Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Living in Our Paper towns: a Theological Review/ Response to John Green's Paper towns (Book review)

As promised, I once again venture into the realm of book reviews, this time to John Green’s Paper Towns. (This is as good a place as any to give the customary spoiler warning for anyone who doesn’t want to be spoiled. I talk mainly about the themes rather than the plot, but I inevitably give away plot details for people who have not read the book or seen the move. You have been warned.) Paper Towns is a popular teen mystery novel which has recently been adapted to film. Green has written a number of novels, and this is the second to be adapted into a film after The Fault in the Stars. (Note: this review is based on the book, as I haven’t yet seen the movie). He is also a big deal on YouTube, where he has a number of channels, and who (based on the contact of his novels) seemed to have had a crush on a beautiful but complex girl when he was a teenager. (It should also be noted that Green has (or had?) some sort of Christian faith, but how he would label it, I do not know.) Paper Towns is a well written and thought proving book, and is well worth the time reading it. In this review, I will unpack the key theme or motif of the book: the idea of a “paper town” from a theological point of view. But firstly, a quick synopsis. The story follows protagonist Quintin (or “Q,”) who has a crush, on his neighbour, Margo. One night, Margo takes Q out on a night of crazy teenage antics and revenge, before she disappears. Q spends the rest of the book try to work out where she is gone and trying to find her, along with his friends, Ben and Radar, and one of Margo’s friends, Lacey.

Central to the book is the idea of a “paper town,” which is not a concept most people would be familiar with. In the literal sense, a Paper Town is a town which doesn’t really exist, but is a town (or subdivision) which has been planned but was never built, or a town which is marked on a map, but which isn’t really there. It is used by Margo as a metaphor or motif for both the shallowness and faultily of the people who live in real life towns and lives that they lead. She critiques our society where people live self-indulgent lives for their own pleasure, where things are built that don’t last and where people destroy the future for the sake of present comforts. She says that she has never met anyone who “cares about anything that matters.” And later, she admits that this “paperness” (yeah, I totally just made up a new word) is not just something external, which she sees in the world around her, but also something which see inside herself. 

Margo has a valid critique of the modern/postmodern western society in which we live, which from a theological point of view, I would agree with. Many people do live shallow, paper lives, driven by materialism and self-gratification, where people build shallow relationship while chasing dreams which will not last. But the critique runs deeper than just our current culture; it goes to the heart of our human nature.  The “paper” town Margo describes in nothing new. Indeed, it sounds a lot like the “meaninglessness” the writer of Ecclesiastes also saw in the society he lived in thousands of years ago. Both realise that the way people live somehow falls short of some intrinsic standard for human living. And they are onto something here. Humans aren’t created to live paper lives. We are created in God’s image, to live lives of richness in relationships (with God and with each other), in meaning and with purpose. But the image has been distorted, and thus we realise, like Margo, that something is not right, that we are “living paper lives in a paper town.”

Faced with this paperness, Margo must decide how to respond. And her response is to run away, to leave everything she knows behind. Now, from a literary point of view, this is a good thing, as it’s what gives us the plot for the book. The rest of the book follows the Q and his friends tempting to solve the mystery of where Margo is, and it would be a pretty boring book if she stayed where she was. And this is a choice that many people make. Many, when face with the paperness of our lives, choice to ran way, it the hope that the grass maybe greener somewhere else. Unfortunately, this is only ever a temporary solution. Our paperness will find us in our new location.

Now, this is not to say that we should never move on to a new place, that is not what I am saying. We should always be open to new opportunities in new places. And there is definitely something to be said for taking time out from our lives, by seeking solitude for a time (to pray, for those of us who are that way inclined) or by entering another world thought books, TV or movies. This can be a healthy thing in moderation. However, running away from a problem is not going to make it go away. As Christians, escapism is a real temptation, and is often an accusation  leveled at the church. Often, Christians feel to  threatened or overwhelmed by the world and the problems they see around them, their response is to try to escape. Often we create our own “Christian” subculture, and try and live inside it, and only leave from time to time when we feel guilty about not evangelising. And some of the ways we sometime understand salvation, as “escaping” our earthly lives and going to Heaven, doesn’t help, as it gives us the impression that it’s okay to forget about the world around us, as we’re going to be leaving this world anyway. However, if we follow the God of The Bible, this cannot be our response. Because God did not give up on our paper selves. He entered our paper world, as a human, to redeem us, to take away our paperness, to “remove our hearts of stone (or paper) from our flesh and give us hearts of flesh.” (See Ezekiel 36:26)

