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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in Theology (96)

Thursday
Aug262010

Christian and positive - when Christ's Body has HIV AIDS

Today my friend Grant Russell alerted me to an article posted in the Guardian Online Newspaper entitled Pastor's 'Jesus had HIV' sermon angers South African Christians by David Smith.

I can understand why the preacher in question, Xola Skosana, would preach such a sermon.  However, I can also understand why South African Christians may take offense to both the title of his message and the sermon's title.

First, let me say that I agree with Rev Skosana - the body of Christ does have AIDS!  

In an article that I have just published in the Epworth Review, Vol 32, No 2, 2010 (a theological journal that is published in England) I made exactly the same point.  You can read the article here: The Church has AIDS: Towards a positive theology for an HIV+ Church.

Here are two excerpts from my introduction to the article:

One of the most controversial statements in the contemporary Church is surely the assertion that ‘The Church has AIDS’! This statement challenges Christians to recognize that it is impossible to do theology and engage in Christian life and ministry without taking into account the impact of HIV and AIDS on the world...

Within the Church – the Body of Christ – there are many persons who are HIV+. This reality changes not only who we are as a Church, it also changes how we are the Church. In our creeds we affirm that the Church is ‘One’ – this unity is more than just a structural unity. Solidarity is central to the unity of the Church. It was out of this reality of true solidarity that the Methodist Church of Southern Africa adopted the following statement at its annual conference in 2005: ‘The Church has HIV/AIDS: We care. “When one part of the body is affected the whole body suffers” 1 Corinthians 12:26.’

This image is a photograph of a poster that was circulated in Methodist Churches in Southern Africa.  It bears the bold, and true, statement "The Church has HIV/AIDS - we care".

The point is this, Christians believe, according to Paul's theology, that the Church is the "body of Christ" (see for example 1 Corinthians 12:12, Colossians 1:18).  If there are members of the Church that are HIV positive then the Body of Christ is HIV positive.

That is controversial, but it is true.  If one part of the body suffers the whole body suffers 1 Corinthians 12:26.

In my article I argue something similar to what the Guardian reports on Rev Xola Skosana - we are responsible for one another, and as such the whole Church (all across the world) must consider itself HIV +.  The HI virus infects the whole of the body.  Unlike cancer one cannot remove the ailing part of the body.  The virus affects every part of the body.  

Here are some statistics about HIV from the article in the Epworth Review:

South Africa’s HIV/AIDS statistics are fairly well known.6 Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest precedence of HIV infection in the world. Where it is left completely unchecked the HIV infection rate has risen to as high as 1 in every 2 persons (50 per cent of some population groups in Botswana).7 Of the estimated 33.2 million persons living with AIDS globally, more than 22.5 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa – that amounts to 68 per cent of all HIV+ persons in less that 10 per cent of the world’s geographic land mass. Each day more than 1,600 persons are infected with the virus. In most government hospitals more than half of the patients are HIV+. By 2009 the life expectancy of a person living in Swaziland8 had declined from 60 years of age to just 32 years.9 Compare this to the United King- dom where the life expectancy of the average person born in 2009 is 79 years.10 Approximately 4,500 people in Sub-Saharan Africa die of HIV/ AIDS-related medical causes each day.

In a chapter that I wrote for a forthcoming book entitled Alienation and Connection: Suffering in a global age. (edited by Lisa Withrow and Joerg Rieger) I developed this argument in a slightly different way.  The chapter is entitled Empire, economics and apathy: A theological reflection on suffering as a result of HIV AIDS.

I introduced the concept with another rather controversial statement, saying that any Southern African Church that does not have an HIV AIDS ministry cannot be a Christian Church!  [yes, I know that I will get into trouble for this one!]

My contention is this - if 68% of all HIV+ persons in the world live in this region, then the Church has a massive responsibility to see that God's loving will is brought to bear on this situation.  God cares about every person!  The Church is God's instrument, the instrument of the mission Dei (the mission, or work, of God).

So, yes, I agree with Rev Skosana - the Body of Christ is HIV+.  Perhaps I would have titled the message slightly differently.  Instead of saying 'Jesus had HIV', I would say that 'The body of Christ is HIV+'.

