Thursday 19 October 2006

Two 50ths

Two magazines are celebrating 50 years of publication this month—Australia's intellectual monthly, Quadrant and America's Christianity Today. I've been reading both off and on for about 15 of those 50 years, and have a few reflections on the paths they have taken (and, as Robert Frost reminds me, not taken) . CT was founded by Billy Graham, and has his missional zeal at its root. At a time when evangelicals were large in number but low in influence, CT gave them a vehicle by which to connect biblical truth with the wider culture. It was always chiefly a 'culture-critiquing' magazine rather than a 'church-focused' one. Its focus is broad, and often on social issues—from AIDS to poverty to media to politics—and it has influence beyond its readership (still a paltry .005% of US 'born agains', but a higher percentage of leaders). It has to struggle with the problems of success—anyone who is even loosely evangelical wants a place in its pages. By and large, I feel the editors work hard at remaining true to the original vision of "presenting truth from an evanglical viewpoint". Quadrant presents truth from a right-wing political viewpoint, and was praised to the hilt by Prime Minister Howard at their 50th birthday bash. It occasions more intellectual debate than any other rag for pointy heads in Australia, even though it has some strong competitors (among them a young bantamweight called Case). Quadrant has likewise remained consistent to its anti-Communist and Catholic beginnings, and boasts victory over totalising ideologies and "fashionable views".

In terms of content, Quadrant stuck with form, with articles on Chairman Mao, the American alliance, and religion in society (plus lots of good poetry). CT likewise looked back on the Billy Graham legacy, how views of marriage have changed, and , but it also looked forward to the challenges ahead. Its mission is before it and, unlike Quadrant it doesn't feel like it has won the battle.

But the biggest difference I noticed is profound and worth reflecting on. 49 of Christianity Today's 152 pages are advertising, plus a 48-page ads insert. Quadrant carries none. The former influences the culture in partnership with the many and various projects advertised in its pages (publishers, colleges, church building programmes, charities); the latter only through the power of ideas conveyed in words on the page. Is one approach more likely to succeed in its mission than the other?

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Tuesday 17 October 2006

Whose children?

The New College Lectures on childhood explored the early years, 'good enough' parenting, and child abuse. Professor Kim Oates displayed a medical head getting blood from a Christian heart--a great model of pastoral care from an academic context. In closing the lectures, Trevor Cairney (New College Master and a professor of education himself) alerted us to what seems to me to be a very Christian ethic for parents as we worry away at childraising:

Each of us must come to care about everyone else's children. We must recognize that the welfare of our children is intimately linked to the welfare of all other people's children. After all, when one of our children needs life-saving surgery, someone else's child will perform it. If one of our children is harmed by violence, someone else's child will be responsible for the violent act. The good life for our own children can be secured only if a good life is also secured for all other people's children .
Professor Lilian Katz (Director of the ERIC Clearinghouse for Early Childhood Education and Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Illinois)

Love thy neighbour's children...

For full Lectures coverage visit the New College site

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Thursday 12 October 2006

Idiot's Jesus

There's a Complete Idiot's Guide to Jesus. In this series, there is always ambiguity about whether it is the author or the reader who is the idiot. I'm pleased to say that the authors of this volume exonerate themselves of this charge. Their book is an excellent introduction to Jesus, as he is presented in the four Gospels. Most of the book works carefully, thoroughly and humorously through the Gospels, examining what Jesus said and did, and his various claims. In 'Jesus a.k.a' boxes throughout the book, they explore the many offices, titles and metaphors applied to him, adding something of a theological flavour to the otherwise person-centred approach.

It interests me that they began the book with Jesus as the fulfilment of Jewish prophecy, and they give an appendix listing the prophecies that Jesus fulfils. Does this assume a concern among readers for Christianity's relationship to the Hebrew Bible? That can hardly be the case. I wonder if it takes priority of place for the authors because of its 'wow!' factor. If Jesus' life and words were predicted in detail before hand, there's a heightening of excitement surrounding his identity: what kind of person has prophecies made about him?

The authors are clearly Christians, but their approach in the rest of the book is even-handedly historical and expository. Is the appeal to prophecy their efforts to make sure the book has apologetic and evangelistic impact? If so, do you think this kind of approach is likely to succeed in bringing people to ask "who do you say that I am?"?

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