Archive for March, 2008

The Fear of Man and the Fear of God

March 28, 2008

Ed Welch’s book, When People are Big and God is Small, looks at the culture of peer pressure and co-dependency. He points out a number of ways in which other people control us through our fears. In doing so he urges us to put God and our relationship with Him at the centre of our lives. Not so that God might make much of us but that we might make much of Him. Welch uses this model to deconstruct the ‘psychological needs’ approach to so much of modern living.

The book has many strong points such pointing us to a theocentric view of human existence- his chapter on fearing God is great. Also the chapter that looks at our relationships with others in the body of Christ is  very helpful. In short there is much to commend this book- even if you don’t think these are issues for you. You might be surprised.

The book however has one or two weaknesses. His historical perspective on the rise of modern psychological view of self  is a little too neatly packaged. Also there were times when I felt that his use of biblical material was stretched a bit too much in order to make his point. Nor was a I left with a clear idea of what his views on psychological needs is. Does he in fact deny that there is such a thing?

These reservations aside I think there is much to be gained from reading this book. You will find it helpful and challenging.

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When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

March 17, 2008

It’s always a pleasure to recommend a book by a local author.  And I do warmly recommend Frederick Leahy’s book The Cross He Bore. It is a wonderful examination of the trial and death of Jesus. In 13 short bites Leahy takes us through these events with a sure hand. It is a  warm, devotional book (which never descends into sentimentalism) , full of astutely used quotes from writers in the Reformed tradition. It is a delight from beginning to end. It is very moving and full of wonderful insights on familiar and often easily overlooked details. Especially apt at Easter it is beautiful meditation on the death of Christ that can be read and re-read. At £5 it may be the best £5 you ever spend.

John Gray on Atheist Fundamentalism

March 15, 2008

I have often found John Gray, who writes for the Guardian newspaper, one of the most perceptive liberal journalists in the UK. This piece published in today’s Guardian on atheist fundamentalism is another well-written piece which highlights many of the flaws in the new atheism from a man who is no friend of religion.

http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2265395,00.html

Mortal Sins for the Noughties

March 10, 2008

So the Vatican has updated the of mortal sins to meet the needs of 21st century sinners. The new list includes environmental pollution; Genetic manipulation; Accumulating excessive wealth; Inflicting poverty;Drug trafficking and consumption; Morally debatable experiments; Violation of fundamental rights of human nature.  Abortion and paedophilia were also mentioned- although a spokesman said that cases involving Catholic priests had been exaggerated to discredit the church- I’m sure the victims don’t think they have been exposed clearly enough.

It of course begs the question of why add this new list of sins? Seemingly the problem is a dramatic falling off in the number of people attending confession. So the logic goes if you rbing the sins up to date people will confess. Interesting theory. The new sins are clearly directed towards corporate/social evil rather than personal responsibility. I fail to see how if people are refusing to face up to personal sin they are now going to go and confess to nameless, faceless corporate sin.

Of course the really key issue is the definition of sin and the problem of trying to define it in terms of specific acts.  The real problem with sin is the sinful human nature that leads to acts of sin and until that is dealt with then acts of sin will follow freely. And moving sins up and down a list of priorities is not going to change anything. Nothing less than a regenerate nature which is the fruit of Christ’s atoning sacrifice upon the cross can deal with mankind’s fallen nature.

The Vatican is falling into one of the great traps of our time- removing a sense of personal responsibility and culpability before God and replacing it with a generic sense of corporate evil. Not only does this undermine any sense of personal morality but it removes the gospel from ordinary people who are not engaged in corporate evil but who need the forgiveness that God alone can bring through Jesus Christ.

PS The original mortal sins were-Pride; Envy; Gluttony; Lust; Anger; Greed; Sloth

Was Moses a Junkie?

March 7, 2008

Was Moses a junkie? According to Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem he was. According to Shanon Moses experiences on Mount Sinai were the result of taking psychedelic drugs made from concoctions drawn from the acacia tree which is frequently mentione din the Bible.

Acacia wood is mentioned 29 times in the Bible never in relation to a strange brew. In fact 26 times it is mentioned in relation to making furniture.

Again we find pseudo science masquerading as scholarship in relation to the Bible and capturing headlines. Shanon’s case is made on the basis of his experiences in the Amazon and have nothing to do with any kind of biblical research. Or for that matter any kind of proper research. He says Moses experiences cannot be based on a divine human encounter. Is this because of some empirical research? No, its because ‘I don’t believe [it]! Clearly no bias in his research then.

It would be interesting to know if Shanon knows of other instances where psychedelic  experience have led to the construction of a highly sophisticated moral and legal system. Or why Shanon thinks Moses was angry at the idolatrous revelers in the camp in Exodus 32.  For Shanon the whole Pentateuch and the subsequent history of Israel rests on a bad trip.

That this work should merit serious discussion or be given publicity is shameful and yet again demonstrates not the purity of science but how easily it is corrupted.

What about childhood?

March 5, 2008

Children’s laureate Jacqueline Wilson has recently expressed her concern about children growing up too quickly. This was in the light of a survey that saw 55% of respondents saying they thought childhood was over by eleven. Wilson’s claims are interesting in that she admits that the characters in her novels are children aspiring to behave as adults. Whilst she says this is not what she herself aspires to for children I wonder how much the tone of Wilson’s books feeds the minds of children in this area as she deals with some heavy themes. ( I have to add that my daughter once met Jacqueline Wilson and she treated her with great kindness amidst her busyness)

At the other end of the spectrum I have also come across an increasing concern expressed by some commentators about what has been termed ‘adultoescents.’ In other words adults who whilst they drift into their thirties are still behaving like teenagers.

So what is wrong with children becoming adults too soon? The problem according to parents is their exposure to alcohol, pre-marital sex, poor company and their rejection of parental authority. In other words the real problem is not children becoming adults but the kind of adults they become. And the adults they become are in many cases nothing more than taller children who are devoid of any sense of the responsibility that traditionally comes with adulthood. That is without doubt rooted in part to the kind of models of adulthood that they are exposed to.

The key issue is surely not to protect childhood as some ideal (or idolised) state but to prepare children for the transition to adulthood. That is not something that is done by protecting childhood or prolonging it.  Rather what we need to do is to instill in our children the values that will sustain them through adulthood.

My father decided to leave work aged 13 and get a job. At 15 he had enrolled in the armed forces during WWII. Today his parents and employer would be strung up under all manner of legislation. People would say today that he lost his childhood. Did it damage him? Not at all. He has lied a very full and active adult life. He is now 83 and what marks him out, even amongst his contemporaries, is his a profound sense of responsibility. Even at 83 if he is asked to do anything he will do it and do it to the best of his ability.

From a Christian perspective the opening chapters of Proverbs made up of what may be seen as a series of letters from a father to his son provide us with excellent models of how  parents might prepare their children for adulthood.