Thursday, 25 June 2009

This Friday - justification!

This Friday at the NTI seminar we are looking at "justification". Can't wait to get to Sheffield via my gracious hosts in Leicester!

I wrote a very garbled "essay" on the imputation of Christ's righteousness, which I fear I may have to take an hour to explain (not that I really can, as my head has been spinning with the subtleties) before we can really get our teeth into the subject...

Also on the menu are some sterling contributions from everyone else:

An Exegesis of Romans 3

Justification and Ecclesiology

Evaluation of Tom Wright on Justification

What are we to make of Old Testament declarations of innocence?

Merit or Maturity?

Ken Bailey’s exposition of the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), which he more accurately titles “The Two Lost Sons”, contains some great criticisms of merit theology.

The younger son off in the far country does not repent (in Jesus’ definition of repentance) when he decides to return – he espouses a merit theology that plans to earn enough money (set me up as a skilled craftsman) to pay back to his father what he has squandered then he thinks he can restore the relationship. Of course when he meets his father, the old man has already forgiven him, humiliated himself, run the gauntlet on his behalf, and is offering full restoration! He is a son, not an employee…

The older son, angry when he hears why the party is being thrown, refuses to come in, and complains to his father (who, once again, humuliates himself publicly on behalf of one of his sons – the neighbours would have expected severe discipline if not disinheritance for the firstborn’s rudeness here) that he has always “served” him. This is the word for what a slave does. He conceives of the relationship to his father as master-slave, a relationship where the currency is merit. But Jesus wants us to see God in a relationship of love to his children, not distance from his employees…

The Woman at the Well

Ken Bailey’s lectures on Jesus Interprets His Own Cross brushed past John 4 and he made some great observations that got me thinking about social practice and typology…

The woman is clearly a loose woman. She comes alone, in the middle of the day and when she sees Jesus at the well she does not wait for him to get up and stand aside, as etiquette demanded, but comes close enough (possibly even climbing on the stones herself) that Jesus can say to her, “Give me a drink”.

She doesn’t come to the well at midday (when it’s far too hot to be working outside and the water is not as nice) because if she went at dawn the respectable women would shoo her away – yes – but also because she would be more likely to find men there and be able to ply her trade uninterrupted.

Jesus asks for water from the defiled bucket of a despised Samaritan, something a first century Jew would never do. He also cuts across Rabininc tradition and conservative social mores by speaking to a woman in public. That’s one in the eye for Islamic (and any extreme Christian) practices of gender segregation. Meeting a member of the opposite sex one-to-one in private is usually unwise, sure, but the public realm does not need fencing and hedging in order to wrap women up and mute them. Jesus ignores unhelpfully restrictive social constructions of space, privacy, ‘ownership’ of women, etc.

And here we see Israel’s King put in a position of temptation by a foreign woman. Just as Bathsheba (presumably a Hittite like her husband) bathed on the roof knowing full well that David would see her, so the Samaritan woman approaches Jesus as a potential client. And while David folded without much resistance, grasped and murdered, leading to great sorrow and more death, David’s greater Son refuses to play the game. He offers life, demonstrating costly love for a fallen human being, that leads to transformation and joy.

Sunday, 21 June 2009


Of course, I still recognise that McCall Smith makes many interesting observations along the way in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series. On the question of apparently unambitious men he says this (Tea Time, p.150):

‘You only thnk so, Mma? Have you not asked him?’
Mma Tafa sighed. ‘Not all men know what they want to do, Mma. Many of them say they are quite happy doing what they are doing, and do not know what they really want to do… underneath. You know what I mean, Mma?
‘I think I do’, said Mma Ramotswe.
‘So it is the job of women – and that means you and me, Mma – to find out what husbands really want to do, and then to tell them about it. That is our job, I think, Mma.’

I have been reflecting on motivation and decision-making rather a lot in the last few weeks. It's a complex business the more one thinks on this. House-buying, moving overseas, you name it, discerning God's will in all this (what a loaded phrase).

