A ‘new’ book (Simply Good News / pub. Jan 6, 2015 / HarperOne, 208 pages) by prolific Anglican Theologian and Author N.T. Wright. I draw attention to the word new because in a sense this not a new book. It’s largely a restating of Wright’s well established lines of thinking; thinking he has engaged in the myriad of books and articles he’s written, and in the myriad of interviews and lectures.
Anyone familiar will Wright will find little new in this book, however, it does serve as a distillation of his thinking as far as it relates to an understanding of what the gospel or “good news” is. Or, as the book’s subtitle puts it: “…Why is the Gospel News and what makes it Good?"
However, anyone new to Wright (and this is probably as good a starting point as any), or wanting his thinking about the “good news” in one book, this is a great place to start.
Andrew Wilson from CT offers a brief review of the book here.
This recently published book (an edited collection of essays) - Ice Axes for Frozen Seas: A Biblical Theology of Provocation - by outstanding Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann sounds fascinating. Edited by Davis Hankins the book is described in this way: “Endlessly cunning, elusive, and playful—the Bible consistently unsettles even as it assures. Walter Brueggemann reveals exactly how Scripture exposes the inadequacy of the assumptions and habits that shape our lives. He finds inside Israel’s ancient poetry, prophecy, narrative, and legal covenants new words that create new peoples. In so doing this book provokes a theology of transformation—one that compels new social, economic, and political practices. Brueggemann’s reading reveals that we are not fated to live a life of greed, anxiety, and violence, but instead can embrace a shared life of well-being grounded in an investment in the common good. Brueggemann shows the endless ways by which the Bible provokes new life for transformed peoples. “
Hardback, 430 pages. Published: 15th September 2014. ISBN: 9781481302180
In this Moot podcast from late 2014 UK Anglican Vicar and author Dave Tomlinson explores the theme ‘The Laboratory of the Spirit.’ He asks, where and what is the spiritual quest today, and how do we engage with it? Why are many non-churchgoers more spiritually intelligent than some churchgoers? How can the church become a more effective laboratory of the Spirit?
The session began with exploring the place of Spiritual Intelligence, and drawing on his newly published book, A Bad Christian Manifesto: Reinventing God (and Other Modest Proposals), the session drew on Chapter 4. Dave explored the theme that spiritual intelligence is not the same as being deeply rooted in a religious tradition. The two are not synonymous. In fact all too often being religious in Christianity can come across as lacking in any spiritual intelligence.
Dave defined spiritual intelligence in terms of attributes:
Self-awareness: a grasp of what makes us tick, in terms of values and motivations.
Constancy: consistency in following our deepest convictions and values – even when it means standing against the crowd.
Spontaneity: staying alive in the moment and responding to what each moment presents.
Empathy: identifying with others and sharing in their feelings.
Humility: a measured sense of our own place in the wider scheme of things.
Curiosity: the motivation to explore – especially the ‘why?’ questions.
Flexibility: standing back from a situation or problem to see the bigger picture, and make necessary readjustments.
Resilience: remaining positive in the face of adversity; learning and growing from mistakes and setbacks.
Groundedness: a sense of bearing and purpose.
Receptivity: staying open and welcoming toward diversity and difference.
Mark Vernon recently highlighted an interesting report written by Dr Jonathan Rowson, Director of the secular organisation RSA’s (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce) Social Brain Centre, “this report examines how many of society’s problems risk going unaddressed as we struggle to ‘do depth’ in public – it is historically sidestepped by governments and deferred to religions. But at a time of political alienation and democratic stress, it is no surprise that politicians and the public are now seeking to reconnect with their forgotten spiritual roots.
Spiritualise: revitalising spirituality to address 21st century challenges is the culmination of a two-year project funded by the John Templeton Foundation and the Touchstone Trust. The project received contributions from over three hundred experts including atheists, agnostics, and people of various faiths.
Many people think of themselves as having a spiritual aspect to their lives, but without really knowing what that means. This report puts forth that whilst spiritual identification is an important part of life for millions of people, it currently remains ignored because it struggles to find coherent expression and, therefore, lacks credibility in the public domain.
This report recommends that we all rediscover and develop mature forms of spirituality, grounded both in what we can never really know about our place in the universe, and what we can know – and experience – about ourselves. The spiritual injunction is principally an experiential one, namely to know oneself as fully as possible. For many, that means beginning to see beyond the ego and recognise being part of a totality, or at least something bigger than oneself.
Spirituality can be explored in terms of four main aspects of human existence that are often distorted or misrepresented:
Love – the promise of belonging
Death – the awareness of being
Self – the path of becoming and transcendence
Soul – the sense of beyondness
The report concludes with twelve points to be read as calls to action, but not of the conventional injunctive ‘do this!’ variety. In each case, the suggestion is that most issues in the public realm have spiritual roots that we need to acknowledge, engage with, and ‘bring to the table’ when our personal and professional roles oblige us to think more instrumentally.”
You’ll find the PDF version of the report here (90+ pages). Personally I think the report highlights some real challenges to, and opportunities for the Church and the mission of God in the 21st century. The Spirituality conversation is to the 21st century West what St. Paul’s Athenian address. It provides a language and a way into both talking about Christianity and into sharing our rich resources in meaningful ways; ways that deepen and enrich what it means to be truly and fully human after the example of the Son of Man.
You can also read Mark Vernon’s thoughts in respect of the report here.
Two interesting 30 min interviews on Australian and NZ radio recently.
Why Humans Turn to the Spiritual in Tough Times
Dr Joseph Bulbulia studies why people turn to religion and how their interaction with their chosen belief system affects their behaviour, their health, their ability to recover from adverse events and their interaction with others. He uses modelling usually used in biological studies to give firm statistical information on how someone's spirituality influences their lives.”
