Saturday, 31 October 2009

Happy Reformation Day!

On this day (31 Oct) in 1517, a German monk names Martin Luther nailed a set of 95 Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg. The theses were a scholarly objection to several medieval church practices, including, but not limited to, the sale of indulgences. The Protestant Reformation had a variety of sources and can't be limited to one starting point. But, this was a key date in the movement gathering public momentum - so let's celebrate it!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Fun with Colin Dexter: Theologians

From Colin Dexter’s book The Daughters of Cain – an Inspector Morse novel.

Chief Superintendent Strange is trying to comfort Inspector Phillotson, who’s just lost his wife. Strange is surprised when Phillotson tells him he’s just received a comforting letter from Inspector Morse.

* * * * *

“I can’t imagine him being much comfort to anybody”, said Strange. “He’s a pagan, you know that. Got no time for the Church and… hope and faith and all that stuff. Doesn’t even believe in God, let alone in any sort of life after death”.

“Bit like some of our Bishops”, said Phillotson sadly.

“Like some of our Theology dons in Oxford, too.”

Monday, 26 October 2009

Fun with Frederick Forsyth 2: Tourists

"Ray, do you think he'd mind if I took his picture?"

"Be right with you, honey. Who?"

The Bedouin was standing across the road from her husband, having apparently walked out from between two dunes. One minute he was not there, the next he was.

"Dunno", Ray Walker said. "Guess not. But don't get too close. Probably got fleas. I'll get the engine started. You take a quick picture and if he gets nasty jump right in. Fast."

Maybelle Walker took several steps forward and held up her camera. "May I take your picture?" she asked. "Camera? Picture? Click-click? For my album back home?"

The man just stood and stared at her. His once-white djellaba, stained and dusty, dropped from his shoulders to the sand at his feet. What little skin of forehead and eye sockets she could see was burned brown by the desert.

She raised her camera. The man did not move. She squinted through the aperture, wondering if she could make the car in time should the Arab come running at her. Click.

"Thank you very much", she said. Still he did not move. She backed towards the car, smiling brightly. Always smile, she recalled the Reader's Digest once advising Americans confronted by someone who cannot understand English.

"Honey, get in the car", her husband shouted. "It's all right, I think he's OK", she said, opening the door. Ray Walker's hand reached out and hauled her into the car, which screeched away from the roadside.

The Arab watched them go, shrugged, and walked behind the sand dune where he had parked his own sand-camouflaged Land Rover. In a few seconds he, too, drove off in the direction of Abu Dhabi.

* * * * *

Frederick Forsyth, The Fist of God, pages 40-41. Some sections omitted because they're redundant to the humour & text altered slightly to flow smoothly.

Incidentally: the 'Bedouin' turns out to be Major Mike Martin of the Special Air Service - a British army officer.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Anglican Social Issues Executive website:

The Anglican Social Issues Executive have just launched their website. Plenty of resources about living as a Christian in the world. Helps us think Biblically about issues like the environment, sex & marriage, human rights, abortion, war... stuff like that.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Fun with Frederick Forsyth 1: Journalists

The last few posts have been intense. Time to lighten the tone.

* * * * *

These were the days when readers had no objection to a foreign correspondent having a pretty vivid imagination and it was not unknown for a journalist far from home, unable to garner the true facts of a story, simply to make it up. There is a glorious example of the American from Hearst Newspapers who arrived by train somewhere in the Balkans to cover a civil war. Unfortunately he overslept on the train and woke up in the next capital down the line, which happened to be rather quiet. Rather perplexed, he recalled he had been sent to cover a civil war so he had better do it. He duly filed a vigorous war report. The next morning this was read by the [Balkan] embassy in Washington who sent the report back to their masters at home [...] The local government mobilized the militia. The peasants, fearing a pogrom, revolted. A civil war subsequently began. The journalist woke up to a telegram from New York congratulating him on a world scoop.

[Frederick Forsyth, The Phantom of Manhattan, page 17.]

Monday, 19 October 2009

A novel approach to apologetics & evangelism?

I like novels that deal with deep life issues. They seem more, well, real, than novels that are just action or romance, and are too obviously formulaic.

Also, novels can be apologetic or evangelistic. They can have Biblical-Christian elements as part of the drama, which invite people to think about life from a Christian perspective, without being "preachy" - it's just part of the fun of the story. Like the philosophical musings that I noted in the past six posts were seamlessly woven into the story. Kind of an anti-Da Vinci Code.

Might this be how Jesus' parables worked for the original hearers?