Tea Time for the Traditionally Built

I think I understand why these No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books are so padded – it’s because they are written for serialisation. Almost every chapter contains either a mini-summary of the last chapter or else a synopsis of the entire plot to that point! Perfect for weekly or daily radio programmes, but painful if you are trying to read them in one or two sittings. Has Alexander McCall Smith received a fee from the radio dramatisation people to do most of their work for him!? 

I’m not quite sure whether to give the books a bad review, or applaud them for being accessible to people who might not otherwise do a lot of reading.

Actually, this latest one (Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, an entirely irrelevant title to anything in the novel, other than the rather tired joke about the heroine’s weight) was wittier and more interesting than the last few, certainly in the first 200 pages or so. But then McCall Smith ran out of space, and the plot threads were either sewn up in a couple of paragraphs, or quietly dropped.

These are certainly very well marketed works, though that does not inspire much faith in human nature, given the cloying quality to the blurb on TT’s dust jacket… “and, as wise and warm hearted as his heroine, Alexander McCall Smith reminds us that we must dig deep to uncover the great goodness of the human heart”. Not only a dubious sentiment but also not a fair representation of the book in question!

And yet, despite my extremely mixed feelings about them (see here for a day when I was better disposed!), I continue to read them. Like being addicted to really watery hot chocolate made with UHT milk. You can’t really blame the drink or the one who made it, but the one who keeps asking for it…

Armenian burgers on June 19th

More of a splat than a collection of burgers, actually. But very tasty with bacon and garden lettuce. Came from a birthday recipe book from L&A; Mrs L adapted the instructions and came up with something delightful. I wonder what made them Armenian, though…


A storming pianist [I remember one supervisor at Downing showing off his vinyls of Busoni at the piano and telling me how the Italian was the greatest pianist who had ever lived]. And a great composer. Am currently enjoying his Violin Sonata No.1 in E minor (can’t yet understand the second sonata so well), brimming with energy, deceptively simply, and possibly something I could even play in the coming year.

The best moment comes 4’50” into the opening movement [on the recording by Per Enoksson and Kathryn Stott]. This is a spine-tingling, heart-surging, blurry-eyed moment for me… After the extended counterpoint, a jagged and almost bitter section, Busoni gives us a series of 4-3 suspensions/appogiaturas beginning on a deeply underwritten Vb chord – we can’t decide whether this passage is major or minor, we can’t decide if this is triumph rising above the darkness and unsettled counterpoint, and we move on again before we have a chance to reflect. Wow!

The power of the 4-3 was never better employed, except possibly in the closing bars of Scriabin’s Piano Concerto in F# minor (probably written around the same time as the Busoni) where the plagal cadence – in itself an unusual ending for a concerto work – is drawn out by the B of B major staying in the F#sus4 chord that precedes the final arrival of the tonic major. Made all the more effective by big arching horn lines and the pianist bouncing up and down, producing swelling and receding waves that are slightly out of sync with the orchestral harmony.

Just thinking about it is exciting.

Which shows what a vivid imagination some people have!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

the ugley vicar and Protestant unity

Forthright and entertaining, not to mention sharp-minded. A great blog to follow for those interested in Anglicanism and generally incisive observations/thoughts.

His recent posts on church unity (esp. how disuinity is the curse of Protestantism) have been very thought-provoking. I wish my brain were more alert right now so that I could process it all and regurgitate it in my own words - but his will have to do (very nicely of course)...

Unity, schism and private judgement

If not private judgement, then what?

Unity, the church and denominations

Overcoming schism, the nettle Protestantism must grasp

Friday, 5 June 2009

comprehensive education

This concept has reached new heights/depths in Japan. The poop museum has to be seen to be believed. Actually, although the register of the language may be a little coarse (and is that just the blogger's fault?), one can't complain about an increase in human knowledge and intellectual curiosity among the young! [Thanks to Dionysius for this link]

And speaking of human knowledge and intellectual cuiriosity - why not peruse an introduction to some great lines over the years by James Earl Jones, all bundled up and delivered by his most memorable role, Darth Vader. Here's one, and here's another. Warning, you may cry with laughter... [Cheers to PG for those!]