Wednesday, 31 October 2007

the most surprising thing

is that the liberal media appears to be surprised about the fact that "lessons in hate" have been found at mosques across the country. (Yes, the Times does count as liberal!)

The remarkable ignorance in the West about some of the most basic aspects of Islamic history and theology has been a major factor in the current tense situation. A kind of patronising indifference towards Middle Eastern culture (blended with an Orientalist wonder at the trappings) bred of years of military preeminence, economic success and confidence in a (post-)'Christian' way of life means that suddenly we are all surprised when people who have been indirectly (and in some cases directly) hurt and offended by Western governments and companies start to respond with violence. But really, to find that surprising is more than a little naive.

Furthermore, the resources are there in the Islamic tradition to foster a culture of exclusivism and violence. [And, given the right technological advances, the conditions are there for ideologically-driven mass murderers to arise from among the people, not just in the board rooms of governments around the world.] We in the West might well be ignorant of the many Islamic cultures around the world that are generally 'nice' (in the sense of not supporting open hatred and terrorism), and we might indeed need to be reminded of the relative benignity of some Ottoman rule in the early modern period, particularly as compared with some of the brutality in Europe. However, we also need to be reminded of the historical roots of Islam - conquest, forced conversion and massacre. And of the intellectual roots - not just the hair-splitting of jurists down the centuries and modern-day so-called liberal muslims, but the Koranic text itself (which in places enjoins violence, however ambiguous a modern application might be, depending on your hermeneutic) an the reams of Hadith, which are very clear in their endorsement of violence.

It's enough to make anyone run into the arms of Fethullah Gulen. Which is what a lot of people are doing! And if I'd had the time, I would have toddled off to this fascinating conference in London at the weekend: Muslim World in Transition, Contributions of the Gulen Movement. Thankfully the proceedings of the conference are already up on he website (all 755 pages) so that will keep me occupied if I ever have a dull moment in the next few weeks!

(As it happens Kate and I were enjoying a film festival at L'Abri in Hampshire along with PG, who generously drove us there and back, which was tremendous fun in every respect!)

Tuesday, 30 October 2007


Here's an interesting thought - the recapture of Halloween for Christ.

Sounds a bit weird, even scary, to some...

Thanks to this hungry soul (Ladybug, which I guess is American for 'Ladybird'?! ;-) for pointing me to the Radio 4 slot on a parish in Sussex. Any evangelicals brave enough to try this?

The imaginative reformed conservatives (Jordan, Leithart & co.) already have of course!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

would I love to meet this guy

and of course I will, one day, praise God.

Some people really know how to think, how to write, how to live. Celal Birader is one of them.

The real Hellenists

were not those who came up with the doctrine of the Trinity, for that doctrine explodes Hellenistic philosophy. See Peter Leithart's thoughts on that subject - always fascinating and provocative. And striking a blow against the all-too-easy Dan Brown style dismissal of orthodox doctrines as merely 'Greek' influences on a whatever-you-please touchy-feely Jesus movement.

Isaiah 3 and 4

(1-7) The LORD is about to take away supplies and leaders from Jerusalem and Judah

(8-9) for they brazenly deny the eyes of his glory and have stumbled and fallen

(10-11) the fate of the righteous will be good, but not so the wicked

(12-17) the LORD as judge and prosecutor of OPPRESSION and VANITY – the leaders of Zion, and of haughty women

(18-4:1) in that day the finey and the mighty men will be stripped away

(4:2-6) in that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious: the LORD will cleanse and protect…

The tenses blend present and future. ‘I will make boys and children rule’ (4) and ‘now youth and women rule’ (12). Does this make the future more vivid? Or is the LORD threatening to give them over (4) to what they already glory in (12), à la Romans 1:24?

To ponder:

Inadequate leadership is a major problem – not just inadequate but actively oppressive (14) at this period. The shocking thought is, however, is that one of God’s acts of judgement is to give crummy leaders to the people. He removes the good, what you might call the substantial citizens (1-3) along with the dodgy “clever enchanter” [Motyer; ESV, diviner] who is there, too. He replaces them with the bad (4,5, 12) and even with comedy leaders (6) – the people are so desperate they’ll accept anyone who owns a cloak…

These bad leaders oppress instead of tending the vineyard, especially oppressing the poor. They spend their time on consumption and on parading their wealth.

The chronology of the judgement is not clear but it is implied that judgement (18), hardship & degredation (4:1) and safety & cleansing (4:2-6) will come “at once”, as it were. [NB. The ESV reading of 4:4 suggests that at least some of the daughters of Zion will be cleansed and so will be among the survivors; Motyer and Dalzell argue that ‘the filth of the women’ = the sinful women themselves.]

But in that day who will be left in Zion? How do you get left in Zion?

