme, in which interim findings about “unbelief” in Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, the UK, and US were presented.

Here is a stereotype about unbelievers. They don’t believe in stuff. It’s a stereotype that is popular among some believers and unbelievers alike. The former, in a move of what is essentially self–protection, like to think that being an unbeliever entails abandoning belief in moral absolutes, or in human purpose or dignity. The latter, in a move that is no less self–serving, like to think that unbelievers are rational, materialist, naturalistic, and completely immune to the childish absurdities of “belief”. 

The reality is very far from these poles, as the Understanding Unbelief research shows. Two issues stood out for me. 

The first relates to what atheists believe. As one would expect, atheists are rather less likely to believe in the supernatural than agnostics or believers. But less likely does not mean unlikely. When presented with a list of such phenomena – life after death, reincarnation, astrology, objects or people with mystical powers, supernatural beings, underlying forces of good or evil, a universal spirit of life form, or karma – somewhere between 10% and 40% of the people in each country said they either “strongly” or “somewhat agreed” in their existence. Indeed, only a minority of atheists were “naturalists” in the sense of rejecting all such supernatural phenomena. The answer to the question of what atheists believe turns out to be quite a lot after all. 

The second issue relates to how they believe. Here the answer is, not as strongly as you might think. As the project’s interim report puts it “being an atheist does not necessarily entail a high level of confidence or certainty in one’s views.” In all six of the countries studied, “atheists express overall levels of confidence in their beliefs about God’s existence [that is] either notably lower than…or broadly comparable to the general population’s.” In other words, atheists are not usually much more confident in their (non)beliefs than the rest of us are in ours. 

I think these findings are interesting, encouraging and, in two particular ways, familiar. 

Several years ago, Theos conducted a much smaller and more local survey into what UK unbelievers believed, which we published as Post–religious Britain?: The faith of the faithless. This reported that:  

  • Around a third of people who belong to no–religion, over a quarter of “Nevers” (i.e. those who answered “never” in response to the question “How often do you participate in a religious service as a worshipper?”) and 15% of atheists said that they believe in life after death; 
  • One in five “Nevers” (21%) said they believe in angels as did 7% of atheists;  
  • More than two in five “Nevers” (44%) believe in a human soul, as do almost a quarter (23%) of atheists;  
  • A quarter (24%) of the non–religious believe in heaven and 15% in hell; and 
  • A fifth (20%) of non–religious people believe in the supernatural powers of deceased ancestors, compared to 23% of the total sample. 

More generally, the proportion of people who are consistently “naturalistic” – meaning that they don’t believe in God, never attend a place of worship, call themselves non–religious, and don’t believe life after death, the soul, angels, etc. – was very low, at 9%. 

There are lots of ways one might read this. No matter what some atheist polemicists say, thoroughgoing atheistic naturalism is extremely rare, and not even the default position among atheists themselves. Even among those who reject God, there linger persistent beliefs about the supernatural or numinous; the sense there is more in heaven and earth than we dream of in our naturalist philosophies nags away. Atheism is much more variegated and interesting, and atheists are a lot less dogmatic, self–assured or certain, than some public advocates might lead us to believe.  

All of this is true, but there is one other reading which interests me and leads back to my second reason for a sense of familiarity. 

The matching of atheistic certainty (or lack thereof) about God with the general population’s un/certainty says something more than “atheists aren’t as dogmatic as you imagine”. Take this sentence about unbelief in the US from the Understanding Unbelief report:  

“the comparatively high level of confidence exhibited by America’s atheists matches more–or–less exactly the high ‘religious confidence’ of Americans–in–general.”  

Or, with slightly more interpretative boldness, the atheists (and atheism) of a nation take their cue (and possibly also their hue) from the believers in it. 

This is perilously close to the argument that ran central to my history of atheism, namely that we get atheism wrong if we see it simply as a detached, philosophical (dis)belief in God. Today, as in history, atheism is embedded in the lives (and politics) of the wider culture. A generous, thoughtful, self–reflective culture of belief will generate a similar culture of atheism; an aggressive, self–righteous and exclusionary one will do the opposite.  

The parallel is not perfect – Chinese and Brazilian atheists are somewhat less sure about their beliefs than the general population in those countries – and other factors naturally come in to play. Nevertheless, the arguments in the Understanding Unbelief study, our Post–religious Britain? report, and my Atheists: The Origin of the Species, seem to cohere on this issue of the socially– and politically– mediated nature of unbelief, as they do on the wider point that whatever else it might be, the discussion between what believers and unbelievers believe is emphatically not an issue, simply, of us vs. them. 