As a result I can understand how Christians may respond with shock at the statement that Jesus HIV.  That statement is not accurate.  But, I do believe that the point is well made.  As Christians we need to understand that we have a critical role to play in ministering to God's World.  And since this world includes HIV positive persons it is not a matter of 'us' and 'them'.  Rather it is a matter of 'us'.

Here is a video reflection that offers some further thoughts on this very important issue!

The body of Christ has HIV AIDS from Dion Forster on Vimeo.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, reflections, and ideas!

You can find the Guardian article on Rev Skosana here.

Tuesday
Aug242010

Re-Appropriating the term Evangelical - is it worth it?

My friend Jenny posted a great reflection on her blog about an 'evangelical' gathering that she attended.  I am reposting it below because it raises some very interesting points for consideration, however I would encourage you to visit her blog to see the discussion related to her post.

I've just spent the weekend at the Methodist Evangelical Renewal Movement consultation - or countrywide gathering. It was such an encouraging experience. I must admit that I went along with some hesitancy as I have struggled to fully understand what this fairly new movement is all about. I hoped to catch a sense of their vision - and I did. I am still trying to process and absorb everything and I hope that I will blog about it all eventually.
What I think at the moment- it's ok to believe the Bible is the word of God. It doesn't mean I am a fundamentalist (I don't read it word for word literally).
It's ok to believe in a 'whole salvation'. We speak of both personal salvation and social salvation. Personal holiness and social holiness.
The Bible informs us of these salvations and 'holinesses'. I go to the Bible to discover how to live in order to bring about the kingdom of God.
Sometimes people understand the word 'evangelical' differently and even negatively - that doesn't mean I am like their understanding!
The Methodist Church has always had a missional ecclesiology and we should reclaim that.
There is too much more and I really need to process it properly.
I came away believing that there is real hope for the Methodist Church and the God truly is a God of love and action.

My response to Jenny's post is below.  In particularly I am keen to re-appropriate the term / descriptor 'evangelical'.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that it has been missunderstood in popular society and theology, and hijacked by a conservative element in the Christian tradition. As a result it has a fairly negative connotation in popular theology and even in social and theological discourse.

Here are my thoughts (reposted as a comment on Jenny's blog):

Hi Jenny,

Thanks for this reflection. I am so pleased to hear of your experience - I too have been on a journey to 're-appropriate' the term 'evangelical'. In my understanding the common usage has been far too narrowly applied to the act of 'evangelical preaching'. However, in the Bible we see that Jesus' 'good news' (Luke 4:19 ff) was very social. He not only wished to describe the state of 'good news', his intention was to establish God's good news as a life changing reality for those whom he encountered.

I am passionate about journeying with people towards a personal encounter with Christ. But that is only the starting point, not the end. Once the encounter has taken place the results of Christ's transforming love must flow out into society. You cannot love Jesus without loving His ways - and his was are just, merciful, inclusive, empowering and renewing. The ways of Jesus set people free from sin and the structures that enslave (some clear examples are Jesus' encounter with unethical business people in the temple, and false religious leaders with the woman and man caught in adultery. Jesus cares about the rights of children and the fate of the oppressed).

For me, the whole Gospel for the whole world means precisely that! Not just a narrow personal salvation from individual sin.

In this sense I am evangelical!

With regards to Wesley's theology of personal holiness and social holiness it is always worth remembering the context in which he served. Not unlike us, he faced some massive social challenges around his ministry. Slavery, the abuse of labour, unjust governing authorities, a Church that was disconnected from the needs of society etc., it was into this situation that he came to understand that personal piety (my prayers, my acts of worship etc.) is meaningless unless it is expressed socially.

As South Africans I think we can understand this relationship very well. For many years Christians would worship on Sunday's declaring the Glory of God in Church, reading our Bibles and praying. Yet, we lived in a society that was fundamentally unjust. 

Such a disconnect between faith and belief invalidates belief (as the Epistle of James clearly says).