We know they will be the righteous (3:10), to whom a specific message is given, but we don’t hear much more about them. Rather, we hear a lot about what the LORD will do…

The categories are bursting!
in Israel
in Zion
remain in Jerusalem
cleanse Jerusalem of bloodstains
cloud over all of Mount Zion

This suggests something much greater than just a mountain in Palestine! Like so much of the OT, these prophecies point beyond themselves – compare the sacrifices, the temple, the monarchy… To take them literally would mean a JW-style reading, with just enough physical space (in square metres) for a limited number of people (the JW’s annointed ones?), which is what many dispensationalists do. (1) Verses 5-6 pick up the Exodus imagery of God’s protection, which is clearly not to be understood literalistically. (2) What about all the faithful Jews who lived out in the sticks!? Clearly no original reader of the OT would have taken Mount Zion physically and literalistically, but as representative: Jerusalem/Zion, here = the faithful people of God. And represenatation is crucial to God’s dealings with humanity! (Adam represents YHWH to the earth, Jesus represents God to man and man to God, etc.)

To run for a moment with the dispy-style interpretation of this and similar prophecies… It’s very tempting, granted, especially since the recent history of the state of Israel is remarkable (militarily and economically), and partial literal readings of the OT prophecy are not completely incoherent. Maybe there is a literal return to the land foretold? Maybe there is privilege in being Jewish?

If so, only in a small way – the big thing is the faithful from every nation inheriting the earth (Beatitudes, Revelation)! Nevertheless, the broken-off branches will be grafted back on (Romans) IF…

…there is acknowledgement of the rule of God and his Christ – which there is not
…righteousness characterises the people, which it does not
…there is fair treatment of the alien – which there is not


So the dangers of the dispy-style reading are revealed in the uncritical support of Israelis, which multiplies injustice in Palestine today. Those Jews who return to the land while remaining unbelievers are theologically insignificant. As Walter Kaiser says, God can re-run AD70 if he has to. Sobering thought, and not one that US dispys would like to try to put in their systems! Instead, they participate in the classic ‘Armageddon Now!’ fervour, a self-centred approached to prophecy that sees it all happening to the interpreter’s generation. Oh please…

The Branch (4:2)

A person? The survivors themselves? The produce/supply of the refreshed land? (Calvin and modern liberals are agreed on the third reading!)

If the Branch is Messianic here – and it certainly is in chapter 11 – this fits the first two readings, given that they actually come from a theological understanding of Jesus, such that the Messiah is not merely a bloke, a single figure, but a corporate figure of blessing and rule. “Branch” will be broadened as we go through Isaiah, even if right now we hear only future echoes…

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Hope Community Church

Planting churches is the best evangelistic strategy for the UK.

Given the large number of commuter churches and the tendency for evangelicals to slip into professionalism (whether of the sermon-lecturing variety for the Reformed, or the worship-leader variety for the Charismatics) in ministry, the time is also ripe for small, flexible congregations which emphasise and practise every-member ministry.

[I didn't make that stuff up, by the way. Tim Keller, the Crowded House and all kinds of wise and exciting Christians have influenced my thinking on church...]

So, Rock Baptist, who have nurtured me and Kate for 5 years in Cambridge, have now (at last!) planted a new church (presently it is a 'church-planting initiative' as it is not an independent church congregation, but who's quibbling over terminology...?!) which is called HOPE COMMUNITY CHURCH, and is based in the east of Cambridge.

We meet in a school hall (Cherry Hinton, a suburb) one week, and in a tiny Baptist chapel (Teversham, still a village, just) the next. After a late afternoon 'service' we eat together. There are fewer than 15 of us, and it's wonderful! It really feels like, and really is, a community. We also have a lot to learn and a long way to go...

Mission statement:
Under the Lordship of Christ, we seek to be a Gospel-centred, Spirit-led community reaching out in love to the people of Teversham and Cherry Hinton. We are committed to the Bible, to prayer, to making disciples and to growing the church by planting further congregations. We want our witness to be holistic and flexible, based in loving relationships and on seeking to serve those around us.

At our first specifically evangelistic meeting last Sunday one visitor professed faith in Christ! Praise the Lord! And there are many other encouragements from this truly team effort. Soli deo gloria!

Miroslav Volf on feminism

At yesterday's fabulously stimulating seminar day for the superlative Northern Training Institute (about which more in later posts), I picked up several books from Tim Chester's study and brought a couple back to Cambridge with me (and with his permission, I ought to add!) One of these was Volf's After Our Likeness: the Church as the Image of the Trinity (Eerdmans, 1998).

One of the exciting things about this book is that it is not from an Anglo-American theologian. It is by a Croatian who even as a child was persecuted by his countrymen for his faith. And it is a deep, respectful interaction with the thought of Ratzinger (a leading Catholic theologian, now the pope, of course) and Zizioulas (perhaps the pre-eminent Orthodox theologian) from an intelligent, sensitive 'low church' Protestant perspective. Nice.

Unfortunately it gets off to a bad start in its embrace of certain dogmas of feminist theology. He finds no compelling arguments against women's ordination, whether propounded by Fundamentalist Protestant groups nor those proferred by the teaching office of the Roman Catholic Church (p.2), as if only two groups of opponents or two types of argument existed (his dyad implies that "fundamentalist Protestant groups and RC teaching office" is a merismus). To make that true one would have to grossly distort "fundamentalist" to include most Protestants who hold the Bible in high regard, lumping Peter Leithart with Jerry Falwell (dec.)! Of course, he gives no argumentation on this point...

