Saturday, 7 April 2007

Easter weekend columns

The Times
Geoffrey Rowell On Easter morning a new order broke into the world
And Pete Wilcox Don’t be afraid of the winged messengers

Tom Wright Easter’s message of resurrection is a powerful one
And Giles Fraser Embrace freedom

Daily Telegraph
Christopher Howse Ancient Easters caught in stone
And Leader The flesh and blood hopes of Easter

Church Times
Leader Called to be witnesses
And Giles Fraser Why liberals believe the resurrection

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 3:01pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Opinion

Rather disappointed with Tom Wright's Guardian piece - seemed naive and a little sour.

Posted by: Mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 6:51pm BST

Giles Fraser: "The only time I have ever been asked directly: “Do you believe in the resurrection?” was during a job interview."

This says more about the DYSFUNCTION that is the Church than anything I've read in a while: the Church has too many willing to *interrogate* about the resurrection, and far too few willing to LIVE it!

{hint: it's about NEW LIFE, not a verbatim about divinely-performed CPR :-/}

Ah well: as the CT "Leader" says (still not used to that Briticism! *g*), this day, Holy Saturday, is about *watching*. Looking, carefully, to see what happens tonight at the Vigil . . . but I'm bringing bells! :-D

Posted by: JCF on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 6:54pm BST

Giles Fraser is 100% correct in his "Why liberals believe in the ressurection". With Moltman we proclaim a theology of hope. Easter is the proof that the end in going to be glorious. It is coming. He is risen!

Posted by: Allan on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 7:33pm BST

This one is for Giles Fraser - it may come in handy when meeting an "evangelical" who does not care for the resurrection:

"Next [having expounded "he descended into hell"] follows the resurrection from the dead, without which all that has hitherto been said would be defective... although in his death we have an effectual completion of salvation, because by it we are reconciled to God, satisfaction is given to his justice, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid; still it is not by his death, but by his resurrection, that we are said to be begotten again to a living hope (1 Pet. 1:3); because, as he, by rising again, became victorious over death, so the victory of our faith consists only in his resurrection. The nature of it is better expressed in the words of Paul, "Who (Christ) was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification," (Rom. 4:25); as if he had said, By his death sin was taken away, by his resurrection righteousness was renewed and restored. For how could he by dying have freed us from death, if he had yielded to its power? how could he have obtained the victory for us, if he had fallen in the contest?"

(Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, chap. 16)

Posted by: Thomas Renz on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 7:43pm BST

Giles Fraser's excellent essay, as well as the discussion around Jeffrey John on atonement theology, explains to me why - at least in the US - Mel's movie about the Passion was so popular with conservative evangelicals. Whole churches went as a group, booking the whole theater.

I thought it really weird that a movie based on a Roman Catholic devotional practice, the meditations of a neurotic nun, and directed by an ultra-conservative Roman Catholic, would fly with that group. Silly me. It goes well with what is evidently their favored atonement theology.

I didn't see the movie for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a weak stomach for gore.

I led the Stations at our church on Friday noon, using the form from TEC's Book of Occasional Services. We do not have permanent or temporary artwork to mark the stations - partly reflecting Virgnia's low church tradition, partly because even temporary artwork would be difficult with our architecture.

I think I'll propose maybe that next year we simply mark the Stations with temporary posterboard markers with just a Roman numeral.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 8:39pm BST

I agree with Mynsterpreost above. Just look at these two paragraphs by Tom Wright.

_Gangsters and drug-dealers get radically converted and set on fire with God's love, while pale churchmen drone their disbelief and warn against extremism...

As our politicians go round the tracks this way and that, fudging and dodging and hedging their bets, and as our culture lurches through the sneers and the whims of postmodernity, it looks as though we all know we need new creation but nobody knows where to find it. Easter offers an answer so striking that most mock at it and even the churches often don't know what to do with it. Forget the eggs and the bunnies._

Here we have pale churchmen (not pale churchwomen then), warning against extremism (like his?), fudging, dodging, sneers, whims, mock - and belittling).

Tome Wright seems to be in his own dug out (tomb?) criticising and dismissing, and telling others what they should be doing, and how inadequate this lot are and how wrong they are... It is all negative, dismissive, and carping. Where is his glorious, expansive, spirit of Easter?