So our repose to our paper towns should not be an escape, but some sort engagement with it, to love it, as God loved it (John 3:16). But how far do we go? Throughout the story, Q is relentless in his pursuit of Margo. He follows the clues wherever they led in order to find her: to abandoned buildings, failed sub divisions, and half away across America. And he dragged his friends along with him when he could. In a way, this story could be read as a retelling of parable of the lost sheep. In that parable, the Shepherd leaves all behind in order to find one sheep, who he loves (Luke 15:3-7). Likewise Q drops everything and misses his high school graduation in order to find Margo, who he loves. Now, his love is a romantic love, so it is not a perfect parallel. But in an age where love is all about what “feel good for me,” self-sacrificial love is a rare and beautiful thing. (Indeed, this story covers many different types of love: romantic love, friendship love, family love.) This is the type of love that we should have for those around us, the type that is willing to drop what we are doing to help someone in need. Because this is the type of love that people notice, that changes them. It showed Margo, who believed that no one loved her, that she was wrong. It helped her to see that, while she could leave her paper hometown, by doing so, she was hurting people who really did care about her.

Likewise, our repose to our paper towns should be a fierce and unrelenting love. For we follow a God who loved our paper town with a love that caused him to take on flesh, a love which drove him to the Cross, a love which he sealed by giving us the gift of the Spirit, so our lives would no longer be paper lives. This is the love which God shows us, and the love he calls us to emulate. There is a real hunger out there for something real, something more than paper. Will the church be that place of realness: of hope, of joy, of love? Will it be a community which cares about the things that mater, and not get caught up in the paper tail around us?

The God we follow is a God who is redeeming creation and humanity. And he calls us to live in our own Paper Towns, as ambassadors of the kingdom which is not paper, but real and living. We do this, not by leaving our paper towns, but by loving them, in a way with shows that there are still people who, as Margo would say, care about this things that matter: love, hope, community, people. We are called to live out our faith by being real people in Paper Towns. 

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Celtic Christian Spirituality: How Different Was it to "Roman" Christian Spirituality?

Another essay from my Laidlaw days, this one looking at the differences between Celtic Christian Spirituality and "Roman" Christian Spirituality, with particular  reference to the Synod of Whitby. This was for the Historical and contemporary models of Spirituality paper.
 I think that this will probably be the last one I upload here (unless I can work out how to get at the hard drive on my old computer.) There a few other with are okay, but not really that interesting. 

Question: Assess the view that Celtic Christian spirituality was significantly different from Roman Christian spirituality, and that the Synod of Whitby marks the triumph of the latter over the former.

Many different people groups have accepted the gospel in the churches’ 2000 year history. Recently, the spirituality practiced by one of these people groups, the Celts, has grown in popularity. This growing popularity makes it important to ask questions about Celtic spirituality. We must ask questions about the historical context in which it grew up and how much the forms of this spirituality practised today reflect the forms which were practiced in its home contexts. Asking these questions leads us to see that there is one event which historians see as a turning point which led to the decline of Celtic spirituality. The Synod of Whitby is seen as a meeting between “Roman”[1] and Celtic expressions of Christianity, in which a “Roman” triumph led to the decline of Celtic Christianity. Yet was this the case? How much of a turning point was the Synod of Whitby really? And were Celtic expressions of Christianity really that different to “Roman” expressions? These are the questions which this essay will attempt to answer. It will explore the historical background of the Celtic people and some of the key leaders of its faith. It will then turn to look at the characteristics of Celtic spirituality, and how they differ to “Roman” forms. It will then look at the synod itself and explore some of the historical factors which lead to the decline of Celtic spirituality. It will show that Celtic spirituality is more diverse than it is understood to be, and that the historical factors are more complicated than is popularly understood.

Historical Background
  The Celts were a diverse people and language group who lived in large parts of Europe in pre-Roman times.[2] However, by the time of Christianity, much of their land and culture had been lost to the Romans and they had been pushed back to “the ends of the earth.[3] Their remaining areas included Ireland, Wales and Scotland. These British Celtics were composed of two major groups. The Brythonic Celts lived in what is today England, Wales and southern Scotland.[4] However, this area was invaded by Rome, and thus much of their culture was lost.  The Goidelic Celts lived in what are now Ireland, Scotland and Wales.[5] These areas was not invaded by Rome, and thus were some of the last strongholds of the Celtic people, although it still had a lot of interaction with the outside world, as the archaeology suggests.[6] It is thus Christianity in these areas, from around 400 to 1170 AD, which is commonly thought of as Celtic Christianity. However, this still represents diverse people groups who had very different types of spirituality. For example, Ireland at this time was not one political unit, but many different kingdoms, which were based on a tribal or clan system.[7] This essay will focus on the spirituality of the Irish, as well as the area which Irish missionaries influenced.