Understanding Unbelief, which was exhibited at the Vatican, interviewed people who were atheist and agnostic (Photographer: Aubrey Wade)

Nick Spencer

Nick Spencer

Nick is Senior Fellow at Theos. He is the author of a number of books and reports, most recently The Political Samaritan: how power hijacked a parable (Bloomsbury, 2017), The Evolution of the West (SPCK, 2016) and Atheists: The Origin of the Species (Bloomsbury, 2014). Outside of Theos, Nick is Visiting Research Fellow at the Faiths and Civil Society Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London and a Fellow of the International Society for Science and Religion

Theos

Theos conducts research, publishes reports, and holds debates, seminars and lectures on the relationship between religion, politics and society in the contemporary world. We are a Christian think tank based in the UK. We are part of The British and Foreign Bible Society, charity number 232759.

oOo

Reflection: The Planet and its People

We joined a very large crowd at Gosford, NSW, for the Climate Action demonstration on 20th September. Gosford is the home of Rev Rod Bower, Anglican priest and advocate for many social justice issues. He has had significant influence here and across Australia.

What we noticed was the high level of participation by Seniors who outnumbered the school children. They carried placards declaring their concern about the future for their grandchildren and our Pacific Island neighbours.

It is clear that there is a rapidly growing consciousness about the state of the planet and the urgency of the need to accelerate the response to climate change.

A standout for us was the strong presence in the ‘Strike’ of UCA, Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Quaker church people under their banners. All of these have active social justice and green departments that generated a lot of encouragemental to their members prior to the event.

The climate strikers have a purpose beyond establishing a public image and demonstrating. We have three goals:

  1. No new coal, oil or gas projects, including Adani’s mine.
  2. 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030.
  3. A just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel workers and communities.

The critics fall into many camps. There are those who deny climate change and their numbers are shrinking. There are those who deny human influence on climate change but to makes their case they will have to counter the growing scientific evidence. There are those who claim that God is in control and we should do nothing. I have never found it fruitful to conduct any discourse with this group whose God is both loving and cruel at the same time. There are those who have given up, live in fear and feel powerless. There are those who think that demonstrating is a waste of time and will not produce a change and there are those who are just complacent or cynical. I am sure there are many other groups.

I am optimistic but frustrated by governments that are obfuscating. But perhaps this is a wasted concern. With growing globalization of opinion and action this may be a change that occurs despite governments. Already there is strong evidence that industry and commerce are moving towards renewable energy sources.

Jesus-inspired people wanting integrity in the change process are getting stronger voices in the movement to turn around climate distopia towards real collaborative action. Instead of claiming to know better than others they are working with science, with conservationists and with those who have found ways to get the message out. Their tradition has always had available arguments but these have been buried in pointless doctrinal and organizational mediocrity.

“God so loved the world….” is a restatement of powerful messages in Psalms, Micah, Genesis, 1 Timothy, Numbers, and hundreds of other encouragements to look after the planet and it’s people. The World Council of Churches has since 1970 been helping to build sustainable communities. In this Season of Creation many church groups are working hard on sustainability projects.

Jesus eschewed political power and sided with the vulnerable. .. We should do the same.

Rev James Bhaguar, the general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, addressing the UCA demonstrators in Sydney, appealed to Mr Morrison (PM) for Australia to do more to reduce its carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy:

Weve watched as our homes are eaten away by rising tides, and as Australia allows it’s emissions to rise. For Christians acting to prevent climate catastrophe is not just about survival. It is about loving your neighbour and protecting God’s creation. Right now, Australia is doing more than most to desecrate the precious gift that humanity has been given.

He too is learning how pointless it is to rely on governments.

All of this points back to myself and I have to recommit to doing all I can as an individual to further the goals of our Climate Change Strikers.

Paul inglis 22 November 2019.

oOo

Some great feedback – more please

In case you have not looked at the ‘Replies’ we are getting to our post seminar question on why or why I don’t attend church , here is a sample:

Lauren Toogood

1.MY JOURNEY INTO ‘PROGRESSIVE’ FAITH

I had a traditional Catholic upbringing, including Catholic schools but not especially devout parents. My mother was Italian Catholic and my father Church of England but religion didn’t play a big part in our family. A sense of God and the sacred seemed to be a central part of my life though and I was open to issues of faith.