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 9:25pm BST

David Edwards' Church Times article Clearly Defined Anglicanism

is quite good (he does vary) especially the last three paragraphs. I think his argument is surely one for no Covenant at all, because by the nature of up to date statements in a fast changing situation, they are very soon out of date statements. They become just one more argument for one lot to tell another lot what they should be obeying. There are enough in the way of topics and texts for miserable and over-instructive bishops, without giving them any more.

Posted by: Pluralist on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 10:07pm BST

Do what we do - ask the congregation if anyone wants to "do" a station. It's up to each person/group what they do. One year in a church I went to we had collages, poems, paintings, flower arrangements, a mimed story... it's fascinating to see people explore their own ideas and creativity.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 10:08pm BST

On the anti-penal substitution camp, which probably really should be the "why are the exceptions? querying camp", a friend of mine referred me to a new book "The Existential Jesus" and a transcript of a program's recording:

This is one of those times that I am really hoping that the interviewer sensationalised the writer's intent, because otherwise this form of theological interpretation is frankly terrifying.

For example "...he very deliberately cancels Genesis in the Old Testament which has God creating everything... this Jesus basically ditches ethical religion, the Ten Commandments, ritual religion, virtually all the elements of Jewish religion."

and "...Mark's Jesus is someone who lays waste to everything. This is an image of laying waste to nature. From laying waste to nature he's about to go up the mountain and lay waste to culture, and basically leave nothing..."

If a valid representation of the author's intent, this kind of interpretation can justify both ignoring or even endorsing desecration and destruction of Creation.

Yet I do not believe that was Jesus' intent. Luke 24:44, Jesus still expects the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms to be fulfilled. Then there was Jesus' promise of gentleness to the Daughter of Zion (Matthew 21:5) and his gentle reply to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2-6. Note that both sets of promises are consistent with Isaiah 61:1-3.

I think that a fundamental mistake that people have with Jesus' dialogues with the Pharisees and Sadducees is who he was targetting and why. It was easy in the moment of passion, frustration, grief and rage to blame all Jews. But Jesus did not hate the Jews, what Jesus hated were those Jews who had prostituted the bible for favours with the Roman Empire. Jesus was attacking the apologists who aided and abetted cruelty oppression and used legalistic hyperboles to white wash over their complacent complicity.

Actually, I liked Tom Wright's article and he asks the question "Supposing the power of that event were to be released into the world, into local communities, into ordinary lives, here and now? What might that look like?"

Isaiah 66 gives us the imagery of earth and its inhabitants rising up to meet the Lord, whilst God reaches down to raise us even higher. Which is how God fulfills the promise of Isaiah 65:1 "...I will create new heavens and a new earth..."

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Saturday, 7 April 2007 at 10:44pm BST

Giles Fraser's article continues the recent defence of Jeffrey John, drawing in Steve Chalke's eveangelical change a while back. The fuss then was also along a well worn road.

But Giles then makes some sweeping points (inevitable in a short piece). I agree with him that the whole dramatic presentation gets to failure and disappointment, tragedy even, followed by a new window.

The problem is how belief takes place, and liberals/ radicals are quite varied. My own position is that I am a relativist in religion and live in this time and place with a worldview that says the old mechanisms do not work. The same "how" as regards "what happens" on the cross, beyond an obvious execution, is the "how" regarding resurrection. What we know is that this was important explanation in the early churches, and has some basis of experience somewhere, and leads to creative theological writing. It is also inadequate itself, that resurrection was too limited and needs a Pentecost. To me it is about an early church set of questions like:

"Right - if he was bodily there then, like, why isn't he here now?" "The resurrection appearances had a time limit and were to leaders and a congregation (120 or 500)." "When did it all begin then?" "Well it needed another kick start later on."

Whilst I am interested in signals of transcendence and how this relates to pure forms of deity and absence of deity, all these mechanisms seem lost in a previous lifeworld.

So much remains about material and spiritual exchange, involving a spiritual gift, and beyond such a core view the other social anthropology that connects me is like Evans-Pritchard among the Azande. He remained the Westerner that he was, yet absorbed into their ways he almost believed in the witchcraft that they practised - so he could write about it from the inside.

