Thursday 14 January 2016

In the Flesh

To be human is to be embodied. But many religious and spiritual traditions see the flesh as something to be overcome or transcended; an illusion to be seen through; a temptation to be overcome; a temporary home for an immaterial being who may in the past even have been an animal—and may be again in the future. 
Christianity too, has sometimes been guilty of demoting the body. When Aquinas married Aristotelian philosophy to Christian theology in the 13th Century, he claimed it was the intellect that made us properly human. Being bound to body was a limitation that tempted us to chase lesser goods, and forced us to know things through the senses instead of directly perceiving their essences as God does. Aquinas’ vision was of heaven or blessedness as the eternal, intellectual contemplation of the divine essence. This is a vision which leaves little place for the body and has bequeathed to Christianity a tradition of an immaterial afterlife. In popular Christian thought to this day, this airy future has tended to supplant the New Testament hope of a resurrected body which will physically inhabit a new creation.

It is not surprising that this view has been difficult to quash. There are many NT passages that connect the flesh with sin, Romans 8 being one of the clearest:

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
(Rom 8:5)

And there are others that suggest the body has no place in the kingdom of God:

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (1 Cor 15:50)

Yet a closer examination reveals that the ‘flesh’ these texts leave behind is the fallen, mortal body—not embodiment per se. Yes, we will receive bodies that are different to those we have now, but we will still be embodied:

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:42-44)

God himself took on flesh in the person of Jesus – something we particularly remember around Christmas time—and in his resurrection, he remains embodied.
In the latest edition of Case Quarterly we explore embodiment through a number of interesting articles. In ‘Earthy Epiphanies’ TrevorHart draws out the interconnections between our embodiment, Christ’s incarnation, and the materiality of art. The article is based on the second of Hart’s 2015 New College Lectures, in which he considered the inseparability of meaning and matter in works of art and its parallels in Christology.
The resurrection body, with its escape from death and decay, is something Christians long for. Yet while we remain in the flesh in this era, we still face death and decay, and two of our articles address this. Vaughan Olliffe looks at the particular hopes and concerns regarding this transformation from the perspective of people with disabilities. John Wyatt, Emeritus Professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at University College London, shares his insights and stories of those who suffer, yet find redemption and hope where we might expect despair. For in Christ we have ‘the knowledge that suffering is not the end of the story’. 
These themes—creativity, embodiment and brokenness--are also expressed beautifully and movingly in the poetry of Peter Stiles, whose collection of verse, Trumped by Grace, has just been published.[i]
Kamal Weerakoon scrutinises the meeting ground of Human Rights legislation and human sexuality, asking whether there is such a thing as a right to sexual fulfilment.
This exploration of embodiment is completed with Steve Brown’s reflections on the church as the body of Christ, and what this means for its members.
Subscribers to Case Quarterly should have their copies already – enjoy! If you are not a subscriber you can read two articles from the latest edition free of charge by visiting the CASE website. You might like to consider many of the other free material while you are there. If you’d like to subscribe you can do so for as little as $20 per year for four issues (student rate), pdf version ($30 per year) or $55 per year the hard copy. Library and school rates are also available.

[i] To find out more or order the collection, please email Peter at: 

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Powerful Words: The Key Role of Words in Care

The Powerful Words conference was held at New College on the 26th September. It was planned for chaplains and others interested in pastoral theology and care and was joint initiative of CASE and Anglicare. The conference was based very much on an understanding that Christian chaplaincy is a prayerful cross-cultural ministry that focuses on the needs of others. Chaplains meet people at times of special need, loss and vulnerability and offer a safe place to explore issues of meaning and belonging. The conference explored how faith, love and hope inform pastoral relationships. The various sessions of the conference were recorded and are now available from the New College website free of charge HERE. Simply click on the 'podcasts' on the page and it will take you to the conference sessions.

The day was structured around three key strands, five speakers and a group of volunteers who participated in a powerful verbatim based on the book of Job.

1. Keynote Address - 'Our Days and God’s Years: Pastoral Care in Times of Change'

Dr Rhys Bezzant from Ridley College in Melbourne opened the conference by expounding Psalm 102 and drawing implications for pastoral care. He argued that the fleeting days of human life are set in the context of God’s timing and his power to make a difference. He offered a reflection on the importance of individual care in the course of Christian history, and applied this by considering how to value our opportunities to serve our neighbour in pastoral settings.

2. Seminar Information

Seminar 1 - 'A Captive Audience - Christian Ministry to people in prison' 

This first seminar was delivered by David Pettett who is the Head of Chaplaincy at Anglicare Sydney, managing the Sydney Diocesan chaplaincies in prisons and hospitals. David reflected on his experience and the challenges of providing care in a number prisons.

