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So I’m studying for yet another exam. Religion education.

One of my probable exam questions will be: “explain the hindu conception(s) of God”. The lecturers have been pretty clear about their liberal views, so I’m pretty certain about what they want. The broader and more inclusive the answer the better. My answer should be something like:

“Hindu conceptions of God are incredibly diverse and enigmatic. Elements of pantheism, panentheism, polytheism and monotheism are evident…”

This would be followed by long explanations which I wont bother you with, except to make some observations about the nature of ‘holy’ texts:

The Upanishads depict God in Pantheistic terms in a few places:
“Now if a man worships another deity, thinking that the deity is one and he another, he does not know.”

Panentheistic:
“He who is this (Brahman) in man and he who is that (Brahman) in the sun, both are one.”

Then, in the Bhagavad Gita, we have statements strangely similar to the sort of ‘jealous’ monotheistic God expressed in the Judeo-Christian traditions:
“Give up then thy earthly duties, surrender thyself to me only.”

Finally, especially in the rural areas of India, there are many hindu devotees who jealously worship only their own deity among all those they recognise in the hindu pantheon. Theological and apologetic approaches to explaining the relationship between the deities and Deity itself matter very little to them.

Now, all this is very interesting from an external reference point. I’m sure my lecturers will be very happy with the breadth of my conceptualization of hinduism… I’m not so sure that practicing hindus would be so enthusiastic.

Which brings me to my point:

If I asked a hindu student to have a quick, inclusive study of Christianity, using only the biblical text, what would they come up with to answer the question: “How do Christians understand God?”

The answer to this question might make proponents of evangelical conceptualizations of biblical sufficiency a little uncomfortable.

Here’s what I think: I love the bible. I believe that the bible is inspired by God… But I’m starting to doubt that the bible is sufficient to bring us to knowledge of the full story of God’s story. Christ is the one who reveals God to mankind. Only a personal disciple-relationship with Christ can bring us into a meaningful knowledge of God. He is God’s Word to humankind. The life, words, and continuing ministry of Christ is the foundation of the church. Not the Bible.

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I have watched A Fiddler on the Roof at least 30 times. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and buy or borrow a copy. It’s a story about how a simple, poor, and profoundly spiritual Jewish man must struggle to choose between his daughters’ happiness and his religious traditions. It’s sometimes halarious and sometimes heartbreaking. Like life.

Right at the start of the story, the lead character (played by the man known in the credits, rather mysteriously, only as ‘Topol’ in the days before Madonna, Cher, Prince and Puff Daddy/Puffy/PDiddy) somes up the meaning of the story beautifully:

“Because of our traditions, everyone here knows exactly who he is, and what God expects him to do”. And later, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shakey as a fiddler on the roof”.

The rest of the movie involves Tevya (Topol) deconstructing this previously unshakable conviction as he attempts to hold onto his faith in God and his love for his daughters (who each fall in love with and marry increasingly scandelous men).

It’s a film that speaks strongly towards a conversation that is gaining momentum in the Church (and religion in general). People want to move away from traditions/religion and towards relationship (both vertical and horizontal). People scoff at conservatives who speak against gay marriage for having a religion based on propositional truths instead of relational truth (the jury is still out regarding how one can have any kind of religion without propositional doctrines). Most of the people I know fit neatly into one of two camps: those who desperately want to hold onto our traditions because they fear the effects of letting it slide. They talk about ‘the erosion of family values’ and ‘the humanistic trend in evangelical theology’. The other camp want desperately to be more than society’s moral watchdogs. They want to abandon dogma and unhelpful arguments and move into the communities where a difference can be made. They talk about ‘the irrelevance of another meeting’ and ‘the need for dialogue; not evangelism’.

Every one of us lives in tension between these two camps, and like Tevye, we must struggle with God and ourselves as we attempt to scratch out our simple, pleasant tune without falling off the roof and breaking our necks. We are all fiddlers on the roof. Topol argues back and forth with himself between numerous ‘on the other hands’, allowing his religion and tradition to be eroded as far as his conscience will allow him to because of his love for his daughters and his very personal relationship with God. Finally though, when his third daughter announces that she is running away with a Russian peasant, he has to admit ‘there is no other hand’. We all have our limits. To have any kind of authenticity, the Church must have limits too… but where are they?

What are the essentials of your faith? Can you write them down in five simple statements? Better yet, can you write down five things that Church practice or policy portrays as an essential, but that you don’t believe is an essential at all? (Comments anyone 🙂 )

My favourite moment in the movie is when, at his eldest daughter’s wedding, Tevye is accused of allowing scandal to enter his house because a young Communist from Kiev whom he is housing crosses the barrier and dances with a girl. Tevye asks the Rabbi if it is a sin, and the Rabbi has to admit that ‘it’s not exactly a sin, but…’ before he is cut off. Tevye dances with his wife! Soon everyone is dancing. The freedom is beautiful.