However card-carrying I may be, I remain a contemporary person to this lifeworld and there is a distance between it and the other. I absorb the themes of the whole Easter drama, and I work them, but I live now and perhaps Giles's piece assumes the supernatural still.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 8 April 2007 at 12:03am BST

"Do what we do - ask the congregation if anyone wants to "do" a station. It's up to each person/group what they do. One year in a church I went to we had collages, poems, paintings, flower arrangements, a mimed story... it's fascinating to see people explore their own ideas and creativity"

That's for sure a thought. I'd like more participation next year and will keep that in mind. Physical limitations apply: fixed pews, once central aisle that is about 3 people wide, space between pews and walls quite narrow - two people wide. If we could go to flexible seating and change [Oh - My - God! - CHANGE?] a few other things, the space would be more flexible. Won't happen.

Likely not everyone on this space has heard this.

How many Virginia Episcopalians does it take to change a lightbulb?

CHANGE the lightbulb?

My grandmother GAVE that light bulb! Her name is engraved on the base!

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Sunday, 8 April 2007 at 12:06am BST

Happy Easter to all!

Posted by: counterlight on Sunday, 8 April 2007 at 11:57am BST

Pluralist, in your posting you asked "...why isn't he here now?" "The resurrection appearances had a time limit..."

One of the gems from that February 2005 Bishop speech was the pronouncement that Jesus no longer appeared in the here and now.

Two of the bemusements from the speech were:

- When was the last decreed date that Jesus could appear in the flesh in our space-time continuum, and who decided he couldn't/wasn't allowed to anymore?

- How could this camp possibly claim to have the most faith in Jesus when they denied the possibility that Jesus could still make manifest in the flesh?

Posted by: Cheryl Clough on Sunday, 8 April 2007 at 10:59pm BST

Aye, Cynthia, having just returned from a visit to my childhood church I can confirm that even the scaffold that was used to put up grandma's lightbulb is still there!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Sunday, 8 April 2007 at 11:00pm BST

Erika: you mean someone removed the gas mantle?

Posted by: mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) on Monday, 9 April 2007 at 3:08pm BST

Mynsterpreost: It's a progressive church!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 9 April 2007 at 9:12pm BST

Pete Wilcox ruined his piece, for me, with his unnecessary and uncalled for condescension, towards the spirtitual aspirations and spirituality of UK readers. And this coming from the established Church :--

'A few disheartening minutes spent browsing the “Body, Mind and Spirit” section in a large bookstore demonstrates that there is an extraordinary interest in angels out there. Books on angels abound. Most offer either a saccharine mixture of positive thinking and pseudoscientific spirituality (“tune in to the higher vibrations of the Angels and . . . attract to yourself people and situations of a higher vibratory level and release old negative thought patterns”) or a nauseous blend of horoscopes and white magic. On the internet it is possible to buy a “Pocket Angel” — a term that neatly captures the sad limits of this whole genre. The Angel in your Pocket is a good luck charm: I am a tiny angel, I’m smaller than your thumb: I live in people's pockets, that's where I have my fun.

Before I was an Angel . . . I was a fairy in a flower: God, Himself, '
Pete Wilcox

Does he really imagine that this is going to impress or evangel-ise the readers of The Times (or any other paper) ?

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Wednesday, 11 April 2007 at 7:45pm BST

I didn't understand one aspect of Giles Fraser's essay: namely, his belief in the resurrection. I guess he does not simply beleive in it in order to prove wrong those who think he doesn't. Yet (in company with a lot of liberal thought, which in this particular instance is unarguably dishonest) he didn't distinguish between 4 quite different things:
(1) 'the resurrection' (understand: of Jesus) - a term which never refers in Jewish thought to an 'event' (or rather, lack of event) which leaves the body dead.
(2) 'resurrection' in general, as a possible event, without specifying Jesus
(3) 'the hope of resurrection' - which has nothing to do with the real world, facts or evidence, and is a hope any sensible gambler might hold to, whatever the odds
(4) 'an ideology of resurrection, or rather resilience' - an affirmation of resilience after troubled times or suffering.
Everybody knows these 4 things are quite different.