You may be interested in the paper that I presented at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church in Oxford in 2007. It deals with a history of social holiness (Wesley's 26th sermon, plus his theology around that), and in particular relates it to the South African Christian Church. You can find that article here: Dion Forster Oxford Institute - Social Holiness.

The chapter was later reworked and published in the book Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission. Some of the stuff that was cut out of the chapter for the book was also published in 2008 in Journal of Church History Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae.

Thanks for sharing this reflection! I am grateful to be an evangelical!

I would love to hear your thoughts on the use of the term evangelical.  Is my approach to this term appropriate, or should I seek some other descriptor?  Or, is the term so strongly 'branded' with negative religious and social connotations that we should move beyond it?

Monday
May242010

Pentecost - power to change!


This pentecost I have been challenged, once again, that the purpose of faith is to love God, and the purpose of religion is to serve God's will of transforming the world.

This quote from Karl Barth was quite challenging in that regard:

"The Holy Spirit establishes the righteousness of heaven in the midst of the unrighteousness of the earth and will not stop or stay until all that is dead has been brought to life and a new world has come into being." - Karl Barth, from his book The Word of God and the Word of Man

As an undergraduate in Theology at Rhodes University our Systematic Theology Professor (Brian Gaybba, an expert in pneumatology who wrote the book The Spirit of Love) would pray the following liturgical prayer at the start of each lecture:

V - Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful.

R - And kindle in them the fire of your love.

V - Send forth your spirit, Lord, and they shall be created.

R - And thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray,

O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of your faithful; grant that in the same Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in his consolation. Through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen.

This prayer has often been a source of encouragement and strength when facing challenging tasks and difficult people.  So, today I want to encourage you that we have a task, the task is transformation.  It is a difficult task, but we do not face it alone.  God empowers us by His Spirit, the Spirit of Life, truth and love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.
- Acts 4:31

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let us be filled with God's Spirit that we may have joy in proclaiming God's loving word with boldness.

 

Monday
May032010

Connected by the strong bonds of God's grace - Sivin Kit a good friend.

I am blessed with many wonderful friends!  I relate to many of them because we share at least one common interest.  There are a few others with whom I feel a closer affinity because we share some deeper and more significant common values.  Then there are those among whom I am privileged to be counted, because we share a common approach to our faith in Christ.

My friend Sivin is one such friend.  

Since we first met in Malaysia in 2007 we have stayed in good contact.  Here's what I wrote in reflection of our first meeting:

Yesterday I made a new friend, Rev. Sivin Kit, he is a theologian, and pastor, and to our amazement we found that we have so many things in common! Rev. Kit kindly collected me from Kuala Lumpur at the end of the MPC to bring me to the 'Seminari theoloji Malaysia'. He is a past graduate of the seminary, and now serves as a Lutheran pastor in KL.

As Sivin and I talked I was amazed to discover just how many things we have in common as persons (for one thing we're the same age, but for another we are both avid bloggers! Please take a look at Sivin's blog here: Sivin Kit's Garden. Sivin is also the co-ordinator for 'emergent Malaysia', a network of pastors and laity that are engaged in the conversations of the emergent Church movement. He knows so much more about both the theology, and the ideals, of this movement than I do! What is more, Sivin hosted Brian Mclaren on his visit to Malaysia (I even got to eat in the same restaurant as they ate!) Thanks Sivin for your hospitality, friendship, and patient engagement with me!

Sivin and I remain close.  We have a common desire to follow the person and ways of Jesus.  

Of course there are as many ways to following Jesus as there are people, since true discipleship of Christ is expressed and discovered in a loving relationship with Jesus as savior and Lord. For each of us this journey has meant that we've had to go beyond some of the boundaries of conventional expressions of the Christian faith.  Of course the aims of these careful explorations in faith are pretty similar to those of conventional Christian communities, i.e., to forge loving obedience, to seek true transformation, and to encourage authentic and courageous living with Jesus and those who Jesus loves (in that last part of the sentence you can read 'Jesus loves everyone, not just Christians 'like you' or Christians 'like me'.  Heck, Jesus has a special love for people who do not yet recognized His love!').

Many find such a radically inclusive Christian position offensive.  Others feel unsettled at attempts to discover new depths in authentic Christian living.  For some the thought of uncertainty that is brought about by change is simply too much to bear.