At university I chose the Protestant route but it was an evangelical, fundamentalist denomination although I managed to find the more relational, personal stream of that denomination fortunately. Doctrine was central to having a strong relationship and independent thinking was discouraged over ‘faithful’ obedience and belief in a set of rules.

Once childrearing was slowing down, and I started mixing more in the wider world through work. I started pushing the boundaries of the traditional beliefs (my husband was an evangelistic minister) and my thirst for deeper spiritual values was ignited. I could no longer agree with the most fundamental theology of my denomination which led to my choosing to be removed from membership.

My journey didn’t end there, as now I started questioning the fundamental beliefs of Christianity itself – did Jesus really say all those things?; did he have to die for my sins?; what kind of God allows so much suffering?; is the bible really an accurate account of history and God’s interaction with mankind?; who is God?….

With the internet I could explore and I was esp drawn to the writings of Marcus Borg, Rob Bell, Henri Nouwen and then I came across the writings of David Richo a former catholic priest who wove together ideas of Christianity, Buddhism and Jungian psychology. That is where my heart resonated. I have deep respect for the compassionate values of all faiths and no faith and I now believe Christianity is a little arrogant when it says it is the only way to God (or the sacred).

God has become much bigger and more mysterious than any one faith teaches for me and I believe we do well when we learn from one another and help one another to grow closer to the greatest values of loving kindness and do no harm.

I did try to find a faith community but I ended up in a small coastal town where there are only a few individuals here and there who might have similar journeys. I would say I align the most with progressive uniting church ways and Universalism. I am not used to liturgy though after leaving the Catholic church so I really don’t miss that.

I like to think I belong to a tribe somewhere but I have grown more content with surrounding myself with individuals with similar values whether they have a faith or not. I find there are many places where these people can be found – bushwalkers, environmentalists, meditators, those interested in health, community volunteers, artistic people, and social justice advocates. I don’t feel the need specifically to be in a church. Part of me believes that if I belonged to a denomination again it would be a step backwards in my journey.

Having said that there is one sacred gathering that I did feel met a need in my heart but it was only in Canberra. It was a monthly gathering called “the Gathering” and it was a reflective hour where a theme was chosen based on world issues and art, music, and reflections from wisdom teachers (including Jesus) were shared by 2 leaders and a time of contemplation and fellowship over a meal was included. That would be the most I would look for now. Otherwise I feel I belong to the world and do not want to be labeled or boxed in by a denominational label. That is my journey which as others have expressed is always ongoing. It is encouraging to know there are like minded people out there also journeying in somewhat similar ways even though the specifics are all unique to each one of us.

Thank you for the opportunity of sharing.

***

2. MY EXPERIENCE OF CHURCH

Peter Marshall

Paul and readers, my experience of church as a child through the 60s, early 70s will be familiar to many. My way of understanding this experience is to acknowledge to myself that my childhood saw the death of an innate desire to explore a wonderful supportive presence that I could sense but not explain. I’m not sure if back then I viewed this presence as resulting from imagination or not, but it sure felt real. Unfortunately the strong message that got through to me was that Jesus died as payment for my sins and that I was a worthless sinner, fit only as kindling for the great fires of hell where most of us were destined to spend eternity. Eternity being a concept a little beyond my understanding as a 12 year old. So by age 16 I decided not to set foot in church again, except for marriages, deaths and christenings. Now the most wonderful thing is that I can see with hindsight that supportive presence of my childhood never left me. Don’t now focus too much on the word GOD, but it seemed I had rediscovered the supportive arms of GOD whilst understanding this was the case all along. All completely at odds with that main message I received from the church. Very important to note I genuinely harbor no ill will to those that delivered the message. No space to explain here but the all pervasive spirit and the Jesus story are central to my genuinely not retaining any malice at the theological teachings received as a child which ran parallel with Billy Graham crusades in Brisbane at the time. At 50 years of age I wanted to strengthen bonds with the supportive arms of GOD which I now understood as real because I deeply needed that connection. I saw the only option to get help with this quest was to reconnect with church. I went to a Uniting church, initially found some help there but after a couple of years saw that the old theology was still dominant, just not as overtly marketed. That may have been the end of church for me but along the way I discovered Greta Vosper and the wider progressive movement. This gave me the space to continue the quest which is very ably facilitated by the West End Contemplative service and West End Explorers group (I do not live close to West End but it is the best I am aware of to continue a quest around the GOD question, though I also do not sense that Progressive theology is dominant in this congregation. But at least we so called progressives are tolerated there and quite possibly are genuinely welcome) Would love so say more about how Sunday evenings at West End are helpful to my quest, but obviously can’t do so in this post. Maybe later if any are interested.
Peace – Peter Marshall

oOo

Different responses to miracles in the tradition of enquiry

Thanks to Geoff Taylor for drawing our attention to this thesis.

