Category Archives: Theology

St Marcion’s Modern Church

Are you interested in joining this church?

I have lost their web address – or perhaps the website has been taken down. But I did manage to salvage the church’s own description from the page. Here it is:

Welcome to St Marcion’s

Here at St Marcion’s, we love to keep up to date and new. Why? Because Jesus is so good that he makes everything else old and unhelpful.

So we read the Bible! Well, we read the new part of the Bible. (Obviously the Old Testament is old and so different – nothing good there.) No, actually, we read some of the new part of the Bible (even the New Testament has some ‘Old Testament’ hangovers, they’re easy to spot and to ignore).

Yes, we’re completely people of the Bible.

Hmm. Maybe not for me. I’m glad that Marcion was second century AD, now long gone. No one would be so crazy or arrogant nowadays to assume that new equals good. We’re all reading Old Testament as well as New Testament.

Aren’t we?



The gospel in two points

The Christian announcement – the gospel – centres on Jesus. That’s the simple and joyful reality.

The Christian message also is beautiful and profound, open to expression in a rich variety of ways. After all, there are four New Testament gospels.

The simple complexity of Jesus’ truth means there are many, many great ways to speak truly about Jesus. I love that! And have a quick two point option to throw into the mix.

  1. We all judge Jesus as worthy of death
  2. God invites us to share his own view of Jesus, as Lord

«‹›» «‹›» «‹›» «‹›»

The events of Jesus’ life were remarkable: teaching, wonders, healing, gaining followers and enemies. Without doubt, Jesus’ impact came to its pinnacle in Easter week.

Jesus’ death at Easter was caused by … everybody.

Disciples abandoned Jesus or became traitor. Religious leaders condemned Jesus. The crowds who followed these leaders easily agreed to call for execution. And the world’s power, exemplified through Roman law, decided death was the only option for Jesus.

But God raised Jesus.

So now Jesus is alive. God’s view of Jesus has been established for all time: Jesus is the ruler of God’s people, and Lord of the world.

Thankfully, we can recant from our mis-judgement of Jesus. We can repent, and trust Jesus’ for forgiveness and new life.

«‹›» «‹›» «‹›» «‹›»

The biblical material I have in mind for this two point outline is mainly the preaching of Acts. Here are some of the verses from Acts, so you can test and see it this two point gospel is a fair summary.

Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him.

let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead– by him this man is standing before you well.

They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear

And when they had carried out all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

[Testifying] that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.


Jesus, history & faith

Here are some thought provoking words on Jesus in history: the historic events are open to historical understanding, and at the same time are only understood by faith.

The Jesus of whom the Gospels tell us is a unique event in history, not to be confused with other personalities in history. His uniqueness in this general historical sense is an essential part of the fundamental confession of the Christian faith. …

The atonement and redemption which was achieved through the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross is an event which does not lie in the dimension of the historian. It is for that reason not something which the historian as such can recognize, but which is only apprehended by faith. It is an action of God, an act of the self-disclosure and self-communication of God, and thus is something which cannot be perceived as a historical occurrence. While the uniqueness which the historian apprehends in the Person and history of Jesus is only something relatively unique, that which faith apprehends in this historical fact as God’s deed and God’s Word of atonement and redemption is something absolutely unique, it is something that by its very nature either has happened once and for all, for all times and for every man, or else has not happened.

From Emil Brunner’s Dogmatics, Volume III.



Grace & karma

A quick thought about grace and karma. Definitions are not hard to find for each. Those below are from (OK, I changed it to English spelling. I can’t seem to write ‘favour’ without the ‘u’.)

Grace: the freely given, unmerited favour and love of God.
KarmaHinduism, Buddhism the principle of retributive justice determining a person’s state of life and the state of his reincarnations as the effect of his past deeds.

It strikes me that grace and karma both share a humility and a confidence. They are humble and confident, however, in different ways. Karma relates these primarily to the individual. Grace considers these primarily in relation to God.

  • To one in trouble or suffering, karma humbly says: I do not know what you did.
    Yet with confidence adds: I do know you deserve it.
  • Grace says: I do not know the way of God here.
    And: I do know God is in control for his good.

If I have this right, many consequences flow. And it helps explain the practice of different faiths. I suggest, for example, that Christianity has a history and reputation for compassion that is not the same as for Buddhism. On the other hand, Christianity always faces the question of theodicy – justifying the ways of God – that is not an issue for the believer in karma.