Friday, 19 October 2007

the critical eye

In her splendid Cambridge Paper, which should open the eyes of philistine Christians (as it has done for me) everywhere to the value of 20th century painting (even the stuff that doesn't look like anything!), Margaret Wilson draws on Italian art historian Guido Ballo's 1966 classic, Occhio Critico, 'The Critical Eye'.

The work is subtitled 'A new approach to art appreciation', but it might more accurately be described as 'a new approach to classifying and showcasing bad art appreciation', presented alongside titbits from the good, critical approach (which Ballo was hardly the first person to advocate, describe or model). He is incredibly rude about 'the ordinary eye' - a non-critical reaction to art conditioned by prejudice and sentimentality. The list of stock phrases used by 'the ordinary man' (pp.71-4) are painfully funny - sometimes I see myself in them, and sometimes I wonder whether Ballo is being a little harsh.

His discussion of the 'Categorical Eye' - a dogmatic approach to art that speaks from only one valid aesthetic position regardless of the art in question is also interesting - he suggests that this kind of single-minded dismissal of whole swathes of styles and movements is characteristic of some of the best artists (though none of the best critics) who are forced to innovate and stretch art in 'their' direction in reaction to the other directions and modalities that have been tried.

Much of the book enacts the critical eye's take on art, in vignette form, and under topics (rather than chronologically, as in Gombrich's superlative History of Art). The critical eye is that which seeks to understand the art against its historical context, the varying purposes of different sorts of art, and in the light of certain important things that art should always be doing - Ballo seems to suggest that good art always has 'rhythm', for example. Like much art and music crit. it struggles with words, and is not always successful in being really substantial in its particular comments and analyses. Nevertheless, in opening up to the reader various ways of understanding appreciating that art that seems foreign and difficult, it is invaluable.

Great piccies, too!

Monday, 15 October 2007


The Trinity. Why it is better than the alternatives (1 of 1,000,000,000...)

Solitary God = no good whatsoever.

A challenge to JWs, Muslims and Unitarians everywhere.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Trinnng trnnnnnng, trnnnnng trnnnnnnng....

[Pleasant female voice] Good morning, Cambridge University Library

[cheeky James] Good morning. I have just been reminded that I have several books that are overdue that I ought to have returned, and I wonder if I could get an exemption from the fine.

[pfv] Um...

[cj] On Sunday, my lung partially collapsed, and that made it tricky for me to get to the UL this week.

[pfv] Oh gosh, are you alright?!

[cj] Yes, yes, recovering well, thank you.

[pfv] Wow. That sounds awful. Um, let me see... Do you have your UL card on you?

[cj] Yes, it's just here.

[pfv] Could you tell me the five-character code, starting with V?

.... all went according to plan, and she kindly renewed all the books, not just the overdue ones, though I will need to produce a doctor's note on my next visit if I want the fines to be waived. Which I do. So when I go for my x-ray on Monday morning I must remember that...

Friday, 5 October 2007

literary link

courtesy of David Parry, budding scholar, here's an interesting link on the poverty and profusion of evangelical writing, via Flannery O'Connor...

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Sufi music

not sure how accurate the adjective is, there, but the music of Omar Faruk Tekbilek is worth some attention. The backing group on the link below reminds me of Metallica and the San Fransisco Symphony Orchestra, a poster of which adorned the room of a friend and fellow English graduate from Downing... but enough of my reminiscenses, this is supposed to be a post about this Turkish musician, who is not at all similar to Metallica!

Check it out
. It's a lot easier to follow than some traditional Turkish music I have heard (type "saz" into youtube, for examples), and for that reason slightly less interesting. I am also yet to be convinced there's anything special about him, since his band and fellow soloists do most of the work on that clip. However, his CV is impressive, and he's coming to London next weekend with a much more interesting-looking backing group...

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

AK Party - the real story?

A friend, currently engineering in Central Asia, has two close Turkish colleagues who give amusingly opposite reasons for distrusting the AK Party who won this summer's general election in their home country.

(A) I am a secularist republican and this party smacks of Islamism and reactionary tendencies.

I hardly think so. Softening Ataturk's legacy would not do any harm, and no Islamist-led nation would make it into the EU in the forseeable future, which is something that Erdogan (PM) and Gul (President) are very keen on.

(B) I am a devout Muslim and this party is an American plot to undermine Islam by institutionalising it, thereby robbing it of its spiritual power.

Since when did institutionalising Islam do it any harm!? Apologies if I sound a little cynical, but that's one of the main reasons for its success and longevity. By its very nature Islam is a total system, an explicitly socio-political religion. And just because some of its institutionalising has happened at the level of village elders rather than the governments of nation states doesn't mean it hasn't happened and it hasn't worked. [Plus, the old "it's a foreign plot" line is wearing a bit thin; it has been used as a blanket excuse for quite a lot in that part of the world for quite a long time...]

Ironically, both these opinions sound extremely Western!