How miraculous can we consider Jesus to have been? Different responses to miracle in the tradition of inquiry

Head, Ivan Francis (1984) How miraculous can we consider Jesus to have been? Different responses to miracle in the tradition of inquiry. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.Full text available as:

PDF
Download (15MB) | Preview

Abstract

Accounts of miracles are found in the four Gospels, elsewhere in the New and Old Testaments, and at other times down to the present. Responses to the figure of Jesus among his Gospel miracles differ with the different judgements that are made about the possibility of there being miracles at all. As a matter of fact, our tradition of inquiry contains diverging, even opposing conclusions on this point, and this has a definite impact on the study of the Gospels and their central character.

This thesis constitutes a comprehensive response to the issue of miracle as it affects the interpretation of the Gospels, and hence, what we are able to believe about Jesus and the extent of his miraculous activity. Having outlined the divided response to miracle (Chapter One), the thesis is built up by studies of six principal respondents to the issue of miracle.

On the one hand, we have chosen St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman and C. S. Lewis to represent the ’maximal’ depiction of belief in miracle. These three studies exhibit the interpretations of the Gospels that accompany, and in part depend on, the non-problematical acceptance of miracle. On the other hand, we have chosen David Hume, D. F. Strauss and Rudolf Bultmann to represent the ’minimalistic’ position on miracle. While Hume does not formally discuss the Gospel miracles, his conclusions are plainly relevant, and in the two latter studies, close attention is paid to the actual interpretation of Gospel miracle stories.

In all the studies, wherever possible, I have tried to concentrate on what in particular they believed about Jesus in his miracles. In effect, this has meant pursuing a miracle-structure from conception through to Ascension. In discovering what has been believed about Jesus in his miracles, we have often placed the emphasis on the interpreters’ response to a Gospel or Gospel passage. In the concluding chapter, I direct my own attention to St. Mark’s Gospel and, in the light of earlier chapters, put my own questions to it.

While interesting results emerge from the studies of the six interpreters, my principal conclusion is that there are good reasons not to identify the Jesus of the Gospel miracles with Jesus in his pragmatic existence. While it remains coherent to develop an apology or world-view in which literal miracles on the greatest scale have a place in nature and history, it is their very magnitude that raises the decisive objections to locating them as events in Jesus’ mundane existence, prior to the Resurrection.

oOo

We want to hear from you

On Wednesday last week, around 40 people met together to share their experiences about church attendance since moving into a “progressive” understanding of Christianity. I put the word progressive in inverted commas for a couple of reasons – that there is no one understanding that we would all ascribe to, and that no one has yet come up with another word to use for those of us who still want to engage with the Jesus story, but within the framework of the 21st century.  

We were a varied group who wanted to share something about why or why not church attendance is part of our practice.

We discovered that we are on a continuum of belief and practice. I did not take notes, but will share a few of my observations that I can recall from people’s stories.

attend church every Sunday … attend occasionally … haven’t been in 30 years… find church services meaningful … finding traditional theology frustrating … finding more meaning in a more ordered liturgy music  is inspirational … not able to sing words of old hymns…have been loved and nurtured by the church (people) … my questions have been rejected … have felt emotionally abused…service is most important … Micah 6:8 was an important verse for a lot of people

Now …. as a follow up … It has been suggested that we could collate people’s thoughts on this topic. If you could write a reflection on this topic thinking about the following questions and send them to me, we will learn more about each other and the variety of pathways we have followed to come to our present understanding of participating in organised religion. Half an A4 page would be manageable for us to collate and share. If you were not at the Explorers meeting, you are still welcome to share your thoughts.

 These are just a few of the questions that were given by Smith and Hunt to the those who were asked to contribute their stories to the book“New Life; Rediscovering Faith – Stories from Progressive Christians.” .

Has this journey affected my church attendance?Has it changed how I express my faith?Is anything different and does this difference influence why I attend or do not attend church?Why did I / didn’t I walk away?