Both of these fit the ‘humble confidence’ sayings above, I think.

What do you reckon? And can you think of other outcomes of these different views of justice and reality?



Quick review: Joined-up life

Joined-Up Life: A Christian Account of How Ethics WorksJoined-Up Life: A Christian Account of How Ethics Works by Andrew Cameron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book.

Each chapter is written to be clear in its own right, and Cameron invites readers to dip into whichever topic interests us. I chose to read right through, however, and can recommend this approach. Though each chapter does stand, there is a clear sense of building the overall argument from chapter 1 to chapter 47.

There are seven sections. Awareness notes common approaches to ethics. Unawareness uncovers factors too often overlooked as we decide what’s right and wrong. Jesus versus ethics explores the various way the Bible’s message, centred on Jesus, shapes ethics. Five things that matter is where Cameron constructs his ‘unified field.’ Living our lives brings biblical input into contact with an approach not as popular now as it was historically: character or virtue. Life packages looks at some broad life situations (singleness, marriage, work, …). Six hotspots gets into some of the particular issues that often are controversial points of revelation for our differences of opinion.

In this short review it would be neglectful to quickly pass by Cameron’s unified field. His book, I believe, has two parts: constructing the unified field, then employing the unified field. What is it?

In my understanding, the unified field is a set of interconnected inputs for ethical thinking. There is not ‘an answer’ or ‘a single approach’ to ethics – life is more complex and nuanced than that. Therefore ethics is, likewise, more complex.

The elements of the field are these:
Creation: God made things with an order that we can (partially) perceive or learn
Jesus-shaped community: the work of Jesus creates a group of his people dedicated to living a better way, devoted to being in relationships that are shaped by God’s ways
The new future: history has a goal, set by God. This reality will last, and is to impinge on present life
God’s character: God himself has patterns of right and wrong that become normative for his people
Commands: commands are not ‘the’ ethical method. Yet God’s commands give us a quick insight into each of the above four elements

This field is a most helpful way to focus our approach to ethical questions. They do not neglect the major story arc of the Bible – the unfolding of the Saving Lordship of Jesus. Instead, they honour this story arc enough to see how the story of Jesus changes everything in our own story.



View all my reviews

Empty tomb ethics

The centre of Christianity is Jesus: his life, death, resurrection and present rule. But this is not the only thing Christians speak about – far from it.

It’s probably true that Christians spend more time speaking about ethics than anything else. (I’m using ‘ethics’ broadly to cover any thoughts about how to live.) This is true in the public arena, as well as privately over coffee after church. Public examples range from well-known Christians (denominational leaders, say) to specific lobby groups like the Australian Christian Lobby (

In this post, I am not going to critique how well Christians do at public ethics-talk. I have a different aim: to claim that all our ethical talk must include the empty tomb of Jesus, otherwise it’s not Christian at all.

The empty tomb of Jesus is the powerful demonstration the Jesus really is the Son of God (Romans 1:4). Despite the shameful cursedness of Jesus’ cross – even through this curse – Jesus greatness remains: Jesus is Lord. The empty tomb changes everything, including the shape of life.

Empty tomb ethics
I think there are (at least) two factors that link ethics and the empty tomb.

  1. To crush evil, God had to defeat death itself
    God had to do this personally, in the person of Jesus the Son. No one else was capable of facing sin’s deadly sting with purity sufficient to remove the poison of that sting.
  2. In defeating death itself, God overwhelmingly crushed evil
    What’s the worst that could have happened to Jesus? The worst was to be handed over to evil men and condemned to an unjust death. That worst thing happened, yet God prevailed.

The first of these points makes it crystal clear: evil and sin are a big deal. The evil act of any person is death. No evil is ever trivial or can be shrugged off as of no account. If God went to that extent to crush evil, we have no permission to be blasé about our wrongs (or anyone else’s).

In other words, Christians must speak about ethics, including placing a spotlight on wrong. If we go soft, we do a disservice to the empty tomb and the astounding completed work of Jesus.

The second of these points is the wonderful glimmer of hope defeating the blackness of sin. God won the victory, therefore sin will not have the victory. More than that, since God won the victory, sin cannot triumph.

In consequence, all Christian talk of ethics must also include hope. Sin-talk that functions as a blunt-instrument attack is not consistent with the empty tomb. Sin-talk is serious, but always looks to the transformation God promises to those who have been raised with Christ.

For instance
To take one sin for an example, consider the greed for ‘stuff’ so prevalent in affluent Australia.