Saints and Leaders

  We turn now to some of the important people associated with Celtic Christianity. While there were Celtic Christians before him, and despite not being a Celt, St Patrick is seen as one of the earliest heroes and pioneers of the Celtic church.[8] Patrick was a native of Britain who had been captured by pirates and enslaved in Ireland. However, he came to know God, and later escaped after God spoke to him in a dream. Yet God called him back to Ireland as a missionary,[9]  and he returned in 432.[10] He spent the rest of his life in Ireland and successfully converted many people. Patrick left behind two written works: his Confession and letter to Corotitcus. There is also Patrick’s breastplate, or lorica, which is attributed to him, but which he is unlikely to have written.[11] Furthermore, there are many lives of Patrick, most of which come from the seventh century.[12] These are where most of the stories and legends surrounding Patrick come from. While Patrick is highly regarded today, he in fact represents a larger movement of early mission to Ireland. Indeed, there’s a theory that two “Patricks” existed, whose identities have been merged into one.[13] Bede speaks of “Palladius” being the first bishop of Ireland, rather than Patrick, making a possible candidate.[14] Nevertheless, the missionary movement which Patrick is a part of led to the conversion of most of Ireland, making it a stronghold of Christianity. 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Book Review: Five Reasons Why You Should Read The Man Who was Thursday by G K Chesterton

So, since I’m trying to get back into this blogging thing, I thought that one thing I could do was a little book review/ response whenever I finish reading a book. Maybe not every book I read, but at least those where there is something interesting to say about it.  So, since I finished reading The Man Who was Thursday by G K Chesterton the other day, it seemed like a good place to start. Now, I wasn’t sure  how I should go about writing this, until I thought to myself “hey, everyone likes lists on the internet, why don’t I write it as a list.” So here it is: five reasons why you should read The Man Who was Thursday: a Nightmare by G K Chesterton. (Please note that while I have done my best to be as spoiler free as possible, there will enviable be some spoilers below.)

Firstly though, a quick praise of what the book is about. It follows the adventures of Gabriel Syme, a poet and undercover Police officer who is attempting to infiltrate the Central Anarchist council of Europe. He gets himself elected to the council, where each member is code-named for a day of the week, as "Thursday." However, he soon learns that things are not what they seem to be…

  1)  Okay, so lest start with the main reason I first read this book: Chesterton was a major influence on C S Lewis, (among others) who happens to be one of my favourite writers. And Lewis went on to influence many other writers, such as JKR. So Chesterton is part of the literary lineage to which of much of what is popularly read today belongs, and thus someone who is interesting to read from this point of view. So who is this Chesterton guy? He was an English writer and academic who has commonly been referred to as the “Prince of Paradox.” His other works includes the Father Brown short stories, and works of apologetics (such as Orthodoxy and The Ever Lasting Man.) It is also interesting to note that while he was a Protestant early on in his life (and while he was writing The Man Who Was Thursday), he later became a Roman Catholic.  

  2)  The book was first published in 1908, and so gives us a glimpse into another time in history. Okay, so maybe this point is a bit nerdy for some people, but for me personally I find it fascinating reading something from another time and place, not only to see what thoughts and beliefs they held in that time, but also as a mirror to better understand my own time and place. And unlike a lot of other older novel, I actually found it quite readable, which leads me to point three…

  3)   It’s an entertaining read. Which is important, because the reason (I’m sure) most of us read novels is to be entertained.  And I can’t think of many books that have any many twists and turn as this on which keep the reader guess, not just what’s going to happen and even what the books about, right up to the last page. 

  4)  It will make you think. Whether or not you agree with Chesterton, there is no denying the wit and intelligence of this guy, which is obvious right from the first chapter. This would be a great book for a book reading club, as there will be a lot to talk about! It is full with quips and one-liners, and a will leave you wondering (if you let it) firstly what he means, and then if you agree with what he is saying, or not.

  5)  A glimpse of grace. This is one of those books where it is difficult to work out what the main theme or message (if there is one) is. From my reading, one of the central idea is that goodness can be found all around us. Often, we fail to see it in the ordinary, mundane things which surround us. Sometimes, goodness or grace comes to us from unexpected places, and we can often miss it for a number of reasons. Sometimes, a change of perspective or some more information is required to see it. Other times, we have to pull back the certain and look a little harder. But, this book reminded me that, even in the darkest places, there is still hope, still goodness.

So, there you have it! Feel free to comment and let me know what you think of The Man Who was Thursday if you have read it (especially if you read it because of this) or what else you have been reading and think I might like to read. Right now I’m doing some worldview reading, so probably won’t review that, but I plain to reread Paper Towns before the movie comes out, so might do that one sometime soon.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Yes, Love does win

I did not want to write about this.