Our nextPCN Explorerswill be on Wednesday 25th September,10 am, Merthyr Road Uniting Church 

Come at 10 for eat, meet and greet and we will get started about10:30.

Several members of the network will share their experience of attending Common Dreams Conference in Sydney last July. We will hear the highlights of the speakers for each person.

Our meeting on Wednesday 30th October will be facilitated by Brian O’Hanlon, retired psychologist, on the topic: A Spiritual approach to Christianity … Understanding the Spiritual Ego:

A summary of the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin with particular emphasis on ‘we are Spiritual beings!’We are Spiritual beings so, why are we not in the Kingdom, ‘Heaven on Earth’? (The Spiritual Ego what is it?) Turning down the Spiritual Ego.

West End Explorers are trying to get hold of a copy of the video series …The Challenge Of Jesus by John Dominic Crossan. If you can help with this, please contact Kris 0404 645 007 or kris.maslen@gmail.com 

journeying together,

Desley

Desley Garnett
drgarn@bigpond.net.au
0409 498 403

Paul Inglis psinglis@westnet.com.au

oOo

A Theological Reflection on the Ending of Mark’s Gospel

By Dr Peter Lewis
All the synoptic gospels have the high priest asking Jesus if he is the Messiah (Mark 14:61, Matthew 26:63, Luke 22:67). In Mark Jesus says, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” In Matthew the “I am” is replaced by “Yes, it is as you say.” In Luke, Jesus says that if he told them they would not believe him, and he goes on to say, “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” Despite these differences, in all three gospels Jesus asserts that he will sit at the right hand of God, but only in the longer ending of Mark’s gospel does this actually occur. In Mark 16:19 Jesus is taken up to heaven and sits at the right hand of God. This is what the reader would expect: it is the logical conclusion to the story and it confirms that the longer ending is what Mark originally wrote. But why is it not in the endings of the gospels of Matthew and Luke?


