Christianity

A Little Respect for Dr Foster

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Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times on the public perception of evangelical Christians:

Today, among urban Americans and Europeans, “evangelical Christian” is sometimes a synonym for “rube.” In liberal circles, evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly.

Yet the liberal caricature of evangelicals is incomplete and unfair. I have little in common, politically or theologically, with evangelicals or, while I’m at it, conservative Roman Catholics. But I’ve been truly awed by those I’ve seen in so many remote places, combating illiteracy and warlords, famine and disease, humbly struggling to do the Lord’s work as they see it, and it is offensive to see good people derided. On a recent trip to Angola, the country with the highest child mortality rate in the world, I came across a rural hospital run by Dr. Stephen Foster, 65, a white-haired missionary surgeon who has lived there for 37 years — much of that in a period when the Angolan regime was Marxist and hostile to Christians.

read on…

Christianity on course to be minority religion in UK

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John Bingham reports …

Christians will be a minority in the UK by the middle of this century amid surging growth in atheism and Islam, an authoritative new study charting the future of the world’s religions predicts.

According to projections by the US-based Pew Research Centre, the proportion of the British population identifying themselves as Christian will reduce by almost a third by 2050 to stand at just 45.4 per cent, compared with almost two thirds in 2010.

The number of Muslims in Britain is predicted to more than double to 11.3 per cent, or one in nine of the total population during that time.

But the reports predicts that biggest change in the religious make-up of Britain in the next three and a half decades will be a major expansion in the number of non-religious people.
They would account for just under 39 per cent, challenging Christians as the biggest faith community in the UK.

The predictions mirror analysis from the most recent UK census which saw the number of children growing up as Muslims in the UK almost double in a decade while the number of people describing themselves as non-religious also jumped dramatically.

If the projections, which are based on official population figures, birth rates and immigration estimates from around the world, are borne out, it could amount to the most significant religious realignment in Britain since the arrival of Christianity.

It would mean that by 2050 Britain would have the third largest Muslim community, as a share of the population, in Europe, overtaking France, Germany, Belgium and a handful of other countries.

more…

 

 

 

Is This the End for Mideast Christianity?

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 Philip Jenkins reports that for Christians in the Middle East, 2014 has been a catastrophe.

The most wrenching stories have come from Iraq, where the nascent Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL in news reports) has savagely persecuted ancient Christian communities, including Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syrian Orthodox. Iraqi Christians have declined rapidly in number since the first Gulf War in 1991, but survivors long believed they could maintain a foothold around Mosul.

This past summer, that hope collapsed. In a ghastly reminder of Nazi savagery against Jews, Christian homes were marked with the Arabic letter for Nazarenes—Christ followers.*

Could this get worse?

All local Christians know the answer. They look back at the experience of Jews, who flourished across the region just a century ago but have now vanished from virtually every Mideast nation outside Israel. Since 1950, Egypt’s Jewish population has shrunk from 100,000 to perhaps 50; Iraq’s, from 90,000 to a mere handful. Christian Aleppo or Damascus could easily go the way of Jewish Baghdad. 

Jenkins identifies a lesson from history:

However often we talk of churches dying, they rarely do so without extraordinary external intervention. Churches don’t die because their congregations age, their pastors behave scandalously, the range of programs they offer wears thin, or their theology becomes muddled. Churches vanish when they are deliberately and efficiently killed by a determined foe.

He also identifies signs of hope:

Over the past decade, we have heard amazing claims about new Christian evangelization in Muslim countries, usually accompanied by incredible conversion statistics.

Having said that, some specific accounts are much more believable. David Garrison’s recent book, A Wind in the House of Islam, describes the Christian appeal in diverse Muslim societies. Remarkably, Syria offers some of the most convincing examples of this trend. Garrison is a responsible and critical reporter. The problem, though, is that all such activity is clandestine, for fear of arousing persecution.

Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity, is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. 