And so, there are times where we are misunderstood.  There are other times where we face rejection for our approach to the Christian faith. I have come to expect this.  As I've said elsewhere, I don't expect people to be able to understand my theology in its entirety - even I don't understand myself fully!

Thankfully, we are not alone on this journey.  There are millions of believers, all across the globe, who are not satisfied with 'mere Christianity'.  There are many faithful servants of Christ who are serious about servanthood.  Many believe that it truly is God's intention to transform the world, and not only to fill the Church. And so we stand together in a loose affiliation of discovery.  We are bound less by a common set of truths than by a recognition that God's gracious love for the world is mystery of grace that requires a tangible response.  We are frail and imperfect servants of a gracious and powerful God!  Our contexts differ, and so do our responses - but our desire is largely the same; faithfulness to Christ and His Kingdom.

Here's a wonderful video of my friend Sivin Kit at the Transform conference (with Brian Mclaren). It gives a great overview of Sivin's ministry and context.

From this video you'll see that Sivin and I have one other thing in common...  the ability to film while driving!

Please visit Sivin's blog here - you will find hours of wonderful reading.  Many incredible resources, and enough challenging thoughts to sustain both your mind and your soul!

Tuesday
Apr202010

African relational ontology, individual identity, and Christian theology

Yup, the title of this post is a mouthful... It happens to be the title of an academic article that I wrote some time ago that is being published.  

The article will be published in the July / August edition of the SPCK Journal 'Theology'.  This is by far the most prestigious journal in which I have had the privilege to publish an article.  I am truly amazed that it was accepted, and humbled to have it there.

Perhaps the title was so obscure that they thought it was worth a chance!?  The full title of the article is

African relational ontology, individual identity, and Christian theology: An African theological contribution towards an integrated relational ontological identity (Theology, July/August 2010 Vol CXIII No 874 ISSN 0040-571 X).
The article comes from a body of research that I conducted over a period of some years in which I investigated the problem of individual identity (what does it mean to be 'me').  How is my identity formed in relation to other persons and my context?  And what aspects of the Kosmos can be relied upon to validate who I truly am?  Do I rely on my appearance, or my experiences, or is there something more concrete and substantial to 'true identity'?
 
This article focusses on the importance of relationships and intersubjective identity as the locus of understanding who we are as human persons. It relates these important social aspects of our identity to three prominent Christian doctrines (the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of soteriology (salvation) - it is something of a systematic approach).  
I have another article from this same body of research that contains more of the neuroscience and psychology of identity that will be published in the South African Journal HTS later this year.  And then I am still working on the book 'Why you may not be who you think you are.  Adventures in neuroscience, artificial intelligence and philosophy' (I am under contract to Cambridge Scholars Press for this book).
Here's the abstract for this article in 'Theology'.
African theology has a great deal to contribute to the theological discourse on human identity. Relationships are central to the formation, expression and understanding of who an individual person is. The African philosophy of ubuntu, more accurately expressed as umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is a person through other persons), affirms the critical under- standing that identity arises out of intersubjective interactions between persons. This paper discusses how concepts of identity in African philosophy and religion can enhance our theological understanding of individual identity. Hence this research presents an African theological approach to identity that is systematized in relation to the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christian anthropology and the doctrine of salvation.
If you're interested in reading more about my research in this area, and various other thoughts on neuroscience, identity and Christian theology please follow this link.

 

Thursday
Mar252010

Even if they call me mad! Keeping it together.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to do many personality profile tests, skills inventories, and aptitude measurement tests.  Of course each one of these has had some form of bias built into it. However, there have also been some common threads that run throughout all of the results.

Let me share some of those here:

1.  I am a people's person.  The Meyers Briggs test suggests that I am strongly extroverted - I get my energy from people (and in my case more people give more energy).  I love being with people!  I love to hear all about them and share myself with them in return.

