Thursday 19 December 2013

Veiled in Flesh: The power of music at Christmas

A post by Edwina Hine

Courtesy of WikiCommons
As I get older I continue to appreciate older hymns. Whilst I can still appreciate modern Christian music, some of the traditional hymns seem to capture the gospel so succinctly. As well, they communicate this message so majestically through melody and word that I am sometimes a little disappointed that the traditional hymns are not sung as often as they use to be.

Christmas Carols are no different - if we take Hark the Herald Angels Sing as an example

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail the heav’n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

We see the the gospel message clearly proclaimed. Right from the the first verse we are told that God and sinners are reconciled through the birth of a new King. The third verse addresses Christ overcoming death and bringing  new life to believers - eternal life. And yet it is the second verse that gave me pause for thought today. This Christmas Carol is being sung countless times this advent season, and not only in Churches, but at secular Christmas celebrations. For example, it is piped through hundreds of shopping centres and sung at public carol services of varied types.

The incarnation of Christ is at the centre of this carol. I suspect that some non-Christians must sing the words and not fully comprehend the enormity of the claims of the words. Christians throughout history return to the debate of reconciling the diverse views regarding Jesus' humanity and divinity.

Looking closely at the second verse of  Hark the Herald Angels Sing 

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell

Courtesy of WikiCommons
The carol reminds the singer Christ came as a man - echoing John 1:1, 14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.........
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us 

The carol goes on to tells us that Christ was pleased to take on his humanity "Pleased as man". Christ took on his humanity willingly, for our sake and ultimately his own glory. But why is Christ's Divinity and humanity so important? Colossians 1:15, 19-20 sheds some light on this.
15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Understanding the incarnation is essential in grasping what Christmas and Christianity is all about. And whilst the idea is not a simple one to grasp, it has been and will continue to be a well debated point of theology. Case Readers might find an article in the 2011 December edition Selling Christmas a helpful read when considering the Incarnation. The article is entitled "Veiled in Flesh: Can we believe the incarnation today?" (by Dr John McClean). It has been available on online.

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Tuesday 19 November 2013

In Secular Times

In our latest edition of Case magazine we explore the topic of secularity. Christians have something of a love-hate relationship to secularity. Its seemingly unstoppable march across the Western world and beyond is lamented by those who attribute to it the passing of ‘Christian values’ from society, a reduction in church attendance, the end of school nativity plays, and sport rather than life-of-Jesus movies on TV on Easter Sunday.

On the other hand, history shows that Christians have frequently benefitted from secular attitudes, and have actively promoted the secular state for the protection it provides against religious coercion and persecution. Edwin Judge delves into the ancient history of secular government and the role of the early church in its development in his article ‘How religion became secular’ (p9). Addressing more recent history, Danny and Debbie Mullins’ plot the French path to secularism which, along the way, also illustrates how secular government can protect religious freedom.

This love-hate relationship may be understood according to where Christianity sits in the relevant power structures when it interacts with the secular. Where Christianity is (or has been) the dominant religion and there has been little persecution—in countries like Australia—a rise in secularity means a loss of comfort, loss of shared assumptions, loss of privileges (or an extending of previously exclusive privileges to other religions), and so it is viewed negatively. However, in contexts where Christianity is on the receiving end of intolerance and oppression from hostile state religion, secularity can be welcomed as a bringer of religious freedom.

But restrictions on religious freedom for ‘other religions’ do not always come from governments that are tied to religion. Legislation that protects freedom of religion itself can cross the line into an aggressive freedom from religion.
A secularity that provides space for the peaceful co-existence of different religious doctrines and ways of life (within limits of mutual respect of the rights of others), can slip into a secularism where that space becomes opposed to all religion. Ironically, secularism here becomes itself a kind of substitute religion—an anti-religion—with its own dogmas and practices that all must adhere to or be labelled ‘heretic’.

The political secularism of France is again illustrative of this, with its ban on wearing religious symbols in public educational institutions. Don Carson’s book 'The Intolerance of Tolerance', reviewed in this issue by Alison Woof, also points to evidence of this trend this in North America.

What should be the response of the church in this complex age where debate about secularism is a difficult and significant issue for the Christian church to understand and engage with? Stanley Hauerwas in his essay writes that the Christians are citizens of heaven and that this should lead us to embrace a ‘heavenly politics that makes it possible for us to be a people who are an alternative to the worldly politics’. In other words, he sees the church as serving democracy as a different type of community. This, he argues, should demonstrate respect for adversaries within and outside the church, rather than simply being a '...tributary to whatever secular consensus seems strong at the time'. The difficulties are not going to go away. Christendom has passed, and Christians must again learn ‘like the Jews, to live in diaspora… To so live means we will be without security of place other than heaven, but surely that is the grandest security to be had’ (p8).

In addition to our pieces dealing directly with the issue of secularity in this edition of Case Magazine, David Hohne’s article examines the epistemic and moral burdens sceptics bear in their disengagement from the world, and the relief that may be found in Christ. Finally, in ‘Manufacturing belief’ Dani Scarratt reviews a book on brainwashing, and looks at the implications for Christians on both sides of the persuasive interchange.

If you don't currently subscribe to Case there are many ways that you can read this edition. You could subscribe (here),  and receive a paper or electronic copy of the quarterly magazine. You could also read one of the articles free on the CASE website (here). Or you could buy single issues of the magazine online (here).  I hope that many will find this edition of Case helpful and thought-provoking.

Monday 4 November 2013

'Zoe's Law': So when does life begin?