 * (The 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet and the equivalent to the Roman letter N pronounced “noon”. See the image above.)

 

Is This the End for Mideast Christianity?

NewImage

 Philip Jenkins reports that for Christians in the Middle East, 2014 has been a catastrophe.

The most wrenching stories have come from Iraq, where the nascent Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL in news reports) has savagely persecuted ancient Christian communities, including Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Syrian Orthodox. Iraqi Christians have declined rapidly in number since the first Gulf War in 1991, but survivors long believed they could maintain a foothold around Mosul.

This past summer, that hope collapsed. In a ghastly reminder of Nazi savagery against Jews, Christian homes were marked with the Arabic letter for Nazarenes—Christ followers.*

Could this get worse?

All local Christians know the answer. They look back at the experience of Jews, who flourished across the region just a century ago but have now vanished from virtually every Mideast nation outside Israel. Since 1950, Egypt’s Jewish population has shrunk from 100,000 to perhaps 50; Iraq’s, from 90,000 to a mere handful. Christian Aleppo or Damascus could easily go the way of Jewish Baghdad. 

Jenkins identifies a lesson from history:

However often we talk of churches dying, they rarely do so without extraordinary external intervention. Churches don’t die because their congregations age, their pastors behave scandalously, the range of programs they offer wears thin, or their theology becomes muddled. Churches vanish when they are deliberately and efficiently killed by a determined foe.

He also identifies signs of hope:

Over the past decade, we have heard amazing claims about new Christian evangelization in Muslim countries, usually accompanied by incredible conversion statistics.

Having said that, some specific accounts are much more believable. David Garrison’s recent book, A Wind in the House of Islam, describes the Christian appeal in diverse Muslim societies. Remarkably, Syria offers some of the most convincing examples of this trend. Garrison is a responsible and critical reporter. The problem, though, is that all such activity is clandestine, for fear of arousing persecution.

Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity, is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University. 

 * (The 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet and the equivalent to the Roman letter N pronounced “noon”. See the image above.)

 

The future of American Christianity? Or the last hurrah of a bankrupt faith?

Bell_Spong.jpg In a Good Friday service at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, retired Bishop John Shelby Spong decried the Nicene Creed as “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John,” asserted that several of the apostles were “mythological” and declared that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins.

This Gospel sees Jesus as a life lived so deeply that he reached mystical oneness with God,” proposed Spong.

He argued that Jesus could say “I and the father are one” only because he was inviting his disciples “to enter a mystical reality of divine human oneness.”

Instead of portraying the crucifixion of Jesus being about his sacrifice, Spong claimed the author of the book of John intended a “call to all of us to be whole people – to find yourself and give yourself away.”

“God does not need human sacrifice to forgive,” Spong declared. “John’s Jesus is not about saving sinners and rescuing the lost. It is about moving beyond self-consciousness to universal consciousness.”

“Jesus does not die for your sins in this [John's] gospel; he dies to make you whole,” Spong announced from the pulpit. “As evolving creatures, the problem is not that we have fallen, but that we are not yet fully human.”

“We are not sinners, the church got that wrong, we are rather incomplete human beings,” Spong concluded with an “amen” that was echoed by the congregation and clergy present.

Rob Bell's gospel is remarkably similar to that of Bishop Spong. In his sympathetic biography of Bell, James Wellman writes, that according to Bell love wins the in the sense that God’s will is the reconciliation of all things—the soul, the body, the earth, the cosmos, and everything in it.

Bell believes that Christ’s sacrifice is not for God’s sake. Rather, it is the ultimate revelation of the innocent victim, the final scapegoat. It is not God who demands the violent sacrifice of Jesus. Rather, humans demanded it. The wrath was human, not divine.

According to Wellman, Bell represents the public face of the transformation of American evangelicalism. Thankfully, that view is more wishful thinking than critical analysis. We've seen it all before.

Back in 1937, Richard Niebuhr summarized the liberal/progressive gospel as:

A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.