2.  I am an 'activist' in the sense that I get behind causes and try to get others in joining me to get things done.  Some tests call this kind of personality an 'influencer' - someone who discovers movements, causes or ideas and then influences others to follow the same path.  Whether it is a social cause, an event, an idea or some new technology I am constantly acting like an 'evangelist'.  I am far more likely to see the positive elements of persons, movements and technologies than others, and I will extol those virtues to others.  Over the years I have encouraged people to join Churches, accept Christ's love and grace, use Apple Macs, take up cycling, start blogging, attend events, start writing, fight for causes, read certain books... I'm an activist at heart!

3.  I am non-conformist by nature.  I tend towards the 'thin spaces' in my thought life and choices I am not afraid to be 'out front on my own'.  I know others who feel insecure when they are not understood, or if they feel that they don't fit the prevIling mindset.  I prefer to think, dress, talk, act and live a little differently.  Sure, this can lead to bring misunderstood or judged.  But, it's the way I'm wired!  It has also been a great blessing.  There is much less competition for space where I am!  Most people clamour for the middle.  I have had many blessed opportunities as a result writing, thinking and acting upon uncommon things.  I am thankful for this trait.

4.  Another aspect of my personality that frequently features is that of 'bridge building'.  I often connect people, ideas, groups etc., from very different perspectives with one another.  It is a joy to see new opportunities emerge for others, new ideas come to the fore, and new relationships form where persons may not have connected or met.  It takes some effort to do this - often people distrust one another, or hold such rigid convictions about their point of view, or the perspective of another that it takes some time, grace and effort to facilitate a safe engagement and a trusted space for encounter. But in the end it is worth it.

In short, I have come to understand that part of my ministry - an aspect that runs throughout most of my life regardless of the task I'm performing, the place in which I work, and the persons among whom I work, is this:  I am radically inclusive.

I have a strong desire to bring people together in Jesus Christ - there are none of us that do not require grace.  There are none of us that are free from weakness.  There are none of us who are not loved by God.

And so, while some try to exclude I have discovered that I have a natural propensity to include.  While some try to build up walls, I have a supernatural desire to deconstruct them.  Whether you are liberal or conservative, a proponent of the social Gospel or an evangelical, it doesn't matter, there is enough space for all of us in Christ's love.  

This is something that I can live for!  I'm wired for it!  I am radically inclusive!

One of the things that I have noticed is that we tend towards accepting people who are like us and look away from those who are different.  Liberals are inclusive of those who share our views, whilst conservatives are inclusive of those who share their views.  This is not the way of Christ!  It is only a few steps from rejection the position of another, to rejecting the other.  We have so many examples of this in history from which we can learn.

Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, an advocate for the poor and marginalized, was assassinated thirty years ago today while giving Mass in El Salvador.

So, I want to invite you to allow the grace of Christ to give you love for those who are different from yourself.  Ask God to help you to love those persons, even as God loves them.  

Today I heard that the President of El Salvador has apologized for the assassination of Arch Bishop Romero.  The visuals of El Salvador showed how this Christian man has inspired Catholics, evangelicals, politicians, and even people of different faiths.  There is something of the Spirit of Christ that is at work through his legacy of love.  I find him truly inspiring.  I first came to hear about Bishop Romero when my friend Dr Larry Kaufman (the head of the Redemptrist order in South Africa) gave me the book 'Romero' when I was doing some graduate study at Rhodes University.  I read it during lent 1996 - it transformed my theology and my life!

Here I am in Malaysia, a different geographical location, a different culture(s), a different climate, and even some different expressions of Christianity - it is my joy to work towards building an inclusive Christian community! [citation needed] ;-) It is wonderful!  Thank you for the hospitality - I LOVE being back in this place among these wonderful people.  

We're here for two days and then head to Singapore for some speaking engagements and meetings, and then to Hong Kong before heading home!!
Tuesday
Mar162010

Dealing with critical people

I don't know about you, but I don't particularly like to be disliked!  How do you deal with people that are critical of you?  Moreover, if you know that you will never be able to 'win' the person over to your point of view do you spend time and energy on them anyway?  What is the Christ-like thing to do?

This QIK video (the first in a while!) explains some of my feelings about being understood by others (or not needing to be understood by others).