Seminar 2 - 'Chaplaincy at the Crossroads'

Peter Ellem works in chaplaincy at Westmead Hospital and presented the second seminar and argued that suffering crosses into people's realities as an unexpected and unwanted guest, but it brings opportunities for God to be be found in its midst. He argued that the cross tells us God is there, how he is there, and it points to hope when everything might seem hopeless. He suggested that chaplaincy helps people encounter God in the harsh realities of everyday life, in the anguish of their suffering and in the public space where private agonies are borne.

Seminar 3 - 'Chaplains in the firing line'

Peter Frith is an Anglican minister previously involved in parish ministry including church planting, and churches in rural, suburban and inner city locations. In recent times he has been an Anglicare chaplain to the mentally ill.  It was in this role that he was called in at short notice to offer support to the victims of the Lindt Cafe Siege as the crisis unfolded. He shared his experience of the challenge to care in such a crisis with no previous experience in such a situation and shared how he and others experienced Christ in the chaos.

3. Radio-play performance of 'The Job Verbatim'

The radio play explored was written and produced by Kate Bradford. Kate is an Anglican Lay Minister and has served as a chaplain in Paediatric Hospitals since 2007. The Job Verbatim was a dramatic presentation of segments of the Book of Job that allowed groups to reflect on the experience and consider how their observations of the experience had relevance for the care they offer to others. It was a powerful and creative activity that made the Scripture come to life.

4. Case Quarterly

As an outcome of the conference CASE is publishing a special edition of Case Quarterly. This will include papers from the conference plus additional papers from other writer.

Monday 17 August 2015

The Bible's Story

The Bible has come a long way. In the latest issue of Case Quarterly which is published by CASE we look at the 'journey' that took place to arrive at the Bible as we know it today.

In the beginning was the Word, but it took a while for the hundreds of thousands of words in the Bible to be composed, written down, painstakingly copied, preserved, passed around, tested, accepted, collected together, bound into book form and translated to give us the Bibles we have available to us today. 

Its use, status, standing and influence have waxed and waned across the centuries. The Bible was once trusted and read far more widely in Western society than it is today. It has been a book of great significance in shaping thought, the arts, literature, systems of government and so on. English literature and art alone are difficult to fully appreciate and understand without knowledge of the Bible. As Marilyn Robinson writes:

The Bible is the model for and subject of more art and thought than those of us who live within its influence, consciously or unconsciously, will ever know. Literatures are self-referential by nature, and even when references to Scripture in contemporary fiction and poetry are no more than ornamental or rhetorical—indeed, even when they are unintentional—they are still a natural consequence of the persistence of a powerful literary tradition.[1]

But while it is generally believed to be the most published, distributed, read, and influential book in history, it is being increasingly sidelined—even by Christians. Some estimates suggest that as few as 20% of Christians read the Bible regularly.[2] There are many possible reasons for the reduction in the importance of the Bible as part of daily life, including crowded lives, competing philosophies, and challenges from science. Some have lost faith in the Bible as a reliable book and struggle to see it as relevant.

It isn't possible in a quarterly magazine but in Issue 42 we consider a number. JamesPietsch in his article on the relationship between critical thinking and Christianity, addresses the importance of facing such doubts about the Bible and challenging them head on as we persevere in the faith.

One approach to restoring confidence in the Bible is to combat the ignorance that exists, even within the church, about the Bible: Where did it come from? Is it genuine? Who wrote it and when? How early and reliable are the oldest copies? How consistent is it with other sources from antiquity? Why are there so many different versions? Is there any coherent unity to its diverse elements? This issue of Case aims to shed a little light on some of these issues as it explores the Bible’s story.

Dr Andrew Shead
Andrew Shead addresses the question of the biblical canon: How and why did various texts come to be included in or excluded from the Bible over the centuries? Staying with history, archaeologist Karin Sowada looks at what archaeology can—and cannot—tell us about the people, places and events recorded in the Bible’s pages.

Turning to the story within the Bible’s pages, David Höhne examines the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. He concludes that the writers of the Bible shared the understanding that they were writing different chapters of a single unified metanarrative: the story of God’s love for the world he had created, and the salvation of his lost people through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We have also included brief accounts of the holy books of the other two great Abrahamic faiths—Judaism and Islam. Old Testament scholar, George Athas, explains what constitutes the Jewish Tanakh, and how it relates to the Old Testament and other sacred Jewish texts, such as the Talmud and Mishnah. Samuel Green from ‘Engaging with Islam’[3] does the same for Islamic texts, explaining the origins, nature and structure of the Qur’an, and its relationship with the Christian Bible.

Our ‘Books and Ideas’ segment also includes a review and excerpt of Into the World of the New Testament, providing Bible readers with background knowledge of the context in which Jesus lived and the New Testament was written. The excerpt examines the different strands of religious thought around at the time of Jesus, including the Pharisees, Sadducees and Samaritans. The segment closes with a review of a collection of writings by previous Case author, Edwin Judge: Engaging Rome and Jerusalem.