Spong has been declaring the death of historic Christianity for years and announcing the birth of a new form of Christianity for a new world. Now Bell is touted as the new face of American Christianity. Instead these men represent Christian movements in the final stages of decline and decay.

Rob Bell — nothing to uphold and nowhere to go

I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it's a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.

Rob Bell

Rob Bell chose San Francisco’s Episcopal Cathedral to announce his support of same-sex marriage.

In an interview with the Very Rev. Jane Shaw Bell described conservative evangelicalism as a dying subculture that does not work.

I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoised, Evangelical subculture that was told "we're gonna change the thing" and they haven't. And they actually have turned away lots of people. And i think that when you're in a part of a subculture that is dying, you make a lot more noise because it's very painful. You sort of die or you adapt.

Bell chose not to affirm whether Christians "know" the truth in some ultimate sense

I would say that the powerful, revolutionary thing about Jesus' message is that he says, 'What do you do with the people that aren't like you? What do you do with the Other? What do you do with the person that's hardest to love?' . . . That's the measure of a good religion. . .

In an interview for Odyssey Networks Bell said that, God is leading us into acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Probably every generation had this sense of, “Man we’re living in the midst of history.” What’s interesting about this – and if you look through history, generally great new technological breakthroughs caused a ripple effect across culture. So technology seems to spur all sorts of social, economic, cultural and religious effects. And I think what has happened with the Internet – and lots of people are saying this – is simply you cannot live in your own tribal bubble anymore. You cannot stay cocooned off from how the world actually is.

And what happens when you are all suddenly exposed to thousands of different viewpoints is it can call your own into question and it can have this refining fire sort of dimension to it when you realize, “Wow, I’ve been living with a bunch of views and perspectives that don’t actually work and don’t actually bring life. So I need to be honest about that.”

There you have it. Evangelicals, are a dying subculture and should abandon faithfulness to the Bible's teaching on sex and marriage because the internet is opening us up to thousands of different viewpoints. Really?

And just who is this "god" leading us into acceptance of same-sex marriage?

Rob Bell has lost the plot and has been joined by Brian McLaren, and Steve Chalke, and a host of former evangelicals who cannot stand the heat of society's pressure to conform.

It's not accident that Bell chose San Francisco’s Episcopal Cathedral to announce his position. These "progressive evangelicals" are no more than a return to the theological liberalism of a generations.

TS Eliot's critique applies equally to this new generation of progressives.

In religion, Liberalism may be characterized by a progressive discarding of elements in historical Christianity which appear superfluous or obsolete, confounded with practices and abuses which are legitimate objects of attack. But as its movement is controlled rather by its origin than by any goal, it loses force after a series of rejections, and with nothing to destroy is left with nothing to uphold and nowhere to go.

The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever (Is 40:8).

Bravo Sir Humphrey

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Jesus on marriage

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

A denominational discussion paper on same sex marriage written by the Very Reverend Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Where Scripture speaks, we speak and especially so where it is Christologically explicit. We avoid, at our best, overzealous reasoning that seeks to conjecture and plot cause and effect from selected verses, theological systems or constructs of society and human behaviour. The Christological imperative for two becoming one flesh is clearly repeated three times in the gospels. In this imperative, hospitality to “the other” in human relationships is formed in the most extraordinary relationship of difference: that between male and female. This difference is more tangible than any construction of “other” by ethnicity, colour, creed or chosen sexual identity. We celebrate this gift of otherness and do not wish to diminish its profound formative possibilities for human relationality within communities that can be as small as a family.

As a congregational movement, we value the creativity of congregations in unique expressions of mission and ministry within their peculiar contexts. By reference to our articulation of identity in the past and anticipation toward the future, our denomination today is constrained neither to be defensive against society’s perennial groping for satisfactory human identity nor deferential to society’s variegated and conflicted articulations of human dignity.

What to do about Sir Humphrey? Cure him with a good dose of George Orwell.