The empty tomb shows how useless is possession of the latest gadget, or fastest car, or shiniest house. The pursuit of these is a pathetic effort at self-definition. It spurns Jesus’ victory over sin by pushing it aside. ‘I’d much rather get a flat-screen TV than have union Christ who rose as the Son of God.’ We should name greed for the sin it is.

Yet there is hope. Once convicted of this failing, the greedy one can be sure: if s/he stops the pursuit of stuff, life will not end. There will be no loss of identity, but possession of true identity in Jesus! Change and transformation and resurrection life are real today. The sinner, therefore, is not left downcast but is lifted up to where Christ is seated in the heavenly realms. Life changes – and that is empty tomb ethics.



Trinity & Bible

I have two sentences for this post. Here’s the first: The word of God is a work of God.

Simple, yet significant. The written word of the Bible is not God, yet connects us directly with God. This does not eliminate the human aspects of the Bible. It remains as writing. We read the Bible with usual language skills.

And now for the second sentence, in Latin: Opera trinitatis ad extra sunt indivisa.

I know no Latin, but know this is a famous Trinitarian saying. It states that the operations or works of the Trinity are inseparable. There is no work of God for which we can say, ‘The Son was working here while the Father was not acting.’ For unionists: the Trinity has no demarcation zones. For management folk: the Trinity avoids the danger of silo mentality.

When we think of the cross, for example, we should consider that Father, Son and Spirit all were at work. Hebrews 9:14 captures this in a single verse: Christ, the Son, offered himself to God, the Father, through the eternal Spirit.

Now, time to connect the two sentences. If both are true, we see that the Bible is a work of all members of the Trinity. We rightly highlight the Bible as inspired of the Holy Spirit. In so doing, however, we do not forget that Father and Son also work through the word.

I can put this as a warning: to divide the Bible too distinctly is to risk dividing God. If we dis-unite the Bible we are in danger of denying the unity of God.

From flickr user soulvision

So let’s be careful not to break up the Bible! Here are some of the bad breaks I’ve seen.

Old Testament God versus New Testament God
This is an oldie, pitting old-angry God against new-loving God. Both testaments speak clearly of God’s love, as well as the guarantee that God judges the world. The caricature, caused by a bad break, results in two separate and pathetic Gods. The first needs help with anger-management – he seems to simply lash out and all thought of justice disappears. The second is the typical 60kg weakling – his love is so nice but won’t change a single thing in your life.

Paul versus Jesus
This break says Paul departed from Jesus. Paul (sadly) founded Christianity, and was different from the amazing Jesus. Consequently, we can choose which parts of Paul’s letters we like are consistent with Jesus. When we so choose, our view of God distorts, for we choose some parts but not the whole.

Jesus versus everyone
Also known as the red letter division, because it is the practice of printing some Bibles with ‘the words of Christ in red’. This makes some parts of the four gospels, Acts, 1 Corinthians and Revelation more inspired than the rest. And ‘the rest’ includes the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This bizarre practice even divides the work of Jesus: his parables are red letter, his compassion on the crowds are black; the Beatitudes are red letter, the feeding of the 5000 are black. There can’t be any good from starting to divide Jesus from himself.

Jesus never said …
This is the path of ‘divide and conquer’. It’s especially common at present concerning homosexuality. It goes like this: Jesus said nothing about homosexuality therefore this is not an important topic for God or the Bible. It claims to honour Jesus (‘We’d never depart from his words!’), while directly rejecting Jesus. For Jesus did give us words about homosexuality. Some are in Leviticus. Other in Romans, or elsewhere. They all are certainly words of the Son of God. Because they are God’s words, they are also words of the Son – for the works of the Trinity are undivided.

These examples warn us that it is a grave risk to slice and dice the scriptures. To chop out unwelcome words is, effectively, to chop at the nature of God. God’s work is a unity because God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). God’s unified work includes his united word, the Bible, which we are to hear as a unified message.

Now here’s a question for you: what other examples do you know that break apart the word of God?


Religion’s biggest enemy

Melbourne just hosted the Global Atheist Convention. While I have not been a keen follower of these events, I have the distinct impression that the discussion has been a whole lot more constructive than previously. Of course that may reflect the sources of information I gravitate towards.

One stream of comment in the New Atheism is the ridicule of religion. Much of the ridicule, unfortunately, holds dearly to a false premise: that atheists the only ones to ridicule religion.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The greatest mocker of religion is God. The strongest words against religion are in the Bible. The human heart longs for religion – and it is a terrifyingly simple move to twist real life with the real God into religious life with a ridiculous god.