A Post by Edwina Hine

For several months now the NSW Parliament has been discussing an issue broadly entitled "Zoe's Law". In essence the discussion has stemmed from a series of car accidents and assaults that resulted in mothers losing their unborn children. It would appear that the current state laws do not adequately address the protection of unborn children in cases of such trauma and crime, and that only the injury to the expectant mothers can be dealt with through the courts of Law.

When "Zoe's Law" was first proposed, most of the community saw the advantages of introducing such legislation. For most, it seemed only natural that when crimes result in a mother losing their unborn child, those that are found to be at fault are held to account. However, as the time draws near for the law to be debated in Parliament, it seems support for the bill is fading. The SMH reported this week that the NSW Law Society has joined the push to oppose the bill. They have written to all members of parliament stating
Changing the law so an unborn child is a ''living person'' under the Crimes Act would have broader consequences

The NSW Law Society are not the first to raise these concerns, not surprisingly the bill has been opposed for some time by the Pro-choice lobby who fear that 'Zoe's law' would also have a bearing on current laws regarding the termination of pregnancies. The discussion surrounding this issue is a sensitive one,  I was taken aback however when the NSW Law Society criticised "Zoe's Law",  as the Bill moves to define a 20 week old fetus as a living person. The Law Society goes as far as to say this definition is 'Arbitrary'.

Such a debate - is certainly a thought provoking one, I have found Megan Best's  article in Case # 17 'Living And Dying Ethically', entitled  "Embryo liberation" helpful as I have thought through some of the issues during this debate. Whilst the article specifically discusses the use of human embryos for research purposes, Megan's analysis covers the broader issue of life and whether it begins at conception or at a later time. Dr Best  covers the biblical aspects of the issue,  although her article actually begins with a clear analysis of the science behind conception. Best concludes that fertilization,

"… is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte (egg). The embryo, from the time it is created, is a unified, unique, dynamic, self directed whole, not just a collection of cells."

Dr Best reminds us that Psalm 139 indicates that we are known to God from the moment we are in the womb, and perhaps more importantly, we are made in God's own image

Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness...

I  imagine, many of you like me, would shy away from engaging in the current debate surrounding 'Zoe's Law'. The issue is emotive, and will likely bring us into conflict with some of our friends and family. But I commend Dr Megan Bests article to Case readers, Christians cannot properly contribute to debate the proposed law changes unless they are well informed and understand the topic properly.

The article I reference in this post is available as a free download from the CASE Website. CASE Associates receive Case magazine 4 times per year as part of their benefits. For blog followers who are yet to become CASE Associates you can sign up HERE or order a single copy HERE.

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Wednesday 9 October 2013

Thinking theologically about evil & suffering

A post by Edwina Hine

This weekend I was sent a link to the following article ("The War on Christians"). It is an article that draws sharp attention to the persecution of various Christian communities around the world, including the recent attacks on churches in Peshawar Pakistan, and in Wajir Kenya.

Image courtesy of Google images
The article quotes a recent study conducted by the Gordon -Conwell Theological Seminary that calculated that approximately 11 Christians are killed every hour around the world. As the article goes on to catalog an array of shocking instances of Christian persecution around the globe, the reader is left asking - why is the world silent when such things happen? The article cited above,  covers the topic quite well,  however after reading it, I was left asking more than why is the world silent?.  My reading of the article brought me also back to the well worn question of why god allows such evil ? 

It is a question that can perplex both Christians and non Christians alike, however recently I also read "Acts of God . Thinking theologically about natural disasters and other evils" which was republished in our 10th Anniversary edition of  Case Magazine. I found this a very insightful article that helps the reader come to terms with some the issues that cause some consternation when dealing with this topic. Matheson Russell's article does not aim to answer all the questions regarding evil and suffering, but it leads the reader to think through carefully many of the issues involved.

We are reminded in the article we have a deeply responsible God, and that he does have sovereignty over all creation, and at the same time we cannot escape the fact that the

overarching biblical narrative of sin and redemption takes as its premise that there are beings that actually oppose the will of God and actions that occur in disobedience to his commands. At every turn in the biblical narrative it is assumed both that God is the sovereign creator and that God’s sovereignty is contested

When I first read the article "The War on Christians" I  admit I was a little disheartened, but when reading Russel's article in Case,  I was reminded that God is loving and active in this world - that when Gods world is
vandalised by pointless, destructive and despicable acts carried out in defiance of God’s express will, it doesn’t matter how extreme the evil is, it does not exceed the reach of God’s justice, the depths of his love, or his capacity to redeem.

Russel's article goes on to remind us that God's sovereignty is exemplified in the the arrival of Jesus as Messiah,  he has not let evil go unchecked, he has not abandoned his promises,  and we has not forgotten to uphold the cause of the innocent.

God in Christ has waged the decisive battle to judge sin, overthrow evil and defeat death. And what he began in the death and resurrection of Christ he has promised to complete when Christ returns.

I can well recommend reading Matheson Russell's article which is available to read on  the CASE website. A back issue of Case #34 can be purchased here, or  if you wish to become a Case subscriber you should visit here.