Even now, as I begin, I’m having second thoughts. I know that if I write and post about this on the internet, people might read it. People on both sides of the issue. And they might get mad at me. They might, depending on what side the sit, label me a bigot or a heretic. Or both. Because that’s what happens with this issue: people, on both sides, use labels to attack their opponents. Heck, I might get mad at myself, if I read it in five years time.  

Yet, as I see responses still pouring out on the social media I spend way too much time on, I feel that I cannot be silent on the issue. The more I read, the more I realise how deeply divided people are on this issue.  I see many people celebrating, changing their profiles to feature a rainbow. And I see many of my Christian friends responding in the way they see best. And boy, do these responses very, from those celebrating as hard as any, to those calling for Christians in America to retreat further into their own subculture.

Before I go on, a side-note for those reading in the future, or who have been living under a rock in the present, or thanks to the wonders of time travel are reading this from the past, and are looking for some sort of historical context, here it is. On Friday June 26th (US time) the US Supreme court ruled that same sex marriages were a constitutional right, thus requiring every state to recognise same sex marriages (in my own country, New Zealand, same sex marriage was legalised in 2013.)  A decision which sent the internet into a frenzy.  And not just Americans, people from everywhere.

Many, on both sides have called this a cultural war. The thing is, I don’t like wars. Even when there is a victory, they always lead to casualties. On Both sides.

So I don’t want to be just another voice, egging on one side or another to keep fighting. I want to be a voice of peace, of reconciliation, of compassion. Because if you are truly a champion of whichever side you claim to be on, then you should want this too. If you are truly a champion of equal rights, freedom and tolerance, then surly this freedom and tolerance must extend to the freedom of religion. And if you are truly a Christian, truly a follower of the God of love, forgiveness and compassion, then surly this love, forgiveness and compassion extends to the people of the lgbt community too.

Maybe I’m a naive idealist, like Peeta in The Hunger Games, calling for a ceasefire before it’s due. But if we keep fighting, people will continue to get hurt.  And no, I’m not saying that we should stop talking about and pushing forward with the issue. But I think that we do need to stop and ask ourselves if, by fighting, we are becoming the very thing we say we are fighting against.   

So I’m going to tell you a story. 

Stories are important, for us as individuals, as communities and as societies. They tell us who we are. And so I want to tell you the story which, as a Christian, I identity as being my story. I want to do so for two reasons. Firstly, I hope that by doing so, our friends who are not of the Christian faith may, perhaps, have a bit more understanding of where some Christian are coming from, as understanding is an important step towards healing.  And secondly, because I want my Christian brothers and sisters to consider what is the best way to move forward from our own story. So here goes.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

10 things you should think about before sharing a stupid blog post list

Dear users of the internet,

It has come to my attention that many of you have been overzealous of your use of the "share" function attached to many of the blogs, new articles, memes, YouTube videos, Facebook quizzes and dating websites that you procrastinate and spend your valuable time on. I have therefore put together some simple guidelines which, if followed, will lead to a more enjoyable internet experience for all.

Before clicking on the "share" button on any website, please ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are any of your friends/ followers/ stalkers really going to read it? Or are you just clattering up other peoples social media feeds with rubbish they don't want, risking being unfriended/ unfollowed/ unstalked? If no one is going to read it, you might want to reconsider sharing it.

2. There could be any number of reasons why you feel the need to share something. But before you hit share, ask yourselves if whatever you're sharing is going to elicit the response you think it will have. Like, if you posting because you think it is funny: is this really funny? Or are you just the guy who thinks everything is funny? Are you sharing because you think it's intelligent and thought provoking: is it really intelligent and thought provoking? Or are you just showing off your stupidity by endorsing it with a share? Are you sharing because it is moving: do you really need to emotionally manipulate your friends in this way? Are you sharing an opinion you agree with because you think others will read in and change there minds to think like you? Forget it! No ones changing there mind because of sometime they read on the internet. If it's not going to have the response you want it have, there's not much point sharing.

3.  Once you have decided that the thing you are sharing could have the response you hope it might, you need to be honest with yourself and ask "am I sharing this because I think others  really will  like it, or because I think shearing it makes me look good somehow?" Like, do you think to yourself "if I share this, people will think I'm smart?" Or funny? Or trendy? Or whatever verb you want. If you're just looking to make yourselves look good by sharing "good" content, I'm not sure that's going to work too well...

4. Is there anyway that this post could be construed as being racist, sexist, homophobic, bigoted, anti Christian, Anti Muslim, Antisemitic, anti religious, anti nonreligious, too left wing, too right wing, too centrist, unpatriotic, too patriotic, disrespectful to the dead, disrespectful to the living, too westernised, too modern, too postmodern, going to upset minorities, going to upset majorities, promoting cruelty to animals, promoting cruelty to children, promoting slavery, or going to offend any other group of people who will be offended that I've left them off this list? If so, don't share it. Unless you want to offend people. In which case, I'm judging you...  