I have come to make peace with the fact that not everyone will like, or understand, me.  Heck, there are parts of my own personality that I don't like or understand, and parts of my theology and spirituality that are unique and inconsistent.  But, I am sincere in my love of Christ and my desire to honour Him and His ways.  Most often that is enough!

I'd love to hear your insights and thoughts.  How do you deal with critical people?

Friday
Mar052010

Liam the great and the mystery of undeserved grace

I have often wondered about the nature of God's grace.  I realise that by its very nature grace is something that is a blessing which is not earned or deserved.  This is what makes it grace!

However, it becomes particularly puzzling when it moves from the theoretical to experiential.

Yesterday Megan and I took our little miracle boy, Liam, for his session with the occupational therapist.  It is always an emotional time for me, and I don't mind admitting that I shed a tear.  I did so with a mixture of joy, thankfulness, and also with a little guilt.

You see, when Liam was born he was very ill.  He spent three months in the neonatal ICU.  We prayed for him day and night.  There were many other parents with their children praying in the same ward.  Sadly, some of those children died.  I often struggled to understand why my son lived and their children did not.  Every now and then that nagging feeling returns.

I am so thankful for all that God has blessed us with!  I am thankful for knowing Christ and being known by Him.  I am thankful for the privelage of loving my family and the immeasurable joy of being loved by them.  I am thankful for the challenge and opportunity of my ministry.  I am thankful for the city in which I live - Cape Town is surely one of the most beautiful places on earth!  I am thankful for my health, for the opportunities I have had to travel, for my formal and informal studies... I have so much to be thankful for!

When I am honest I have to admit that none of these things is deserved!  They are all elements of grace.

I found the following quote extremely helpful.  It sums up some of understanding of the mystery of God's grace.

 

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.
- Anne Lamott, from her book, Traveling Mercies
So, let me ask you, why am I so blessed when many others are not?  What is it that makes some people's lives better than others?  I would truly appreciate any insights, wether profound or simple, on this matter.  Perhaps you have discovered something on life's journey that can help.  Maybe there is a passage in scripture, or some other aid that can help me as I grapple with grace.
What is certain is that I live in unmerited grace.  It is a mystery to me.  I am thankful to God for all of God's grace.  It has changed me profoundly and continues to do so.  But, I would love to understand it a bit more! 
Wednesday
Feb102010

Ancient laws, contemporary controversies

My friend Prof Cheryl Anderson, who I first met at Garrett Evangelical Seminary in beautiful Evanston Illinois - right on the Northwestern University Campus, in 2005, has just published a fantastic book entitled 'Ancient laws, contemporary controversies:  The need for inclusive Biblical interpretation.' (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Cheryl is a Professor of Old Testament who has done some wonderful work on contextual hermeneutics.  Her approach to reading the Bible responsibly is well worth studying!

Cheryl, thanks for sending me a copy of the book!  It looks fantastic!  I can't wait to read it!  It will help me to gain a better understanding on how we treat the text with integrity when there are so many elements of it that we no longer accept as morally or theologically binding (e.g., slavery, incest, polygamy etc., are no longer deemed acceptable because of shifts in culture.  We can't simply dismiss them without having some clear reasoning for passing over these elements while holding on to others)!  Anyone who is serious about the Bible, as I am, should read this book!

Here's the link to the book if anyone reading this blog would like to buy a copy.

Here's a description of Cheryl's project:

The Ten Commandments condone slavery, and Deuteronomy 22 deems the rape of an unmarried woman to injure her father rather than the woman herself. While many Christians ignore most Old Testament laws as obsolete or irrelevant-with others picking and choosing among them in support of specific political and social agendas-it remains a basic tenet of Christian doctrine that the faith is contained in both the Old and the New Testament. If the law is ignored, an important aspect of the faith tradition is denied.

In Ancient Laws and Contemporary Controversies, Cheryl B. Anderson tackles this problem head on, attempting to answer the question whether the laws of the Old Testament are authoritative for Christians today. The issue is crucial: some Christians actually believe that the New Testament abolishes the law, or that the Protestant reformers Luther, Calvin, and Wesley rejected the law. Acknowledging the deeply problematic nature of some Old Testament law (especially as it applies to women, the poor, and homosexuals), Anderson finds that contemporary controversies are the result of such groups now expressing their own realities and faith perspectives.