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Tuesday 24 September 2013

Stanley Hauerwas - 'Thinking, Writing and Acting Politically'

Prof Stanley Hauerwas delivers the 2013 New College Lectures

We have just completed the 2013 New College Lectures that were delivered by Professor Stanley Hauerwas from Duke University. His lectures had the title 'The Work of Theology: Thinking, Writing and Acting Politically'. In the three lectures Professor Hauerwas revisited positions he had taken in the past, and reframed them to help clarify and understand how he has engaged in theology as a practical discipline. Hauerwas suggested that the talks were in a way inspired by Karl Barth who wrote an essay entitled, “Rudolph Bultmann—An Attempt to Understand Him.” However, Prof Hauerwas suggested that they might best be characterised as a series of thought experiments entitled, “Stanley Hauerwas—An Attempt to Understand Him.” There were three lectures in all on consecutive nights (17-19th Sept) preceded by a shorter address to the residents of New College at a formal dinner prior to the lectures (16th September). You can download the lectures plus the formal dinner address HERE.

‘How I Think I Learned to Think Theologically’ – In the first lecture Professor Hauerwas explored the character of practical reason as an exemplification of the kind of reasoning that is intrinsic to the theological task. In this first lecture he drew heavily on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and MacIntyre's argument that if we are to consider questions of justice and rationality, then we must recognise that such questions are not the same for all people. Hauerwas (acknowledging MacIntyre) argued that "...a person of practical reason is able to think for themselves only by thinking with others." He suggested that this will also depend on who you are and how you ultimately understand yourself. The ideas explored of course owe much to Aristotle and the way he distinguishes between scientific knowledge and practical wisdom. Having provided an account of practical reasoning Hauerwas then turned to a reflection on how he might have learned to think theologically drawing in particular on his memoir 'Hannah's Child'.

‘How To Write a Theological Sentence’ – In his second lecture Hauerwas drew heavily on Stanley Fish’s book ‘How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One,’ and explored how difficult it is to write a sentence that expresses what we should say theologically about God. Before discussing Fish he again reminded us that how we understand and communicate theology reflects ' Christians find themselves in the world' and that for theological writing to have impact it must make the familiar strange. Theology also needs to be writing about God rather than writing about what theologians in the past have said about theology. He explained that one of the key foundations of the theories of Fish is that syntax has an inexorable logic '...a ligature of relationships that makes a statement about the world that we can contemplate, admire, or reject'. He then used this to consider effective theological thinking and writing. In doing this, he drew many examples from the work of Robert Jenson. For example, his sentence 'God is whoever raised Jesus from the dead, having before raised Israel from Egypt' was unpacked and the power and work of 'whoever' discussed. Theology he suggested frequently confirms the familiar and that a sentence like Jenson's makes the familiar strange and engages us. This he argued should be the quest of any theologian.

‘How To (Not) Be a Political Theologian’ - In the final lecture Professor Hauerwas considered how politics has been at the heart of the first two lectures by drawing attention to current developments in political theology and in what ways he is, and is not, a political theologian. Of course, whether he is a 'political theologian' as some claim, will depend on how one defines 'political theology'. In the first section of his talk he considered how in Christian America there has been a sense of 'moral obligation to be political actors in what [is seen] to be democratic politics.' This talk drew heavily on John (Howard) Yoder's work, a critique of the work of Richard Niebuhr on 'Christ and Culture', and Walter Rauschenbusch's argument that the social gospel is the '...religious response to the historic advent of democracy.' With this as a backdrop he explored the relationship between Christianity and politics and suggested that, in a sense, the development of Christian thinking about politics and government resulted in '...the loss of the politics of the church.' Hauerwas suggested that Yoder's thinking is a strong counter argument to Niebuhr and Rauschenbusch and that the church can serve democracy by being a community that respects adversaries within and outside the church, rather than simply becoming a '...tributary to whatever secular consensus seems strong at the time'.

A section of the audience of almost 400 on the first night of the lectures
The lectures where challenging and yet very practical. As always, Professor Hauerwas provoked all in attendance to examine varied assumptions and offered insightful and enjoyable critique, analysis and synthesis of the work of some key thinkers. He engaged the work of these theologians as he tussled with the challenges of thinking, writing and acting politically by using himself as a case study and backdrop to his thinking. Once again, you can download all three lectures plus his after dinner address below.

The lectures and after dinner address

'A Theologian at Work', address to New College Formal Dinner, 16th Sept, 2013

How I Think I Learned to Think Theologically’, New College Lecture, 17th Sept, 2013

'How To Write a Theological Sentence' - New College Lecture, 18th Sept, 2013

How To (Not) Be a Political Theologian’ - New College Lecture, 18th Sept, 2013

Presenting the New College Lecture's medal to Prof Hauerwas

Professor Stanley Hauerwas is an American theologian, ethicist and public intellectual. He currently teaches at Duke University serving as the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School with a joint appointment at Duke University Law School. He is considered by many to be one of the world's most influential living theologians and was named 'America's Best Theologian' by ‘Time Magazine’ in 2001. His work is frequently read and debated by scholars in fields outside of religion, theology, or ethics, including political philosophy, sociology, history and literary theory.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Who Am I?

In recent times, I’ve experienced the fascination of exploring who I am in our family tree, as my daughter has researched our ancestors across six generations. There have been many surprises. We have discovered political activists, paupers, convicts, farmers and even a missionary couple to Van Dieman’s Land. But the most significant insight has been that across four centuries God has been at work in our family, intervening in lives, turning people in different directions, rescuing some from disaster, and sending others to places unknown.

My identity partly reflects the lives of ancestors – actions, goals, desires, values etc - but ultimately I am the work of the one who has searched me and knows me, He who ‘… created my inmost being…[and] …knit me together in my mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139). My God has ordained my purpose and continues to work in my life to mould and shape me by his Spirit as I live in the world. And he does this even though I am so easily distracted by the world and by those who don’t know me as he does.