5. Is what you are sharing something new and trendy which most people haven't seen yet? Or did everyone else see this six months ago when it went viral, and now you are going to look like an idiot for being behind the times and out of touch?  Maybe looking at it's publication date before shearing is a good idea. By the way, have you guys seen Charlie Bit My Finger? Hilarious!

7. Is there a gaping hole or oblivious flow in whatever you are shearing? Like, is West Germany still being listed as a country? or is this "news" items you are worried/ excited about form a genuine news organisation or spoof website? Or is an entire numbered point missing for its otherwise careful crafted list: say, number six? Or maybe seven?

8. And while wear  on the topicc off, mistakies  do it hav goodie speller and Gramming! If knot, mayb doo't shore it.

9 3/4. I feel like you also going to have to go ahead and ask yourselves if your peps are going to get the nuances and subtleties of whatever you are sharing. Are they going to get the in-jokes or culture references that make it party time, make it excellent, for you? Or do they have a different meta-narrative to you, making explaining it harder than walking to Mordor?

10. Was the person who write it writing something with a sincere and pure motive? Or were they just trying impress someone, or to to get the attention of a semi famous person? (Hi Tyson!)

Please consider other internet users and follow these simple steps next time you feel the urge to click on the "share" button. Together we can make the internet a better place for all!

Yours sincerely,

Friday, 26 June 2015

What Does It Mean To Be Human: Imago Dei in the Light of Science and Technology

This was an essay for the Theology: God and creation paper, which asked "What does it mean to be made in the Image of God? Discuss in light of Contemporary Concerns." This was one I did in my second year.

Throughout human history, humans have asked questions like “who are we?” and “what does it mean to be human?” The answer to these questions in Christian theology is based on the concept of imago dei: humans are created in the image and likeness of God. It is a concept which has been important to Christian theology throughout the churches history (although it has not been as much so to the Jews.[1]) However, the understandings of this doctrine have been challenged in recent years in light of recent development in technologies and new discoveries in the realm of science. It is therefore important that as Christians we wrestle with these new issues to insure that our theology around imago dei is robust. This essay unpacks what is meant by the doctrine of imago dei. It will first look at the biblical base which this doctrine is built on and the way which it has been understood throughout the Church’s history.  It will then look at some of the advances in science and technology which challenge traditional understandings of the doctrine, before concluding where this leaves the doctrine today.

The Biblical foundation for Imago dei

   Any understanding of “Image of God” must start with the biblical passages which deal with the topic. The most important passage is Genesis 1:26-27, where it’s stated that man and women were created in the image (Hebrew: selem[2]) and likeness (Hebrew: demut) of God. There have been many different interpretations of what “image of God” means, which will be explored fully later. While some believe that image and likeness are two separate concepts, others see then as synonyms.[3]  Most however, hold that the likeness is less important than image, hence it is left out later.[4] Firstly, it means that humans are God’s representatives on Earth.[5] However, this does not stop God being totally holy, or other. Also, in many ancient near eastern cultures, the king would be considered to the image of God.[6] This passage is therefore affirming that all humanity, not just a select few, hold this honour. It can also be seen to contrast other creatures that are created “according to their kinds.”[7] It thus sets humans apart from all other creatures. Yet the fact that we are created imago dei within the created order shows that was can come to some knowledge of God through the created order.[8] Image and likeness means that human are like God, but also that they represents God on Earth.

   We must consider what it means when God says “let us make them in our image.” Many understand the “our” to be the hosts of Heaven: God and his angels.[9] However, this view is problematic, as it would mean that ether 1) humans are created in the image and likeness of both God and angels[10] or 2) that angels are created in the image and likeness of God. Both these understandings are problematic when pushed to their logical conclusions. There is little biblical evidence to suggest that angels are created in the image of God. Furthermore, one of the arguments as to why God saves humanity and not angels is because humans are created in the image of God and angels are not.[11]Could humans than be created in the image of both God and angels? Not according to Genesis 1:27 which states that God made humans in his image, and not also that of angels. Others have argued that God the father is speaking to God the son: that this implies the trinity.[12] However, this is not what the original author would have meant.[13] The most likely interpretation is the “plural of deliberation,” which is like someone saying to themselves, “Let’s go.[14]” 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Essay on Worship

Write an essay on worship in the life of the local church, establishing its importance biblically and/or theologically, and suggesting ways in which members can be helped to worship more meaningfully. Include a brief explanation on how worship relates to pastoral care.