There's gotta be lots of ways to do this - the gospel's so basic to human existence. Lots of stories have the main character seek "redemption" from some "sin" (eg: the recent movie Seven Pounds. Thought-provoking.). Thriller novels have "good guys" and "bad guys", and the hero saves the world - or the heroine - or whatever. Romances deal with love, loss, relationships, betrayal. So many dramatic devices resonate with the gospel: hope, disappointment, guilt, lies, forgiveness, master-pupil relationships...

The famous examples of this are of course C. S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, and his less well-known Space Trilogy. Though I'm not actually sure whether Lewis meant to have evangelistic-apologetic elements in the books, or just wrote for fun, consciously using Christian elements. Anyone know? Australia's own Kel Richards was much more deliberately evangelistic. Anyone know anyone else who's tried something like this?

Or - more interestingly - anyone wanna have a go at trying something like this...?

Friday, 16 October 2009

Book review in Case

If I may be permitted a bit of self-promotion...

I've just had a book review published in Case, the newsletter of the Center for Apologetic Scholarship and Education at New College UNSW. Review of Kant and the Early Moderns, edited by Daniel Garber & Beatrice Longuenesse. The book looks at - er - Kant and the early moderns... as in it examines Kant's appropriation of, and criticism of, five of his philosophical predecessors: Descartes, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume.

Case 20 (2009), pages 30-31. Or download from the CASE Website.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Novel theology 6: Militarism

Russia and the USA are on the brink of nuclear war. Andrey Il'ych Narmonov, President of Russia, stops to think...

* * * * *

'How do wars begin?' Narmonov asked himself quietly in the corner. In history, wars of conquest were started by strong men who wished to grow stronger still. But the time for men of imperial ambition had passed. The last such criminal had died not so long before. All that had changed in the twentieth century. The First World War had been started - how? A tubercular assassin had killed a buffoon so unloved that his own family had ignored the funeral. An overbearing diplomatic note had prompted Czar Nikolay II to leap to the defense of people he hadn't loved, and then the timetables had begun. Nikolay had the last chance, Narmonov remembered. The last of the Czars had held in his hand the chance to stop it all, but hadn't. If only he'd known what his decision for war would mean he might have found the strength to stop it, but in his fear and weakness he'd signed the mobilization order that had ended one age and begun another. That was had begun because small, frightened men feared war less than showing weakness.

* * * * *

Tom Clancy, The Sum Of All Fears, page 931

Monday, 12 October 2009

Novel theology 5: Capitalism

More from Frederick Forsyth's novel The Phantom of Manhattan:

* * * * *

[Darius, slave to the great god Mammon, boasts of his exploits to his master:]

It is I who, for the world, conduct the great takeovers, construct an even bigger empire of mergers and investments. It is I who destroy the weak and the helpless, rejoicing in the pleas. It is I who raise the rents in the slum tenements, order the clearances of the homes and schools for factories and marshaling yards. It is I who suborn and bribe the city officials to ensure their compliance. It is I who sign the purchase orders for great stakes of shares and blocks of stock in the rising industries across the country.

[And Mammon replies, speaking of Darius' benefactor Erik:]

Rarely does one come across a true genius in the matter of gold. He is such a one, and more besides. Inspired only by hatred of Man, guided by you in my service, he is not simply a wealth-creating genius but immune to scruple, principle, mercy, pity, compassion, and, most important of all, like you, immune to love. A human tool to dream of. [...] All the kingdoms of the world was the phrase I used once, to another. To you, all the financial empire of America.

[Pages 73-74]

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Novel theology 4: Materialism

Not John Sandford - Frederick Forsyth this time. The Phantom of Manhattan.

* * * * *

I needed someone who could do my bidding in daylight; he needed my ingenuity and skills to get us out of this place. He became my subordinate and representative in all things [...] To this day I know him only as Darius.

But if I taught him, he also taught me, converting me from old and foolish beliefs to worship of the one and only true god, the great master who has never let me down.


[T]his is Mammon, the god of gold, who permits no mercy, no charity, no compassion and no scruple. There is no widow, no child, no pauper wretch who cannot be crushed a little more for a few extra granules of the precious metal that so pleases the master. With the gold comes the power and with the power even more gold in one glorious and world-conquering cycle.

[Pages 49-50, 54-55]

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Matthias Media Bible study sale


Matthias Media have put their Bible studies on sale for $5 each!

[Usual disclaimer: I have no financial or other interest in Matthias Media, blah, blah...]

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Novel theology 3: Altruism

Still more theological musings from John Sandford's Certain Prey.

* * * * *

"Three people dead because of that tape", Rinker said, shaking her head.