Mind –Body Connection: Exploring a range of subjects including mindfulness and meditation.
“Shannon Harvey was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when she was in her early twenties. In her search for a cure, she not only became well, but she found strong scientific evidence linking our minds and our physical health. We hear some remarkable stories of people adding mind body medicine to their prescription and recovering from a range of chronic illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and cancer.” Harvey produced a feature documentary, which interacts with the ground-breaking research by world leading experts in mind body medicine.
You’ll find the conversation here. I found this one the most interestng of the two.
Having read and really valued Philip Yancey’s earlier What’s So Amazing about Grace I couldn’t resist picking up a copy of his latest book, a sequel of sorts: Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? As someone on the outside of the inside of church-belonging there is much in this book that gives voice to my own experiences, and indeed mine and many others struggles with church belonging and participation. While aimed at a primarily Evangelical audience, it will appeal to a wider readership, not least because of the broad ranges of references he cites.
Part One – A World Athirst begins with these two quotes from novels I’ve read.
In the novel The Second Coming, one of Walker Percy’s characters says about Christians, ‘I cannot be sure they don’t have the truth. But if they have the truth, why is it the case that they are repellent precisely to the degree that they embrace and advertise the truth? … A mystery: If the good news is true, why is not one pleased to hear it?”
“In general the churches … bore for me the same relation to God that billboards did to Coca-Cola: they promoted thirst without quenching it…” – John Updike, A Month of Sunday’s.
Dave Tomlinson, and Anglican Priest and author, recently spoke at London’s Moot Community Advent Course 2014. Drawing on his two most recent books (How to be a Bad Christian and a Better Human Being, and The Bad Christian’s Manifesto: Reinventing God) he gave an address on the theme “Faith without borders”. What if we think of the term ‘Christian’ as a verb rather than a badge or a sign of belonging to a holy club? What if we stop dividing people into categories of ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers’ and instead learn to see God at work in the world and to join in on that work.
Dave Tomlinson is the Vicar of the Church of St Luke’s West Holloway in the Diocese of London.
Was having lunch with a great friend yesterday and we were discussing, over a beer, the great struggle of many churches to be incarnational – to enflesh genuine “good news” at the level of the local, the ordinary and the everyday. I guess, for me anyway, there was an implicit critique with respect to the churches (local) inability to do good local theology; to take place, context, culture, history etc. seriously. Local theology is contextual theology.
It brought to mind this recent post from my Canadian blogging friend Len Hjalmarson, who highlights another book on the subject:
“…[Clemens] Sedmak writes, “There is a growing awareness that theology is not an instant product that we take from the shelf and put some (local) water in it in order to have an enjoyable drink. Theology is a specifically local adventure if it wants to be relevant for a particular culture. As Michael Amaladoss says ‘The flowering of local theology is a sign of the rootedness and maturity of a particular church.’ And also a sign of the rootedness and maturity of theologians…
…Maybe our theological imagination needs to look more like this [see diagram to the left]. The role of the particular setting where the church is in dialogue with the gospel has become larger than ever. This is because we are giving ear to marginalized voices; we are opening a wider ground for conversation, and listening to voices that are far away. We are recognizing that conditions have changed and culture has shifted — we have to listen anew in order to wrestle with questions that are new. So I propose a larger role for culture in this trialogue…
Communal or collaborative discernment and its practice is something I’ve long found fascinating. There’s much to be said for a collective approach, especially when we think of the complexity we face everyday, especially when we think of the sheer scale of data that is available to us today. How do we make decisions? How do we listen well? How do we work in healthy ways with difference and conflict? How do we bring discernment into business? Can we actually even bring the practices of discernment into business?
The following is an excerpt from an article on the paradigm out of which Pope Francis operates; a paradigm very different from the approach so many of us are very used to: somebody higher up in the hierarchy makes a decision and our task is to implement it. Tell us what to do and we will do it. So, the author of the article I’m referencing can write, “…The previous two Popes made decisions the rest of the Church was expected to implement…” It’s a truism, but its not just true of the Catholic Church.
Just prior to typing this I had been engaging with a documentary on economics; on the increasing disparity between the “haves” and the “have not’s” (for Kiwi readers, the documentary was in the very good Nigel Latta TV series Nigel Latta(see TV1 on demand, here). How do we make practical sense of the information we are given in a show like this? How do we engage widely (i.e. collectively), creatively, intelligently, imaginatively, courageously and passionately to the challenges of creating a different economic paradigm?
I need others to read the signs of the times. I know I don’t need sameness. I know I need to join with others, in all their richness and diversity, to wisely attend to my own micro-challenges and those of the wider macro-context, of which I am a part.
“…Discernment is necessary if one is going to read the signs of the times. It is no secret that the Catholic Church faces major problems that need to be assessed and responded to in an appropriate way. An appropriate response is not simply to change everything in order to “get with the times”. On the other hand an appropriate response may also not be simply reaffirming everything as it has been. A process of discernment should empower the Church to assess critically where things are and how, at this time, it could and should respond. Maybe change is necessary – maybe things need tweaking.
And, it is not unusual for there to be many different ideas and some ‘messiness’ when one does embark upon a process of communal discernment. This should not give rise to anxiety and defense – which leads to division – but rather a sense that there really is something that needs to be carefully discerned which is critical for the future.
[Pope] Francis has opted for a “Jesuit way of proceeding”. This is rooted in the teachings of St Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits. To discern means to engage in a process of trying to discover the will or desire of God in a given situation. Discernment includes a time of reflection, prayer, talking, listening, some division, and even some debate so that different perspectives can emerge. At the opening of the recent Synod, the Pope asked all present to speak boldly and listen with openness – two key concepts in communal discernment…”