This was an essay I wrote for the pastoral care paper. Therefore, it is aimed at looking at worship through a pastoral care leans, rather than a more general one, but hopefully most of you will still find it interesting. 


Worship is a big part of church life today. Our gatherings on Sundays are often called “Worship Services.” Yet what do we mean by the term worship? And why is there so much division over it?  If the People of God are going to truly worship God, then Pastors must develop a strong biblical and theological understanding of worship. This essay is an attempt to do this. It will outline some of the key biblical foundations for what worship is, from both the Old and New Testaments. Next, it will develop a theological framework for understanding what worship is from the biblical foundation and a Trinitarian understanding of who God is. It will then turn to some of the pastoral care issues which result from worship, some of the misunderstandings behind them and how having a good understating of worship is the first step towards solving these issues.

Biblical Foundations of worship

    There are three Old Testament ideas which are critical to its understanding of worship: homage, service and reverence.[1] One of the key Hebrew words literally means “to bend oneself over at the waist.”[2] This is the idea of giving respect or homage to God, for he is the one who deserves it. A second understanding which is often translated to worship is the Hebrew word abad, which means “to serve[3].” The people of Israel were saved from Egypt so that they could serve God (Deuteronomy 6:13). Tied up with this is the idea that to love other people is to serve God. Thirdly, a number of words denoting respect, fear and reverence were also understood to be worship.[4] It also invited many “cultic” practices of sacrifice and ritual.[5] The Tabernacle and the Temple were important centres for this as they were the places where God dwelled with his people. Therefore, there are many understandings of worship within the Old Testament. However, central was the first commandment “you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  God rejected worship where love for God and others was absent. (Isaiah 1:10-17 Amos 5:21-24, Micah 6:6-8) Old Testament worship was born out of the covenantal relationship which God had with Israel and the redemptive act thought which he brought the people out of Egypt. 

   In the New Testament, this understanding of worship is built on thought the person of Christ. Jesus spoke of worshiping “In Spirit and In Truth,” (John 4:24) and claimed to be the new temple (Matthew 26:61, John 2:19): the place where God now dwelled on earth. This idea is transferred to the church, which becomes the place of God’s presence on earth in which all Christians are Priests. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2: 4-6) Jesus also fulfills the role of the sacrifice and high priest in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 8:1-3, 9:7-11). Paul commanded the Romans to offer themselves as “living sacrifices” as there “spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) Central however, to understanding worship out of the New Testament is the Greatest Commandments of Jesus: to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:34-40). Love for God is at the heart of worship. Again, it is built upon the redemptive act of God: this time the death and resurrection of Christ. Furthermore, worship was done in the context of the community of believers. The best explanation of what the early church did when it met is found in Acts 2:42-47, the believer’s devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to fellowship, the braking of bread, listened to and prayer. These elements remain critical for worship today.  

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

“Sometimes, one must be scarified for the good of many.” Christological reflections on the Movie 9.

 This was a short essay (800 words) I did for the christology paper, where the task was to basically talk about the christological themes from a Movie.  I did mine on the Tim Breton move 9. enjoy!  

The film 9 is set in a post-apocalyptical world, populated only by nine “creatures”: living doll-like creatures enlivened by the soul of an unnamed scientist, and by “the machine”, which was also created by the scientist, along with the lesser machines, created “in its image,” including “the beast.” The nine creatures are threatened by the existence, first of the Beast, and then of the reawakened Machine, which are searching for the creatures in order acquire the portions of the human soul imbedded in each of them. While the film contains themes from a number of places, including New Age spirituality, twentieth century history and enlightenment philosophy, there are nevertheless clear Christological themes running thought out. Many of the creatures, who are named One through to Nine after the number of their back, carry one or more roles which can be considered Christological.
    The creatures together represent humanity. Their life-force comes from part of the scientist’s soul, which can be seen as being created in the scientist image.[1] However, it can also be seen as a type of incarnation and kenosis. The scientist, who could not have survived the war in his human form, emptied himself of his soul[2] and incarnated it into the creatures to fight the Machine after humanity had been destroyed. We meet the Creatures in their straggle against The Beast[3], where they respond to the crisis in different ways, reflecting the world which Jesus entered. Seven, for example, sees the need for “a fight” and defeat the Beast in combat. This reflects the Zealots of Jesus’ day[4]. On the other side, One is the traditionalist who represent the religious leaders who live by “rules” (the law) and is based in the ruins of an old Church, whereas the enlightened Seven is based in a library.
One therefore represents the Jewish leaders of Jesus day: the Sadducees, Pharisees and Sanhedrin. Furthermore, Nine calls One a “blind man guided by fear,” echoing Jesus, who called the religious leaders of his day blind.[5] Six is the prophetic figure of the group. He continued to insist that they needed to “go back to the source” and his last words before he died told Nine to go back to the room where he woke. Furthermore, he saw that the “dead” creatures somehow lived on inside The Machine, and that they could not defeat the machine by force.  He is therefore a John the Baptist type figure[6].