"Ah, they were nothing, a bunch of druggies", Carmel said. "Nobody'll miss them."

"Even druggies have families, sometimes", Rinker said. "I hated my step-dad and my older brother, I don't like my mom anymore, but I've got a little brother, he's out in L. A., and he does drugs, sometimes he lives on the beach... I'd do anything I could for him. I do everything I can for him."

"Really", Carmel said, impressed. [...] "I've never been like that with anybody. I mean, I give to charity and all, but I have to. I've never really been where... I do anything for somebody."

"Not even for Hale?"

Carmel shook her head. "Not even for Hale."

"You killed for him", Rinker said.

"No I didn't", Carmel said. "I killed for me - for something I want. Which is Hale."

* * * * *

Pages 119-120.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Christian Books Australia: books on Calvin

As you all probably know, this year is John Calvin's 500th birthday. The day itself was back on 10 July.

Christian Books Australia have a number of excellent books on Calvin. I personally recommend:

  • The AGES Software Calvin Collection - incl. both English translations of Institutes, as well as sermons and a selection of tracts;
  • Joel Beeke, The Quest for Full Assurance - examines how Calvin, the Puritans and Dutch Reformers understood assurance, and argues for basic continuity between them;
  • David Hall, The Legacy of John Calvin - a simple overview of Calvin's influence over the last 500 years;
  • Paul Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists - in response to R. T. Kendall's Calvin and English Calvinism, Helm argues that English Puritan theology is consistent with Calvin's, and does not have the negative pastoral impacts Kendall accuses English Puritanism of;
  • Susan Schreiner, Theater of His Glory: Nature and the Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin - looks at Calvin's 'natural theology';

The other books are probably great too, but I haven't read them so I can't comment on them.
Incidentally - I have no personal or financial interest in this bookstore, I'm just glad to publicise cheap books on Calvin! :)

Labour day & workaholism

Phillip Jensen has an excellent article on modern workaholism, including an analysis of three motivations for work:
  • Hobby or pleasure;
  • Career;
  • Money to survive - the poor have to work long hours just to survive.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Novel theology 2: Determinism

More theological musings from John Sandford's Certain Prey.

* * * * *

"How about you?" [Carmel asked,] "How do you justify all this stuff?"

"I'm kind of religious, I guess", Rinker said.


"Yeah. I don't think really happens in this world that isn't part of God's plan. And if God wants somebody to die, now, if that's that person's fate, I can't say no."

"So you're just what... the finger of God?"

"I wouldn't put it exactly that way. It sounds too... vain, I guess. Too important. But what I do is God's will."

* * * * *

Pages 121-2.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Novel theology 1: Nihilism

I like novels that occasionally explore deep life issues. Like this:

* * * * *

"None of this means anything, this..." Carmel looked around. "... this life. We're just a bunch of meat. When we think something, it's just chemicals. When we love something, it's more chemicals. When we die, all the chemicals go back in the ground, and that's it. There's nothing left. You don't go anywhere, except in the ground. No heaven, no hell, no God, no nothing. Just... nothing."

"That's pretty grim", Rinker said. She pointed a fork at Carmel. "I've seen people like you - philosophical nihilists. People who really believe all that... eventually, they can't stand it. Most of them commit suicide."

Carmel nodded. "I can see that. That's probably what I'll do, when I get older. If I live to get older."

"Why not do it now?" Rinker asked. "If nothing means anything, why wait?"
"No reason, except curiosity. I want to see how things come out. I mean, killing yourself is as meaningless as not killing yourself. Makes no difference if you do or you don't. So as long as you're not bored, as long as you're feeling good... why do it?"

"But you'd do it if you had to. Kill yourself."

"Hell, I might kill myself if I don't have to", Carmel said.


"Sure. For the same reason that I'm staying now. Curiosity. I can't be absolutely one-million percent sure that there's nothing on the other side; so as long as it's one-millionth of a percent possible, why not check?"

* * * * *

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Websalt article on Dating & Relationships

I've just had another article published on AFES Websalt - on the murky world of dating and romance. This from someone who's never had a girlfriend. Maybe the article will demonstrate why...

This is the last in my series on sexuality and relationships. The articles are on:
All of them were introduced by an article co-authored with my mum on the role of sex in forming relationships.

Feedback welcome!

Children's drawings

When I was in Melbourne last month, I came back to Sydney with two pictures by my second cousins (= my cousin's sons).

This was drawn by six-year-old Sam:

And this by three-year-old Isaac, with, I suspect, parental assistance:

Both pics now have pride of place on the fridge.