Before looking at some of the Bible verses that prove this, here’s my very brief take on the nature of religion. Religion is untrue and irrational (comparing the real God with imagined gods is farcical). Religion is human-centred (what we can do, not what God has done). Religion is, ironically, dehumanising (allowing ritual or idols to overrule human dignity). Religion is enslaving (the demands of ritual never end, for achievement is never guaranteed).

God’s ridicule includes:

Their [the nations’] idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Psalm 115:4-7

He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!”  And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
Isaiah 44:14-17

I also think of Elijah’s ridicule of the prophets of Baal in their religious frenzy. “Surely he is a god! Rave harder, that will get him out of the toilet to answer your prayer” (1 Kings 18:27).

God is not comfortable with religion. He does not tolerate it. He is not generous or welcoming to religious ideas. These things offend him, and belittle all of his creation. In consequence, God moves beyond mockery to judgement. He acts against religion. God’s searing indictment strikes fear into the heart of the religious:

Those who make them [idols] become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
Psalm 115:8

It’s a most fitting and most awful prospect – to follow a false god is to become like that false god. This process, and God’s active part in it, is seen in Romans 1.

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up …
For this reason God gave them up …
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

Galatians trumpets the view that religion is slavery and deadly. To insist upon non-essentials (in Galatia, it was circumcision) is astonishingly against the grace of Jesus Christ. Religion is anathema, accursed by God (Galatians 1:8-9). Paul knew what he wanted for those who peddle religion as a way to God. I can assure you what he wanted was not tolerance (Galatians 5:12.)

Religion’s biggest enemy? It’s God.



Christianity as therapy

I was reading this article about (US) Christianity, and the following two paragraphs stopped me in my tracks:

More often, though, therapeutic language wholly replaces theological concepts. In his study, Smith notes that the teenagers used the phrase “feel happy” more than 2,000 times in the interviews. None of them used the terms “justification” or “being justified,” “sanctification” or “being sanctified.” The “grace of God” was explicitly mentioned only three times.

“The language, and therefore experience,” Smith found, “of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, Eucharist, and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.” Smith views this not as a sign that Christianity is being secularized, but that it is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or being replaced by a quite different religious faith.

(The ‘Smith’ is the sociologist Christian Smith.)

In short, the language used by Christians to explain their Christian life is not the language of theology. It is the language of therapy, of our feelings, and of us getting on well with a successful life. Doctrine is downplayed. And – here’s a punch to the solar plexus – evangelicalism bears a large responsibility.

Evangelicals, goes the claim of this piece, get converts. These converts become fond of Jesus – but really love themselves. These Christians become consumers of spiritual therapy – but not disciples.

If that’s the tragic view of North America, I am sure it is active is Australia as well. Are we less down this path than the US (because we always follow the US)? Or are we perhaps further down this path (because Australia has so little of the US tendency for public theological discussion)?

In either case, here’s my advice. Let’s talk about God. Let’s use the language and terminology of the Bible, and of Christian history. Let’s not be embarrassed to mention ‘holy’, or ‘Trinity’, or ‘repentance’. Let’s be aware that removing the word ‘sin’ from our lips will only free sin to reappear in an acceptably churchy manner.



Science & the gospel: intro

For a while now I’ve had an idea to use this blog ponder the relation between science and the gospel of Jesus.

I’m not one who thinks that ‘science and religion are totally separate spheres’ (Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA, or non-overlapping magisteria). Nor do I think one is completely swallowed up in the other (it’s not that theology alone sets every scientific question, nor that science encompasses and ‘explains’ belief).

Rather, science and theology have a complex interaction. There are some overlapping areas of concern, some unique fields in each discipline, and plenty of mutual influence. (To read much more about this, I recommend the work of John Hedley Brooke.)

In this little series, I want to ponder one specific interaction: how faith in Christ transforms our view of science.

This is the method I decided upon. I will take a Christian tract and explanation of the gospel that I am familiar with, and use each of its main points as the departure place for a few reflections. I am very familiar with Two Ways To Live (TWTL), and so will use this. I envision six blog posts (apart from this intro), one for each image/page of TWTL.

Update: here are the links to each post, added once they are complete and published.
Creation and science
Sin and science
Judgement and science
Jesus the saviour and science
The resurrection of Jesus and science
Repentance and faith and science