Anderson suggests that we approach biblical law in much the same way that we approach the U.S. Constitution. While the nation's founding fathers-all privileged white men-did not have the poor, women, or people of color in mind when they referred in its preamble to "We the people." Subsequently, the Constitution has evolved through amendment and interpretation to include those who were initially excluded. Although it is impossible to amend the biblical texts themselves, the way in which they are interpreted can-and should-change. With previous scholarship grounded in the Old Testament as well as critical, legal, and feminist theory, Anderson is uniquely qualified to apply insights from contemporary law to the interpretive history of biblical law, and to draw out their implications for issues of gender, class, and race/ethnicity. In so doing, she lays the groundwork for an inclusive mode of biblical interpretation.

Wednesday
Feb102010

A brief history of the Lausanne movement.

This is a very special year to be in Cape Town!  Not only is South Africa hosting the Soccer World Cup, but we are also hosting the 3rd Lausanne Congress on World Evangeliziation.

If you've never heard of Lausanne, or only have a vague understanding of what Lausanne does then please watch the short history video below.  It is a remarkable movement with a great deal of practical and theological diversity, centered around one aim - to bring the whole Gospel to the whole world.

I have been so encouraged by the young, passionate, creative people that I have been engaging with around Lausanne.  Yesterday I had the joy of spending some time on a conference call with Charles Lee (see his website here), the founder of the ideacamp and ideation Conference- This guy is revolutionising TED style gatherings in the US, and he is giving some of his time and expertise to drive the social media strategy for Lausanne.

In in his 'personal' capacity he formed the 'Just One' campaign - which is a faith based social justice movement in the US.  There are so many like him who have understood the core of the Gospel, and they're engaging in making it real in creative and engaging ways!  I can't wait to have them all here in October this year!

You can participate in the Global Conversation!  Your voice and input counts and it will shape the strategy and the theology of the Lausanne movement going ahead. 

 

 

Steve, do you have any thoughts on Lausanne? Wes, what are your thoughts? You two are the most astute Missiologist I know (personally)!

If anyone has any ideas about Lausanne please leave a comment below!  Could I also please ask you to encourage your friends, family and Christian Networks to follow the twitter feed, facebook page and engage in the conversation?

 

Wednesday
Oct282009

Do Chimpanzees grieve? And can we exist outside of God?

Some years ago I got quite caught up on reading some of the esoteric 'new scientists', such as Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, and of course the quantum physicist David Bohm.  Their understanding of the structure of reality is that everything is ultimately interconnected - some of them even when as far as saying, as Colossians 1:(16)17 says "He [Jesus / God] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together", that all of reality comes out of God's divine nature.

I certainly agree that there must be a binding reality, some may call it a binding creative force, in all of the cosmos.  This is entirely in keeping with the teaching on creation that comes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament is much less 'dualistic' than the New Testament.  The Hebrew world view differentiates between God and God's creation (i.e., God is supreme and wholy 'other' or different from creation), yet it does not separate God from God's creation.  There is a continuum of being between the God who creates and existing things that exist because of and through God's ongoing creative action (cretio ex nihilo  and of course creatio continiuum).  The New Testament suffers a little more from the influence of Platonic dualism (well more precisely neo-Platonic dualism.  Plato believed that physical reality was an imperfect representation of a perfection spiritual reality that existed elsewhere.  Of course one reads this very clearly in Hebrews (see particularly Hebrews 10), where there is a clear distinction between earthly priests and the True Priest, the earthly tabernacle and earthly sacrifice, and the True Tabernacle and True Sacrifice.  This dualism, however, must not be mistaken for a break in the continuum between God and creation.

What is certain in both the monism of the Old Testament, and the dualism of the New Testament is that nothing can exist outside of God!  Think about that for a moment!  God is God, everything that is created by God exists within the God who gives it the ability to exist - it can be no other way!  I used to confound my first year systematic theology students with this question.  Many would say that you have God and then you have creation.  But, if that were the case it would mean that there is something that has a seperate existance from the One God who is the source of everything that exists.  I would draw a large circle (and name it 'God') and then ask where creation is in relation to that large circle... Of course everything that exists has to exist within and because of the God who creates it and is its source of ongoing existence.