     In this context, Nine, the hero of the story, can be seen as a messianic figure. At their first meeting, Two says that he had always hoped that another creature would be found. This echoes the hope which the people of Israel had that God would send a Messiah to deliver them for the Romans.[7] His arrival to the group provides a catalyst for them to challenge the conservative leadership of One, reflecting Jesus’ challenge to the the religious establishment of his time[8]. Nine is the one who is “anointed” to guard the object (Talisman), which holds the key to the machine and to their own existence.  Nine finds answers by discovering and reinterpreting the story of the creatures, to understand the role which the scientist anointed him to fulfil.  Jesus likewise identified himself within and reinterpreted the story of Israel around himself. With this understating, Nine is empowered to defeat the machine by going to the root of the problem, and turn it off with the talisman, rather than trying to defeat the machine by force, or by keeping rules to stay safe. Likewise Jesus rejected law keeping and Force to defeat evil but went to the source of the problem of humanity’s broken relationship with God.

    The creatures display a willingness to sacrifice themselves for the good of the others.[9]  While Nine is willing to sacrifice himself to give the others a chance to shut down the Machine, it is One who steps up and does so, saying “sometimes, one must be scarified for the good of the many.”  This is also an example of redemption, having been unwilling to fight before Nine arrives, he is able to redeem himself by giving up his life, and becoming a hero. Ones’ sacrifice was a decoy, in order to distract the Machine and give Nine the change to shut it down.  Yet he also died in the place of Nine, who was going to die himself, and thus his death can be seen as representing a substation theory of atonement, where Jesus died in the place of humanity.[10] This victory over the machine means that the “spirits” of the dead creatures were able to escape from the machine and ascend into the air. While this is not strictly a Christian understanding of life after the death, it nevertheless reflects the fact that it is Jesus’ victory over death which enables eternal life after bodily death[11]. Furthermore, the movie depicts a new creation taking place at the end of the film when it begins to rain and the surviving creatures reflect on the fact that the world is now theirs. Thus the movie understands the victory to result in a renewed Earth, as Jesus, the lamb which was slain[12], will return, and out of his victory to make all things new.[13]


Acker, Shane, (director), Breton, Tim (Producer), Peetler, Pamela (Screenplay), 9, (Relativity Media: 2009)

[1] There is scope to explorer imago dai themes in this movie. Both the creatures and the machines are arguably created in the image of the scientist. The Machine is created out of the scientist “intellect” which he admits is not enough. The machine explicitly creates more machines “it its own image”.
[2] Which meant that he died.
[3] The machine is not re-awakened till later on in the film, when Nine inserts an object called a Talisman into it to wake it up. The Beast is a servant of The Machine who is searching for the talisman in order to re-awaken its master, The Machine, and it the antagonist of the first part of the movie.
[4]  This included Simon, one of the twelve. See Matthew 10:4
[5] Examples include Matthew 15:14, 23:16-26, John 9:39-41.
[6]  Johns’ message to “repent” (Matthew 3:2) could be seen as a call to go back to God, the source of all things.
[7] Luke 24:21
[8] E.g. Matthew 13: 13-39
[9]  Examples include Two is willing to let himself get captured by the Beast in order to save Nine at the beginning of the film and Seven and Twos willingness to rescue Five during the War between Humans and Machines which is shown as a flash back.
[10] Romans 5:8
[11] Christian hope in bodily Resurrection. E.g. 1 Corinthians 15
[12] Revelation 5:6
[13] Revelation 21:5

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

The reflections of Quintus Caelius: An explanation into the Church in Corinth, to which Paul wrote 1 Corinthians

Yeah, I know, I haven't posted here for ages. I don't even know if people still blog anymore. Anyway, the last few posts I made were some of my old essays I did at Laidlaw, and I was going to put more up. So here's one I did for the 1 Corinthians paper. The task was a thematic essay, that was to go in a student magazine in a secular university (which explains why I talk about Christians as if I was not one.)  I ended up do a creative writing piece from the perspective of a member of the first century Corinthian church, which was different to anything else I did at Laidlaw, so I thought it would be a good one to sure. Hope you enjoy! (You might even pick up a little joke I worked into it for the lecturer, if you are up with Biblical studies at all.)     