If you subscribe to Case Quarterly you should have your copy already. If you don't you can purchase single copies HERE or subscribe for just $55 per year.

[1] M. Robinson, The Book of Books: What Literature Owes the Bible’, New York Times, 22 December 2011. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
[2] GSI Report, NCLS 2006, February 2011; P. Hughes, & C. Pickering, Milk to Meat Bible Engagement Report (, 2010); and Bible Engagement among Young Australians: Patterns and Social Drivers, unpublished research report initiated by the Bible Society and other partners.
[3] S. Green, ‘Engaging with Islam’,

Thursday 28 May 2015

Taking Flesh: Christology, Embodiment and the Arts

Recently we hosted the 29th annual New College Lectures. This event seeks to explore the importance and place of Christianity in today’s world. While speakers present their ideas from a Christian worldview, the lectures seek to engage people of all faiths as well as people with no faith commitment. This year our lecturer was Rev Professor Dr Trevor Hart. The lectures were concerned with a consideration of the relationship of the arts to faith and worship. The theme was titled, ‘Taking Flesh: Christology, Embodiment and the Arts’.

The Lecturer

Prof Hart is Rector of Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church, St Andrews (since 2013), and Honorary Professor of Divinity in the University of St Andrews where he has held posts since 1995. His life is now one of Rector and scholar. As a scholar he is interested in the contemporary reformulation of the Christian tradition and the engagement of Christian theology with other disciplines, especially philosophy, literature and the arts more broadly.

His has written many scholarly articles and book chapters and written or edited 14 books. His most recent books are:
Professor Hart also delivered the New College Lectures in 2008 with the theme ‘God and the Artist: Human creativity in theological perspective’. You can still listen to these lectures if you visit the New College website HERE. You can also read his article in the edition of Case Quarterly that we published after the lectures titled ‘God, creativity and creators’.

The Lectures

The first talk was titled ‘Clayey lodging’: on the predicament of being human and why matter matters’. In this talk Prof Hart spoke of the ambiguity with which we understand our bodies and challenged us to remember that our humanity straddles the spheres of material and non-material creaturehood. He called on us to avoid the tendency towards dualistic thinking - of favouring mind over body.

On night two his talk was titled ‘Earthy epiphanies: the incarnation of meaning and the meaning of incarnation’. This explored meaning and its relationship to and place within the arts. He traversed the struggles we have to articulate the meanings or significance that music and art have for us. His talk included the role of metaphor, the relationship of meanings to matter, the body and the mind. He concluded by briefly considering the ambiguity of meaning itself.

The third and final lecture was titled ‘Heavenly bodies: why Wagner was right about art and wrong about God’. Professor Hart began by speaking of Wagner’s unorthodox theology - he had as an outcome of his radical vision for his music - that demonstrated his belief that music and the arts offered much more than mere narrative. He argued that music for Wagner was a manifestation of reality in the world NOT in the head, BUT in the heart, ‘gut’ and body. He then connected Wagner’s view of music’s potential with a discussion of James Smith’s argument that he developed in the NCLs in 2012; that is, the driving force of human existence is not the intellect, but focus or telos of desire or love – the ends or purpose of desire, that shape our outlook and vision of the future.

Prof Hart ended the evening by challenging the audience again as he more specifically addressed the embodied practices of Church worship. He argued that the arts have the potential to reshape our imagining and our desire. Music he reminded us has played an important role across the centuries in worship. This he contrasted with the impoverished liturgy of many churches, which he described as “a wordy and intellectual experience that fails to acknowledge the fully embodied nature of worship”. The church he argued should be a total aesthetic encounter that engages us at many levels – mind, heart, soul, senses, body and imagination.

The lectures were a stimulating event that led to vigorous discussion and many questions – surely a sign of a good lecture! They certainly raised some questions for me. I commented in my conclusion to the lectures that while he had helpfully (and deliberately) centred very much on worship within the church, what Professor Hart had said surely implications for the worship that is seen in all of life? That is, worship of God is part of all of life, not just what we do in church on Sundays. How do we reconcile these excellent lectures with Paul’s injunction? Professor Hart touched on this near the end of his 3rd talk; this is an exploration for the future. The challenge of Romans 12 must be heeded. How can this be reconciled with the lectures given and the corrective Prof Hart offered to engage the complete embodied experiences of believers in worship, as part of the renewing of minds?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:1-2)

Finally, the lectures left me wondering about the role that Christian community plays. That is, the church as the body of believers, living, serving, worshipping, loving and growing together – not so much what we do on Sundays, but what we do in between Sundays.

The lectures were a marvellous exploration of the topic and can be found as MP3 files on our website HERE.  The audience gathered over three nights was stimulated and grateful for an outstanding lecture series. Enjoy them online!