In the well-known Australian children’s book ‘The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek’ a creature climbs out of a muddy creek, sits on the bank and immediately asks of himself and anyone who will listen, ‘What am I’? A passing platypus helpfully tells him that he is indeed a ‘Bunyip’! But this isn’t enough. He needs to know not just what he is, but what he looks like, and ultimately, who he is? Some witnesses run away in fright when he enquires about his identity, but eventually he bumps into a scientist who informs him that he looks ‘like nothing at all’ because ‘Bunyips simply don’t exist.’ The Bunyip ultimately finds peace when he comes face-to-face with a female bunyip and understands something of what and who he is by seeing another of his kind.

Like the bunyip, humans thirst after an understanding of who they are, their purpose, and why they are here. And like the bunyip, we often seek such an understanding through the eyes of others and our life circumstances. We even try to reshape ourselves to match the expectations of those who think they know best about our identity. Sadly, while humans are made in the image of God with a purpose that he ordained for us before we were born, we often spend much of our short lives searching for who we are, and why we are here in surprising and pointless places.

Our latest issue of Case magazine explores the theme 'Who am I?'. Our identity is a topic that all of us have a direct interest in. But what does the Bible say that might help us to negotiate the tricky waters of who we are?  Michael Jensen kicks this edition off with his reflections on what is perhaps the most fundamental distinction of all in regard to identity: what makes me a someone rather than a something? While this is a distinction we all feel we can make instinctively, it is not easy to spell out how it is that we identify ‘someones’. Ultimately, it is the knowledge of who we are in relation to God that gives us a way forward.

The other articles in this issue all deal, in one way or another, with the consequences of the human failure to understand our significance and identity in relation to our creator, saviour and Lord. Like the Bunyip, we often seek identity in the wrong places as we define ourselves by lesser things as sexuality, personality traits, sporting success, and the groups we belong to. The results are damaging both to individuals and those around them. No doubt, it has always been the case that people’s self-identity has been caught up with sexuality to some degree, and now the connection seems stronger than ever. The obsession with being sexy/skinny/buff—whatever is the flavour of the month in sexual desirability—means sexuality can easily become the chief characteristic determining who we are to others and even yourself. Kamal and Patricia Weerakoon seek to contrast popular views of sexuality with the Bible’s view, and see how each stacks up against current sexological research.

Sports doping and asylum seekers have been hot topics in the Australian recently, and both have connections to personal identity. Every few weeks, a new revelation is made about drug use in sport, tainting past glories, and calling into question each new achievement. Edwina Hine and Dani Scarratt explain the what, how and why of sports doping, and outline a Christian response that sees the problem as going deeper than cheating to the very heart of who we are. The groups we belong to (and shun) also contribute to self-identity.

Mark Glanville puts recent Australian asylum-seeker policy under the microscope of Deuteronomy, and finds it seriously at odds with the ethics of the Old Testament Law. This is challenging and important reading for those of us who serve a God who cares for the oppressed and the outsider.

In our ‘Books and Ideas’ section. Craig Josling delves into issues of personality with his discussion of two recent books on introversion, one from a Christian perspective and one secular. Finally, I review the long-awaited book from Megan Best Fearfully and wonderfully made which comprehensively explains the many medical and ethical issues surrounding the beginning of life. I hope there is something to interest and challenge everyone in this issue.

If you would like to subscribe or simply purchase this single issue of Case, please visit our website HERE.

Saturday 31 August 2013

The more things change…

A post by Dr John Quinn

Image from Wikipedia Commons
Shortly after being elected Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in 2001, Dr Peter Jensen found himself embroiled in a stoush with the then Prime Minister John Howard over the issues of aboriginal reconciliation and the treatment of asylum seekers.  Twelve years later and the newly elected Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, has also called for more humane treatment of asylum seekers.  Has nothing really changed in the last 12 years?

Image courtesy of google images
The 24 hour news cycle, with its insatiable hunger for new stories, creates the impression of a fast paced world where issues move rapidly and circumstances change constantly. You can tune into news around the clock, through ABC News 24, the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera or any number of other media outlets.  News websites are constantly being updated with new material.  Live blogs cover the day’s goings on in Parliament or on the campaign trail.  Political parties and businesses engage communication consultants and PR executives to monitor the perception of their image. The treatment of any issue is necessarily superficial to keep up with the frenetic pace of the news cycle, and the image projected or the “spin” is where the real game seems to lie.  Any in-depth research on a policy question is practically “out of date” before it enters the public domain.  One has to wonder whether this is serving us at all well. 

Even though we have greater and faster access to information than ever before, the pace of genuine progress on any given issue does not seem to have increased. Aboriginal reconciliation and asylum seeker policy are two great examples, but there are plenty of others.  Whether the issue pertains to cost of living, housing affordability, work/life balance, mental health services, aged care facilities or environmental sustainability, it feels like we have had the conversation a thousand times over. And we usually have. 

Many Christians have embraced the digital revolution, blogging constantly and tweeting incessantly. Christian organisations invest an increasing amount of time and effort into online and social media resources (the irony of posting this on a blog is not lost!). Certainly we need to meet the world where it is at, having a presence in the digital realm is the being “all things to all men” of our generation (1 Cor 9:19-23).  At the same time, the writer of Ecclesiastes ought to give us pause for thought:

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

The tools of digital and social media bring the constant temptation to be saying something new. In many cases the same thing was said a metaphorical five minutes ago, and the repetition changes little. Yet in the word of God we find what the world truly needs to hear. And it is the same today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Pushing Through The Election Blues?