I’m studying for my teaching exams. Sorta…

In my study guide for the subject “Teaching Natural Science – Professional Studies”, the distinguished Prof makes some interesting comments about whether or not we should teach evolutionary theory at primary school level:

“An example of a speculative theory is the theory of evolution, which is a hypothetical extrapolation from variations within a species…The theory of evolutionis speculative for, among others, the following reasons:
1) All breeding experimentation has produced only changes within a species…
2) No fossil of any intermediate species (Darwin’s missing link) has ever been found.
3) Mathematicians have calculated the number of selections and/or mutations required for species change… [and found them untenable]…
4) When amino acids combine, to form polypeptides the chemical reactions are reversable… [blah blah blah]… primeval ocean… [blah blah blah]… peptide synthesis will not take place.
5) Evolutionary change would always require an increase in genetic information, but genetic information can only be lost. It can never be gained.”

This entry is not about evolution. It’s about subjectivity in the classroom. You see, in spite of the good prof’s insistence that teaching evolution in the classroom is tantamount to “teaching [children] to accept, passively and unquestioningly, other people’s blind spots”, he does not hesitate to comment later,

“Teach children to appreciate the intricate, orderly and magnificent design in nature and how everything in nature… was created by God as an interrelated, interconnected, and independent whole”.

Now, as an evangelical Christian, I might agree with the Prof’s views, but I have to ask how I might feel if the author of the study guide was an atheist and I would be expected to give exam answers including his double-standard of what should be taught.

The question is not “who is right?”

The question is “Should teachers teach what they believe; or what we believe; or what we can all agree on?”

What do you think?

The wonder of the blogosphere strike again! Like a massive electronic “staff suggestion box”, guaranteeing virtual anonymity and a rapt, impersonal audience just begging us to vent. It’s theraputic for the writer and helpful for exposing “the secret thoughts of men”. Consider this beauty of an Evangelical Creed by “w. dennis griffith” (check the udderblogger link):

“I believe in God who once was Almighty, but sovereignly chose not to be sovereign; and in Jesus, my personLordandSavior, Who loves me and has a wonderful plan for my life, Who came into my heart when I asked him to, and is now seated at the right ventricle of my belief in him, Who walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way, and tells me I am his own, Who shall come again with secrecy to rapture us outta’ here, Whose kingdom shall last exactly one thousand years; And in the Holy Ghost, who did some weird stuff at Pentecost, but doesn’t do much more anymore except speak to the hearts of individual believers.

And I believe in this local, independent, and powerless church, insofar as it is in line with my personal interpretation of the Bible and does stuff I like; in one Believer’s bpatism for the public proof of my decision for Christ; and in giving my personal testimony for soul winning.

And I look for the identity of the Antichrist, and know that the Last Days are upon us.

– Ay-men”

Obviously Mr. Griffith is not an evangelical [this hasty assumption was later proved incorrect – please see the comments section]. I am. Pity me… so misunderstood!

What does it mean to be an evangelical?

Wikipedia (“Evangelicalism”) points out that “While most conservative Evangelicals believe the label has broadened too much beyond its more limiting traditional distinctives, this trend is nonetheless strong enough to create significant ambiguity in the term.[4] As a result, the dichotomy between “evangelical” vs. “mainline” denominations is increasingly complex (particularly with such innovations as the “Emergent Church” movement).”

In response to the ambiguity and the unfortunate association with American Fundamentalism, many young evangelicals are becoming “Post-evangelical”. We are “Emerging” in our thousands, even before most of us know what “Emergent Church” even means. Is it right that we should surrender the “Evangelical” tag so passively to the fundamentalists? I’m not sure that I’m ready to surrender just yet.

Let’s get back to basics: what are the central elements that define evangelicalism?
According to the Institute for the Study of American Evanglicals, four specific hallmarks of evangelical religion are: 1: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed;
2: activism, the expression of the gospel in effort;
3: biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and
4: crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

What’s so bad about that?

The salvation experience, the great commission, the revelation of God in Jesus as recorded in scripture, and the Christ event as the defining moment of history. Yes… I can live with that.

So I’m happy to stay Evangelical for now. Perhaps we need to redefine ourselves. If you are an evangelical, please submit your own attempt at an Evangelical Creed. My own will follow shortly.

About Me

Ecstatically married to Leane. Studying Theology and Teaching. Working as a worship leader, teacher, coach, guitar teacher. Living in the Mighty City of Mkondo in the sunny province of Mpumalanga, in the blessed country of South Africa.

Favourite Thoughts – Outbox

Religion is to be defended - not by putting to death - but by dying. Not by cruelty, but by patient endurance. - Lactantius (c.304-313).
What is essential Christianity? From first to last it is scandal, the divine scandal. Every time someone risks scandal of high order there is joy in heaven. - Soren Keirkegaard.
Where there are two Christians, there are three opinions... [Actually a Jewish saying, but at least as true for Christians]

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