So, if you take the next logical step from that point you will have to agree that the Bible teaches us that there is a fundamental common ground for all existence - that fundamental common ground is God (the one who makes existence possible)!

I have often pondered this mystery... Of course it means (as I said some 20 years ago in an oral exam) that when I abuse another person, I am ultimately abusing God, and of course even abusing myself...  The same goes for creation... When I abuse creation, I am abusing God, and abusing myself (read Psalm 24:1-2)...

It is for this reason that I am always amused, and blessed, when I read stories like the one below.  I am amused because it astounds me how arrogant humans have become to think that we are the only part of God's creation that feels emotion, experiences pain, and suffers loss.  But, it also blesses me when I see a few people who come to discover that we have a responsibility (I would say a Christian responsibility in accordance with 'The Great Commandment' expressed so clearly in Luke 10:27) to care for animals, the planet, and all of God's creation as we would care for ourselves.
 
This was such a powerful image, and a lovely article (taken from here)

 

chimp.jpg
Look at this photograph and just try to tell me the answer is no.
This incredible image was shot for National Geographic by Monica Szczupider, and shows chimpanzees at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon. They're observing as the body of an elder troop member named Dorothy is taken to burial. She died at 40 years of age, which is pretty old for a chimpanzee.
The photo appears in the November issue of National Geographic Magazine, in the "Visions of Earth" section. [ Thanks, Marilyn Terrell ]

 

Friday
Jul172009

Peace and belonging...

 

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. - Mother Teresa

Please see this link for more on 'identity', belonging, community and identity (ubuntu).  

Please aslso see this article, entitled, 'Do South Africans exist?'.  It is an academic article on identity, relationship and the African philosophy of ubuntu that I prepared for the Theological Society of Southern Africa.  It gives a fairly good introduction to the African philisophical and theological perspective on identity. 

I would love to hear what your perspective is on the notion of belonging and peace!

 

[You may have arrived here from a link on Ron Martoia's VelocityCulture site - if not, then please visit Ron's site for the context to my comment written below on 2 March 2010]

Hi Ron,

This is a challenging question indeed!

I think that part of what has made the Church such a significant place of community is the reality of life’s diversity. Joy, sorrow, life and death. When I was still a pastor of a local church I often used to stand in front of the communion table in the sacramental area and marvel at all of the stages of life that are marked in that space.

I would celebrate life and baptise the children of my members there, I would confirm the faith of young people who had discovered Christ since their baptism, I married many of those young people in that same space, and I even had occasion to bury one or two who had passed away at far too young an age.

However, the gravity of that sacred space was seldom recognised. I certainly overlooked it frequently, and I think the members of our congregation (much less the members of our city) hardly ever saw its significance!

In Africa there is a wonderful saying ‘umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu’ [roughly translated it says 'a person becomes more fully human through other people', or 'I am who I am because of who you are']. I have written about the African philosophy of ubuntu extensively (see this link for an introductory articlehttp://www.dionforster.com/blog/2009/7/17/peace-and-belonging.html ). I think there is a critical link between relationships and true identity. We can only become more fully human when we live our lives with others.

In this light I have found the following quotes encouraging and challenging:

- ‘My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.’ – Desmond Tutu
- ‘The holy task is not about becoming “spiritual” nearly as much as becoming human.’ – Richard Rohr

I agree that congregations are often bad at creating community – a lot of contemporary Christianity tends to present Jesus as a combination of my personal therapist and a stock broker… This is a common thread in just about every country I have visited in the world! Christians tend to seek entertainment rather than truth, we want comfort rather than companionship.

However, what is certain is that we need some form of community to tie our lives to the lives of others. Such ‘intersubjective’ interactions make us more fully human, and in so doing help us to become more like the archetypical person, Jesus.

I suppose that like you I am more committed to helping people connect meaningfully than I am about getting people to join churches. But, I am still committed to a local church.

Your insights are challenging as always!

Dion