A post by Rev Ben Gooley

Australians have an upcoming Federal Election. In many conversations I have had, disillusionment seems to be high with many struggling to find a party or leader to support with genuine enthusiasm.

For all its faults, the democratic system we enjoy in Australia works best when the wider populace is properly engaged with the electoral process, understands the key issues and asks their candidates intelligent questions.

For Australian Christians there are a number of tools to help move beyond the sound bites of the nightly news and understand a little more about the stated positions of the various parties.

The ABC has launched their Vote Compass which tries to plot your answers to a short set of questions against the policies of the major parties (they evaluate the ALP, Coalition and Greens). Its plotting is necessarily fairly basic, but it is also quite straightforward to use and may be helpful to some in understanding the differences of the major parties on a variety of issues. There are also links that give more detailed summaries on various issues.

The Bible Society Australia has also tried to gather relevant information on a variety of issues for Christians in their Federal Election Guide 2013. It considers more than just the major parties, and unashamedly takes a Christian perspective. With the enormous breadth of opinion among Christians on every issue this is non-trivial. Their methodology is to provide quotes and articles by key leaders and commentators, as well as a summary of the party positions, and allow the reader to reach their own (better) informed opinion. It takes a little work, but is a useful summary on understanding the issues more deeply.

While it’s often easiest to slide into a cynical disillusionment about Australian politics, remaining uninformed will only encourage more sound-bite policies. Perhaps these resources will help in pushing through the election blues.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Rethinking the place of work, rest and play in the 'self-consistent' life

I wrote a post on 'Children's loss of play' a couple of years ago and I continue to reflect upon my central thesis. That is, could the failure of adults to understand the nature of play and its importance, be depriving their children of play, and at the same time offering them life models that might just shape their own use of time in negative ways when they grow up?

In my last post on this topic I cited Kenneth R. Ginsburg's work that suggests play is critical for children and fulfils many needs:
  • Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.
  • Play is important to healthy brain development.
  • Through play children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.
  • Play allows children to create and explore a world where they can achieve a sense of mastery.
  • Play can also help them to conquer their fears while practising adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.
  • As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence.
  • Undirected play allows children to learn how to work and create with others, to share, to negotiate, and to resolve conflicts.
  • When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace and discover their own areas of interest.
  • Play is essential for the building of active healthy bodies.
But as well as being important for children, play is important for adults. In 'The Christian at Play' Robert Johnston argues that play is part of life and hence should be part of our consideration of what it means (quoting Thomas Oden) "to live self-consistent and intelligible [lives] of faith in Christian community".

Johnston has many interesting things to say.  As someone who has a spent a lot of time as a researcher observing children at play, I have become conscious that I know less about play as an adult. Here's how Johnston describes play:
I would understand play as that activity which is freely and spontaneously entered into, but which, once begun, has its own design, its own rules or order, which must be followed so that the play activity may continue. The player is called into play by a potential co-player and/or play object, and while at play, treats other players and/or "playthings" as personal, creating with them a community that can be characterized by "I-Thou" rather than "I-It" relationships. This play has a new time (a playtime) and a new space (a playground) which function as "parentheses" in the life and world of the player. The concerns of everyday life come to a temporary standstill in the mind of the player, and the boundaries of his or her world are redefined... But though play is an end in itself, it can nevertheless have several consequences. Chief among these are the joy and release, the personal fulfillment, the remembering of our common humanity, and the presentiment of the sacred, which the player sometimes experiences in and through the activity. One's participation in the adventure of playing, even given the risk of injury or defeat, finds resolution at the end of the experience, and one re-enters ongoing life in a new spirit of thanksgiving and celebration. The player is a changed individual because of the playtime, his or her life having been enlarged beyond the workaday world (p. 34).
His comments are interesting and lead me to ask, might play have a different human value to rest and leisure? Is it a distinctive part of the life of the adult as well as the child, and can my engagement in play bring glory to God and help me to live a life of faith well?
We Protestants have always been suspicious of play and idleness, trusting instead in the worth of work and diligence in all that we do. But in the process we have often failed to understand the biblical sense of 'rest' and have been just as confused about 'work and its purposes. We know that God ordained rest at creation when He rested from the work that he had done (Genesis 2:2-3). As well, we know that physical rest has a relationship to spiritual rest and God's ultimate plan and design for us, that we are to seek him in our lives. Our lives are to demonstrate that we understand and seek the only true rest that is to be found in Christ (Matthew 11:28-29). Play is an added complexity because it isn't the same as rest, but it may be pursued as part of rest, as we seek in the midst of life, rest for our souls not just our bodies. Understanding work, rest and play is made even more difficult because in the modern era the place of play and rest, relative to work, has become confused.  Johnston cites some of the following trends:
  • As the amount of leisure time increases for some, the meaningfulness of work has decreased.
  • While opportunities for leisure and play have increased for some, there has been a reverse trend for many women with paid work adding to many of their previous responsibilities at home.
  • For many, work has become simply a means to an end; primarily, a way to increase purchasing power for life, with leisure increasing dramatically as an area of expenditure.
  • Free time does not necessarily mean rest, leisure or play for those who Staffan Lindner labelled "the harried leisure class"; those for whom consumption dominates non-working time.
  • What people do when they have time away from their jobs can often be simply idleness.
There is much that could be added to Johnston's list some 30 years later. For example, today I suspect that Christians, like people in general, have a tendency to binge on rest and play, and I'm also not too sure that anyone has much more leisure time. For many, there is an inconvenient truth about the dominant place of work, as they seek to earn money to allow insatiable consumption in all parts of life.