The reflections of Quintus Caelius: An explanation into the Church in Corinth, to which Paul wrote 1 Corinthians


The first century church has attracted much attention from our twenty-first century vantage point, for both Christians and non-believers alike, along with multiple interpretations. Some believers view the early church as a “golden age,” as they dream of a return to more glorious days. Others see the early Christians as either ignorant or deliberate corrupters of a “pure” message of love and tolerance which Jesus of Nazareth taught. Neither of these extremes however, captures the essence or character of the early church. Very likely, most twenty-first century Christians would feel confused and disorientated if they were to attend an early Christian gathering, as they will equally feel confused and disorientated on the street of first century Rome, Corinth or Antioch. They would quickly see that the early church was not an idyllic textbook church, but were was rather a group of believers struggling with what it meant to belong to this new faith  we now call Christianity. Rather than being perfect, it wrestled with many issues both familiar and alien to the twenty-first century Christian. This article offers a chance to step back in time and explore a first century church, though the hypothetical eyes of one of its members. Whatever your perceptive on the Christian faith, I invention you to join this explanation of a very early expressions of Christianity: The infant church of mid first century Corinth.


This article is written from the point view of Quintus Caelius, a fictional member of the church in Corinth. Quintus Caelius is a young convert to Christianity of Roman decent, who converted with his father, when Paul was in Corinth. He is attending a meeting in the house of Titius Justus (Acts 18:7), just before the letter known today as 1 Corinthians arrives from Paul, which is believed to be in the mid-fifties of the first century AD. He is beginning his career as a scribe, and thus he is practicing his skills by writing about his experience of a Christian gathering. Undertaking an exercise like this involves a lot of detective work on our part. It requires looking for the clues scattered throughout 1 Corinthians, as well as 2 Corinthians, Acts 18 (which narrates Pauls first visit to Corinth) and parts of Romans (believed to be written from Corinth, and thus it mentioned many Corinthians). This primary data is very limited. For example, Paul writes to deal with issues in the church and few positive things are said about the church, and therefore this article will reflect that. While Quintus has the intuition to see many of issue which Paul speaks of him his letter, he does not offer any solutions. It will also draw upon research from both historians and biblical scholars. Like any other area of academic research, there is always debate and disagreements on almost every point. This article will not explore alternative points of view and it’s important to remember that it cannot give a complete and fool-proof picture of the Corinthian Church. nevertheless, lets step back to mid first century Corinth, and see what a gathering of the Church there may have been like.

Quintus Caelius: on a Christian ecclesia in Corinth

An uneasy tension hangs in the air as the people file into the houses’ atrium. Yes, there is the customary exchange of holy kisses, as the sandals are removed, signifies intimacy among the brothers and sisters. But even this fails to mask the tension. There are other Christian gatherings going on around the city. But by meeting in the home of Titius Justus, where we have been meeting since our expulsion from the synagogue next door, is seen to give us more status. I used to look forward to this time, when we gathered together as a community. In the early days, there was a great unity among the people. But not anymore, not since Apollos was here. He’s a great speaker, who has helped many find Christ. But people got the wrong idea. They seem to think that it’s all about how one comes across now. Many now regard Paul, who began the work in Corinth, as nothing. Apollos is the real deal, they say. He can preach. Perhaps it’s not surprising. We do, after all, live in a culture which is all about eloquence and wise words. The same thing happened when Peter came. People were awestruck. This was the guy, after all, who had been Jesus' closet friend when he was on Earth. What was Paul, compared to that, people would say. But it seems so shallow. I don’t know what Paul would say, if he came back. Rumour has it that he’s going to be writing to us soon. Last time he wrote, it did not do much use (1 Cor 5:9-13 ). There was so much confusion over what he said.

This division is beginning to become unbearable. The other week, for example, the arguments started before the meeting had even begun. We didn’t end up having communion. It was practically embarrassing as we had those visitors from Chloe’s household there. They are quite close to Paul, so he’ll probably find out. It was a pointless argument too. Hippocrates stated it. He was not happy that Caecilius was about to speak, or how he was going to speak, to be more accurate. “You’re just like all the followers of Paul. You speak what you think, but without any wisdom, and without any style.” Judah joined is also. “Is Paul really an apostle? Did he ever follow Jesus when he was on Earth? Peter did, but not Paul. Paul is second rate.” Caecilius got angry at this point. “I’m getting really annoyed about this new perspective on Paul which is growing in this ekklesia. Who was the one who brought the gospel to Corinth? Paul. Who spent a year and a half teaching us God’s word? Paul. Who was the one who got dragged in font of Gallio? Paul! I Follow Paul. Always have. Always will.” At this point, one corner of the room broke out laughing. I found out later than someone, Marius I believe, quietly whispered, “he may follow Paul, but I follow Christ.”