It seems that Matthew did not know Mark’s original ending because there is nothing in his gospel that relates to Mark’s text after 16:8. Luke knows the original ending because the disciples do not believe the women (Luke 24:11), Jesus appears to two of his followers when they are walking in the country (Luke 24: 13-35) and the disciples stay in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49), but Luke does not have the Ascension (he was taken up into heaven – Mark 16:19) at the end of his gospel because he wants it to be in the beginning of Acts, which is the second volume of the orderly account that he wrote for Theophilus (Luke 1:3). In modern versions of Luke’s gospel the Ascension also occurs in the final verses; “He was taken up into heaven and they worshipped him” (Luke 24:51,52) but this is a later insertion. It does not occur in Papyrus 75 from the third century, Codex Vaticanus and other ancient manuscripts, and should not be in modern versions. But how does Luke deal with the Ascension in Acts?
In Acts 1:9, after Jesus spoke to the disciples “he was lifted up and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Then two angels appear and the reader naturally expects them to say that Jesus now sits at the right hand of God, which is what he told the high priest (Luke 22:68), but instead they ask a stupid question, “Why are you standing looking into the sky?” What else would they be doing? Then the angels say that Jesus will come back in the same way as he went up. Why has Luke made such a significant change to Mark’s account (Mark 16:19)?
To answer this question we need to examine what Jesus said to the high priest in Mark 14:62. His first words were, “I am.” This is what God said to Moses when he asked what was the name of God (Exodus 3:14). God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites that ‘I AM’ has sent him to them. This is God’s name and although essentially a mystery it has the connotation of being alive, of being conscious and aware. It is an amazing statement for Jesus to make. It means that he thought he was God or in some way divine.
Then, in his answer to the high priest Jesus uses a mixed metaphor: he cannot be sitting and standing at the same time. Sitting at the right hand of God has the sense of permanence and stability, and this metaphor derives from Psalm 110:1, which Jesus quoted in Mark 12:36. Coming on clouds has the sense of movement and this metaphor derives from Daniel 7:13 – one like a son of man comes with the clouds of heaven. Obviously he would be standing not sitting.
Actually, what Jesus tells the high priest is a paradox. Divinity is a mystery: God cannot be known as He really is. Ultimate reality is beyond the human mind. Just as the ultimate basis of our material existence is a paradox, i.e. the particle/wave phenomenon of quantum physics, so must the ultimate reality of God be to us. This does not mean that God does not exist: it means we have to use metaphors in talking about Him. Of course He does not sit on a throne in heaven as Zeus was imagined on Mount Olympus. Whether thought of as Being, Mind or some other category God is beyond human comprehension.
In Luke’s account of the Ascension Jesus goes up with a cloud and the angels say he will return with clouds (Acts 1:11). Jesus will be standing, as the disciples were at the time, not sitting on a throne. This is confirmed later in Luke’s account because when Stephen is about to be killed he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). The significance of standing is that he is about to return.
Why has Luke changed Mark’s description of Jesus sitting with God, to Jesus being about to return? To answer this question we have to understand the time and circumstances of Mark and Luke. Mark was writing in Rome before the Jewish War (66 -70 CE). Although there had been violence such as the killing of James in about 41 CE it paled in significance compared with the terrible events of the war which climaxed in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and Mark’s circumstances were fairly stable. This is reflected in the ending he wrote: Jesus is seated with God and the Kingdom of God has come. If Luke wrote during or after the Jewish War he would have been greatly affected by it, as was everyone involved in it. It was a horrible time and Luke with all the Christians would have turned to Jesus. The expectation that Jesus would return was greatly heightened, and in his First Letter to the Thessalonians Paul describes the event: the Lord will come down from heaven and the Christians who are still alive will be caught up in the clouds to meet with the Lord in the air (1 Thess 4:16,17). Luke was one of Paul’s companions and he too would have expected Jesus’s imminent return, but to make his account more appealing he concludes it in 62 CE with Paul in Rome preaching the Kingdom of God, as Jesus commanded the disciples in Mark 16:15, and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:31).
The ending that Mark originally wrote is very significant for a theological understanding of his gospel. Jesus enthroned in heaven at God’s right hand is what it is all about. And it is amazing to think that Jesus did it all himself. He arranged the whole thing, i.e. the birth of Christianity was his doing. On three occasions (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) he said he would be killed and rise again: he knew it would happen because he was going to make it happen. With his staged entry into Jerusalem and his disrupting the business in the temple he provoked the authorities to kill him, and most importantly with his giving of himself at the Last Supper he carried it off. What an achievement!
It was not a group effort: his disciples did not understand him and fled when he was arrested. Even their following him was not their doing: Jesus commanded them to follow him (Mark 1:17). It was all part of his plan, and finally he sat down at the right hand of God. How bold! How confident! Whether God liked it or not Jesus installed himself, and we acknowledge him as Lord. But God did like it because, you see, God was Jesus.
God became a human being in order to become involved in the life of the world that he created and to guide it into the future. In this way human beings become co-creators with God in creating the Kingdom of God. Paul summed it up when he wrote that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5:19a). God expressed his love by giving to human beings the model of Christ: caring, forgiving, healing, and by giving his Spirit. As Paul wrote in his Letter to the Ephesians, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. . .” (Eph 5:1)

                **********

The latest from Kevin Treston now available

Opening Doors: A Seeker’s reflections on the rooms of Christian living
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Revelation 3:20) Opening Doors: A Seeker’s Reflections on the Rooms of Christian Living takes seriously the invitation of the Lord for us to open the door to him, and with confidence consider how our faith may be enhanced and energised through the wisdoms of contemporary theology and spirituality.
The book is written for those whom Charles Taylor describes as ‘seekers’ – Christians who are searching to reconcile their faith with emerging insights from modern science, cosmology and consciousness.
We are invited to open eleven doors and enter eleven rooms of Christian living. Each room offers a flavour of each of the topics in the Christian Story followed by focused questions for individual reflection and shared conversations in self-directed groups. The topics of the rooms include everyday spirituality, the universe story, humans and religion, the mystery of God, meeting Jesus, the church, ministry, women and faith communities, a Christian ethical way of life, Christian spiritualities and faith communities in a global world.
Kevin Treston graduated BA (Hons), MA (Hons), MEd., PhD (University of Notre Dame USA) and pursued post-doctoral studies in Washington, Boston and Chicago. He was visiting Scholar at Boston College and is a member of the Association of Practical Theology Oceania. He has worked in ministry across Australia and many countries.
To order online go to: www.coventrypress.com.au
Phone: 0477 809 037
Email: enquiries@coventrypress.com.au
Post to: Coventry Press, 33 Scoresby Road, Bayswater Vic
Opening Doors @ $24.95
*Postage: $9.95 for 1-3 books; $11 for 4 and more; free freight for orders over $100
OPENING DOORS
A Seeker’s reflections on the rooms of Christian living
Kevin Treston
Coventry Press
9780648566106 — $24.95

oOo