In an age where most people feel time poor, and we spend too much time working and too little time entering into rest, a consideration of the role of play in life might just be helpful for many of us. As well, we may need to give careful consideration to the way we model what rest and even play mean in our lives as others observe us.

If you're interested in this topic, you might have a look at issue #24 of Case Magazine on 'Work in Progress'. You might find this helpful.

Thursday 27 June 2013

On Intelligence and Omniscience

A post by Dr John Quinn

Edward Snowden (Courtesy of Wikicommons)
As I write, former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden is en route to Ecuador, passing through Moscow and Havana. Mr Snowden is wanted by US authorities for disclosing information regarding the extent of US surveillance of its citizens’ internet and telephone activities. The disclosures, which were first reported in “The Guardian”, have rocked the US Government to the core, and have met with praise and contempt in almost equal measure.  Those in the government and security establishment argue that Mr Snowden’s disclosures are treasonous, endangering the lives of innocents by compromising effective security programs and intelligence mechanisms.  At the same time his actions are hailed as heroic by civil libertarians and journalists for pushing back against the increasing intrusion of the state into personal affairs.  As thinking Christians what are we to make of this?

The New Testament is not silent on the role of government. In Chapter 13 of his letter to the Romans, Paul exhorts his readers to “submit [themselves] to the governing authorities.”  Paul’s reasoning is not pragmatic, but is tied up in God’s sovereignty over earthly affairs: he writes “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” As result, “he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves”. Moreover, “if you do wrong, be afraid, for he [the ruler] does not bear the sword for nothing”.  In short, the ruling authorities are to be treated with respect and a measure of fear, as they are instituted by God to administer justice.

Image courtesy of Google images 
I have to admit that these verses bring me some discomfort in light of Edward Snowden’s revelations. What if, God forbid, it became illegal to be a Christian?  What if checking an online bible, calling your local church or even reading could land you in prison? These are activities we do every day: should we just stop them in submission to a tyrannical state? While a cursory reading of Romans 13 might invite that conclusion, I don’t think the picture is quite that straightforward. In Verse 3 of chapter 13, Paul writes:

“For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” 

So it is really wrongdoers that ought to fear the government, not those who do right.  Of course, we now have a problem of definition: who are “those who do right” and “those who do wrong”?  I don’t think there is anything too controversial in suggesting that for Christian people “those who do right” must ultimately be those who trust and obey the Lord Jesus.  If this is the case then any government acting against Christians has moved from being an administrator of God’s justice to a persecutor of God’s people. The Bible is clear on both the reality and certainty of persecution for Christians.  Moreover, while persecution brings suffering in the here and now, it ultimately points to the certainty of hope in Jesus.  Hence there is nothing to fear from a government that persecutes, for the Christian holds to certain hope of ultimate deliverance through Jesus.

So, do Christians have anything to fear from a government that monitors our every movement? At one level the answer is no, because God would ultimately deliver us from a persecuting government. That said, it does not seem adequate to say that since God gave the authorities the power to monitor all our activities, we should just accept it. The potential for misuse of surveillance is substantial, and it is not only Christians who might face injustice as a result of government intrusion. As people who put others before ourselves we should be attentive not only to our own vulnerability, but also of others who might face persecution from an intrusive tyrannical state.  The scale of government monitoring now evident, we need to think about how we work toward change, not through illegal means, but by advocating through legitimate channels.

Did Edward Snowden do the right thing? I have no idea. His actions have certainly upset the US government who are making all sorts of claims about the legality of what has occurred. Moreover, he has almost certainly violated those confidentiality clauses that were part of his work arrangements. Deliverance for Edward Snowden appears to be coming from somewhat unexpected quarters, via the Russian, Cuban and Ecuadorian governments. Leaving aside the morality or legality of Mr Snowden’s actions, and his now precarious situation, through his disclosures he has flagged a significant issue with which we need to grapple. We can thank him for that.   

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Christianity and Terrorism

Above: Photo 2013 Boston Marathon (WikiCommons)
We are often reminded that we live in a fallen world. Incidents such the Boston Marathon bombing, or the killing of the British solider a week or so ago are cases in point. In the aftermath of these events people are left scratching their heads and often fingers are pointed every which way.

In Case magazine  #11  in 2007,  Moore College Lecturer Dr Andrew Cameron, wrote a particularly helpful article on Christianity and Terrorism. He asked, since terrorism is firmly implanted in our social landscape, how does it connect with Christianity and how can we respond? What type of voice should we have in public debates on terrorism?

Christians who engage in these debates are often confronted by the retort "but Christianity advocates similar violence, just look in the Old Testament". Regular viewers of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Q&A television program would have seen this demonstrated as this very question was posed to conservative Christian politician Rev Fred Nile, specifically referring to Psalm 137.  Rev Nile tried to explain to the audience that the Old Testament was part of God's 'Old Covenant' and for Christians the emphasis is in the 'New Covenant' .  Christians who viewed the program most likely could see the point that Nile was trying to make. Of course we need to remember that covenantal language is unfamiliar to most people, so the idea that the 'Old Covenant' is fulfilled 'in Christ' is not easily grasped. Thus Nile's point was lost on most.