Posted by: Chirstopher Shell on Thursday, 12 April 2007 at 12:04pm BST

First of all, Christopher, he deliberately avoids a discussion of what is meant by Resurrection. What's difficult? He is clearly talking about the Resurrection of Jesus. The 'hope of the Resurrection' certainly DOES have to with the real world. We commit the dead to the ground in "sure and certain hope" of that very thing. What else can we do but hope and trust that we will also be resurrected? "Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe." Hardly what God would be expected to say about a gambler's hopes, no? I don't see anything in Fraser's piece about resurrection as resilience, where do you see it? And in what way is "liberal thought" on this unarguably dishonest? I'm familiar with wierd stuff like Spong's "Resurrection into the reality of God" or however he puts it, but such things are hardly mainstream, surely.
But his point is that Evangelical PSA theology makes the resurrection almost an afterthought. He's right. Look at how Evangelicals speak of the Atonement. Gone are the ancient images of Christ joyfully mounting the Cross to do battle with our enemies, of ransom, of the baited hook that traps the Enemy, and the idea of a sacrifice for sin is conflated with punishment for sin. Instead, we are offered the unjust punishment of an innocent man (and a think I see a covert Arianism in much Evo belief anyway) by a vindictive God. If Atonement can only come from punishment, it must be complete when the punishment is over, so what's the purpose of Resurrection? I was amused by his reference to Evangelicals singing "hallelujah, we're saved" on Good Friday. Traditionally, as evidenced in Passion Plays, the only ones singing for joy on Good Friday were the demons in Hell who thought they had won! Now THAT gave me pause for thought!

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 12 April 2007 at 6:09pm BST

That is great. But if one does not first define 'resurrection' there is no meaningful way in which one can be said to believe in it (or indeed to disbelieve in it). It is, quite obviously, only after defining something that one can look at it and determine whether or not one believes in it. Imagine the following exchange:

A'Do you believe in chimaeras?'
B'Yes, I most certainly do.'
A'How would you define chimaera?'
B'Well, I guess I'd have to pass on that one.'
Now - does interlocutor A count as an honest person or a dishonest person?

The net result will be -already is- that people will end up claiming to believe (in order to present themselves as bona fide Christian believers and/or hang on to a job) in all sorts of things that they cannot possibly know whether or not they do actually believe in. They may. They may not. So the answer an honest person would give is: 'I obviously don't (prior to its having been even defined) know whether I believe in this; but let's define it in a historically accurate manner, and then I will tell you whether or not I do / how sure or unsure I am about it.'

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 13 April 2007 at 5:20pm BST

"But if one does not first define 'resurrection' there is no meaningful way in which one can be said to believe in it (or indeed to disbelieve in it)."
Well, yes there is. We can each have a definition of it without making absolute statements about it in every context. If I claim the resurrection is defined by X, then I am saying that all who believe it to be Y don't believe in it at all. I know this is the Evangelical approach to faith, others don't have the same approach. For the purposes of his argument, this fine a definition wasn't necessary, though it might well be in another context. For the record, I believe Jesus rose physically from the dead, ate, drank, laughed and talked with the disciples before bodily ascending into Heaven. I find little to inspire me in theologies that would see it in some figurative light. But that kind of distinction isn't always necessary for a discussion of what we think this event means for us as believers, surely.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 19 April 2007 at 6:12pm BST

But it cannot 'mean' *anything* if it doesn't first exist. That is why its existence/reality cannot be a relatively unimportant 'for the record' matter. Nor is it we who decide what it is/means. That is a matter for historical enquiry, which in this case certainly has its limits. We have therefore to rely on a combination of historical enquiry and matching up our own experience with that of the first Christians.
Whether it 'inspires' us is also not a valid criterion. The legends of King Arthur inspire me.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 12:51pm BST

But, Christopher, on your analogy of King Arthur. Let's say you believe Arthur was a real human being, I believe he is myth, and someone else believes he was entirely made up. We can still discuss the significance of the Arthurian legends to modern society without defining in what way we believe Arthur existed, can we not? So, if we are talking about the truth of the Gospel, we would need to define Resurrection, I guess. But if we are discussing the significance of the Resurection, we can go a long way in that discussion without defining what each of us means.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 25 April 2007 at 2:07pm BST

I'd say definitions are the place to start in any book or discussion. Without that, it is (unnecessarily) impossible to know what it is that is being talked about, which would render the converstation pointless.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Thursday, 26 April 2007 at 12:23pm BST
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