It occurred to me that the ideas raised and explanations in Andrew Cameron's article 'Christianity and Terrorism' (Case #11) would have been very useful when trying to respond to the accusation that the bible advocates acts of terrorism. In particular Andrew's article explains well that there is no justification for Christians to engage in holy wars as described in the OT. He wrote:
Even when they occurred they were pictured as a special occurrence, not a general rule; and because in the ‘story arc’ of the Bible, the death of Christ is the penultimate fulfillment of the same purpose as these wars. The satisfaction of the wrath of God, instantiated in these wars, is for the time being completed on Christ’s cross (and finally completed at humanity’s final judgment). Hence in Christian theology, there is no longer any warrant for any holy war anymore

In addition to the above explanation, Andrew's article has an excellent analysis of how governments  are responding to terrorism around the world, and I found his concluding remarks on how Christians should respond to such events as very timely.
This cry of ‘come, Lord Jesus!’ lies at the core of a Christian response to terrorism. To pray for angry and misguided Islamist terrorists; to pray for our leaders in the fearful decisions they must daily make; to pray for the wounded lying in hospitals; to pray that it doesn't happen again and that peace reigns—in such prayers, we do well, because we take our helplessness, and the lostness of humanity, to the powerful throne of God.

I know Case subscribers would enjoy Dr Cameron's  article. So I encourage you to pull out your back issue of the magazine. The article can be viewed online.  New Case subscribers are also welcome. More information regarding our publication is found at the Case website  

Tuesday 21 May 2013

The Christian and Politics

A post By Edwina Hine

All our readers who live in Australia must be aware that this is an election year. In fact the count down has begun, and it is only 120 days until the next federal election. This week it will have been difficult to escape news telecasts of the federal budget speech by Wayne Swan or the opposition's budget response a few days later.

The news from Canberra gives all Australians much to think about, as we ponder how the budget and other government initiatives may effect our vote later this year.  Case edition #13 ( from 2007)  entitled "The Christian and Politics"  has been a helpful read for me this week as my thoughts turned upon the subject of Australian politics. The articles in Case 13 are certainly not a "how to" of  Christian voting, but it is an excellent collection of articles. Collectively, the essays look at the way Christians view their citizenship and the roles of government, the stated purpose of Case #13 as Trevor Carney points out in his editorial, the magazine offers

".... a collection of papers that present arguments concerning the way our biblical understanding  should inform our political minds and actions"

One article I enjoyed was penned by the Hon. John Andersen -who was at the time the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. His article  entitled 'Church and state' outlined the role people of faith should play in politics. He reminded the readers that the

" debate over the relationship between church and state is alive and well... The issues are difficult, they create real tensions and there are, in the end no definitive, final, neat formulas"

Courtesy of Google images
We are also reminded that in 1 Timothy 2 that Christian relationships with the 'state' are within the
framework of Gods eternal plans. Christians are to pray for political leaders so that they govern and oversee a peaceful society in which the gospel can be preached. Anderson  concludes his thesis by reminding the reader Christians

"must have a distinct world view that allows us to contribute  thoughtfully and theologically to public life"

In addition to John Anderson's article, this edition of Case also includes an article by Mike Thompson on 'Western Christians and democracy as a foreign policy objective' , and an article by Andrew Errington entitled 'Representation and good government'.  The latter can be read online as can he article by John Anderson. There are a number of other articles in  edition #13 well worth a look.

A back issue of Case #13 can be purchased here, or  if you wish to become a Case subscriber you should visit here. Case edition #13 on Christians and Politics also followed the 2005 New College Lecture Series 'Church & State'. Both John Anderson and Kevin Rudd were amongst the guest speakers and for those in an interest in the topic - you might enjoy visiting the New College Lecture website to view their talks here 

Thursday 9 May 2013

Engaging with others & giving a reason: 10 years on...

The latest issue of Case Magazine is out and it celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Centre for Apologetic Scholarship and Education (CASE) at New College. The Centre was established in late 2002 with my appointment as the 5th Master of the College. 

In the first issue of Case magazine I described its aim as ‘to provide a Christian perspective on social, intellectual and academic issues.’ The Centre was meant ‘…to engage people of all persuasions in dialogue, debate and discussion concerning contemporary issues of broad interest.’ It was to do this through publications, seminars, conferences, online resources, and engagement with others in varied public dialogue and discourse.

CASE has now been doing this for a decade. Case magazine has been one of the key activities of the Centre. Over the years it has tackled a huge range of topics, including family, climate change, debt, apologetics, work, philosophy, science and religion, euthanasia, creativity, poverty, wealth, evolution, witchcraft, atheism, ageing, politics, education, bioethics, war, peace, art, music, literature, happiness, and even Christmas! The early shape, design and make-up of Case was influenced by Dr Greg Clarke who I appointed as full-time Director of the centre and editor of Case in 2003. He held this post until 2006 when I assumed the role of Director in addition to being Master of New College.

As an incoming editor I made some minor changes to what had become an excellent publication. We created an Editorial Advisory Group and from Issue 12 we grouped the articles much more around a particular theme. Over the years, the themes have included The Christian and Politics (#13); Living and Dying Ethically (#17) To Give a Reason (#20); Work in Progress (#24); Acts of God (#27); Selling Christmas (#29); and Believing Science (#32). This has made Case Magazine more than simply a Christian current affairs magazine, or a journal to be read once and discarded. Over time readers, churches, schools and libraries subscribing to the magazine have used it as a reference library of high quality articles grouped in these topic areas. Themes we plan to address over the coming months include identity, media, secularism, refuge, and beauty.

CASE reaches well beyond traditional ‘defence’ apologetics. Its aim is to encourage all to consider the claims of Christianity, and to bring a biblical perspective to all of life. It has done this in many overlapping ways:

a) helping people understand and respond to direct challenges to Christianity (eg. New Atheism, scientism, the problem of evil, and historical challenges—even those in airport novels!);

b) providing Christian comment on areas of popular and intellectual culture and (eg. art, music, literature, history, science, philosophy, anthropology);

c) providing Christian comment on societal trends (eg. new technology, busyness, globalisation, climate change);

d) informing people about areas of potential ethical conflict between Christianity and the world, and how to respond (eg. bioethics, euthanasia, sexuality, consumerism);

e) encouraging people to live as thoughtful Christians in the way they approach day to day life (eg. work, money, family, education, church, social justice);

f) encouraging Christian to engage thoughtfully with the non-Christian world (eg. through political engagement, the media and so on);

and in all these things promoting the attractiveness of Christianity.

To celebrate 10 years of CASE, we have put together a bumper edition of Case Magazine, comprising a selection of some of the most significant articles published in the magazine over the last ten years. To kick the issue off, we invited our foundation director Dr Greg Clarke to write about his thoughts on key directions for apologetics.

The 10th Anniversary issue (#34) also marks the beginning of a new venture for CASE. For the first time, the magazine will be available in electronic form as an e-zine that can be downloaded and read on electronic devices. This will make it even easier for the next generation of readers to access. As part of this venture Koorong will now sell the magazine directly to its customers around the world. The printed version will also continue to be produced as it is now, giving readers the choice of reading the hard copy or the electronic format, or both! Full details on the varied ways to subscribe and buy Case magazine can be found by visiting the CASE website.

In addition, we will be returning to an earlier practice of Case Magazine, which is to provide a Discussion Guide for groups to download and use, to help discuss the content from each edition. This will commence with Issue #35, with the theme of Identity.

I hope that you will enjoy this special anniversary edition of Case. Thank you to those of you who have supported and contributed to the work of CASE over the last decade. To others, for whom this issue may be your first introduction to the Centre, I hope the work of CASE will be a blessing to you both now and into the future. If you would like to purchase individual issues of Case or subscribe to receive quarterly publications, then visit our website HERE.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Jubilee Dreaming: The persistence of racial injustice?

Post Written by Rev Ben Gooley

2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s immortal “I Have a Dream” speech (text/audio). He spoke one hundred years after America’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, lamenting that a century on, “the Negro still is not free”.

Fifty years is a long time for an individual, even if it’s not necessarily so long for a society. As an “under 50”, I find it hard to fathom that as Luther King wrote and spoke, those of colour and those who were white were in many places segregated, separated and estranged for no other reason than this mere racial divide.

I speak as an Australian, whose nation’s history of racial injustice is different from that of America. We do not have the same history of slavery, yet our cultural baggage as a nation is in many ways no less stark. I find it hard to fathom that indigenous Australians only received the vote in Federal Elections in 1962. Yet fifty-one years on, racial inequalities persist in our nation and some appear to be worsening. Government and NGO programs for social justice such as Close the Gap are seeking to understand, address and reverse the significant inequalities that continue to plague our nation.

A key element of the gospel perspective on races and nationalism is given voice in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This letter is in large part concerned with the question of how the racial divide between Jews and Gentiles is recast by the gospel framework. In the letter, Paul famously exclaims that in Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one body (Gal 3:28). Paul’s concern was largely theological, as he tackled the legalistic shackles of the circumcision group. Yet that does not lessen the reality of the breaking down of the racial dividing wall. He concludes towards the end of the letter:

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:9-10)

In biblical symbolism, fifty years is an important period. The Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25:10 describes the fiftieth year as a time when property sold through poverty and indentured slaves are returned to their original owners and their families. Fifty years on from Martin Luther King’s Dreaming is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the significant progress that has been wrought, and the significant problems hurdles which remain.

Monday 15 April 2013

Rethinking Relationships & Apologetics

Its not everyday you see Christianity written about in the economics section of the Sydney Morning Herald, let alone by the economics senior columnist. However Easter Monday saw the publishing of a very thought provoking column by Ross Gittins entitled 'Time ripe to re-think 'relationships'

He suggests:

Since "...many business people and economists think of themselves as Christians... what implications does this carry for the way they view the world and conduct their affairs?"

This is a question that should indeed not be asked just by business and economists alone! The article struck me for several reasons, first it has succinct analysis of what is at the heart of one's Christian faith. Second, it asks what implications faith has for a believer in terms of our dealings with those around us. This is one aspect of the apologetic life. With this in mind it is no wonder I took notice.  Apologetic people have been the focus of my last two posts in particular (March 13 and Feb 22).

The column however has a broader focus, and goes much further than a discussion of economics. Gittens continues:

"Education's goal can be defined as acquisition of wisdom for children to be able to serve their family and community, rather than acquisition of technical skills merely for personal career advantage. At a personal level, our happiness and wellbeing are determined primarily by the quality of our relationships".

His comments echo some of the content of Case 14 'Seeking Happiness' which had some great articles that address the questions how and why we seek happiness. In the same issue we actually reviewed a book written by Ross Gittins  'Gittinnomics' that considers the impact of heightened materialism on society.

I think many readers of the blog would enjoy the SMH article (here) and reviewing Case 14 magazine 'Seeking Happiness'. The book review from this edition can be read here. Alternatively you can purchase past editions of Case here

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