Sunday, May 11, 2014


Noah's flood (sloths can't swim; Australian koalas); Bible - why make a claim - like inerrancy - which the Bible doesn't make of itself.

IVF: inerrancy in doctrinal basis (don'tworry about it - General Secretary). Wizard Melbourne University open air meeting. 60s, hippies, anti-Vietnam, student revolts
CBC: lots of questions, but a small number og conservatives got nervous, and phoned around to ensure members from decades before who hadn't been attending while I was there stacked a meeting called by the leadership to invite me to be permanent pastor, and I just missed the 3/4 majority needed - which led to my accepting an invitation to be bne senior pastor of a large Baptist Church 'up the road' from Monash University. Those students loved the questions, and brought their friends, and that church grew... When I was meeting with the call committee, 'keep the morning services fairly predictable, but I'd insist on a 'free go' Sunday nights'. That was OK by them as their pm services dropped to a handful of people - 'as low as eight' sometimes.

Like Narwee, we had very few 'you can't do that' type people. (Church strategist Lyle Schaller calls them 'permission-withholders'). My days in those two churches - heady days...

File 'Dissent'.

Fowler's Stages of Faith
The three books reviewed here are excellent examples of how one branch of the Christian church reads its sacred book – the Bible – and may be ignorant of  other ways of approaching the Scriptures.The Evangelical/Holiness method is practised during one’s daily ‘Quiet Time’ (in what Catholics have traditionally termed the ‘oratory’) where one asks ‘What is the word of the Lord here for me today?’ The great Evangelical missionary Hudson Taylor used to read the Bible right through regularly to spot any command he was not obeying.The ‘Signs and Wonders’ approach asks ‘How can a Word from the Lord bring deliverance/ healing/insight to this ministry situation here/now?’In the Academy/Seminary one of the key questions about the biblical material has to do with ‘provenance’ (a term the other two groups never use). They ask: how did the Bible get to be like it is?So:1. Oratory (locus: my life as an obedient servant of Christ: a good NT example might be the author of the Epistle of James);2. Ministry (within the Body of Christ and elsewhere – eg. Agabus and the itinerant prophets, Acts 11:27ff.);3. Academy/Seminary (focusses on the mind – eg. Apollos?).Each has its own culture/language/cliches/ideas.There is hardly any overlap between these approaches in many/most churches. For example, if Agabus rocked up to an Evangelical or Progressive/Mainline church and announced he had a ‘word from the Lord’ for that congregation today, they generally wouldn’t know what to do with him. If a theological teacher asked the Evangelicals or Pentecostals about understanding the Torah in terms of the Documentary Hypothesis, they’d respond ‘Please explain!’.(My own view, for what it’s worth, is that each of these broad approaches has value, and in fact describes the church’s historical transition from a first/second generation charismatic era, through a ‘routinization of charisma’ phase – where creeds and laws replace fervour and ‘life’ – to the mostly intellectual stance of the Academy, and the predictability of mainline churches’ worship rituals).(Of course there are other ways to read the Bible, one of the best being the Lectio Divina approach).¬¬¬¬1. Australian Baptist pastor Rex Hayward’s Daily Readings (2010) are pure ‘Evangelical’. There’s a Bible reading for each day of the year, a page of questions, brief paragraphs with challenging ideas for prayerful thought, and everywhere a call to holiness and serious commitment.  There are no quotes (that I could find) from biblical scholars, but quite a few from hymns and sacred choruses. The readings are mostly from the Gospels and epistles  (we journey right through Mark and James), with a few Old Testament prophets tossed in, and, I think only a couple of Psalms, and nothing that I recall from the Torah. The flavour is hortatory: and the target for Rex’s homilies is an ‘open heart and a teachable spirit’. Good for anyone, of any theological persuasion, who is willing to humbly submit to the Word of God in Scripture and be challenged to live a life of obedience to the will of Christ. You can order it from Wycliffe Bible Translators (Kangaroo Ground, Victoria) or from Rex himself (rexhayward [at] ).¬¬¬¬ 2. Rachel Hickson’s Eat the Word Speak the Word: Exercising a Bible-based prophetic ministry (Monarch Books, Oxford UK, 2010) ‘takes us on a journey that will train you to respect and handle the word of God correctly, and then equip the prophetic gift within you’ (says the author on the back cover). Rachel Hickson and her husband Gordon run a ministry called Heartcry, training local churches ‘in the area of prayer and the prophetic’. They serve also as associate ministers at the respected St. Aldate’s Church Oxford (where Canon Michael Green was rector for a decade 1975-86).When one hears that phrase ‘the prophetic’ you can be sure the flavour is Pentecostal – not ever, or hardly ever ‘liberationist’: though, remarkably, there is actually one paragraph in this book about the great biblical/prophetic emphasis on social justice.These chapters comprise the essence of Rachel’s teaching – which she gives to churches and conferences around the world. She expects miracles, and we have a couple of examples here which ‘blow your mind’: (1) In New York she had a ‘word’ for someone in her conference about ‘two zebras’ which she hesitated to deliver because it seemed so crazy. But the Spirit’s pressure persisted: and lo, a mixed-race couple came up to her very excited about their desire to have children, and they’d used this term to describe their future offspring. (You guessed it: the mother conceived about that time and nine months later twins were born). (2) A crippled beggar-man in Malawi, paralyzed from the hips downwards,  was prayed for, then anointed regularly to remove the dead skin from his legs. Ten years later she met him again: ‘He told me how after being massaged with warm oil, his legs had begun to move more and more until all the dead, hardened skin was removed, and now he could walk perfectly’.Have any of my rationalist readers got a decent explanation for these?Two of her mentor/heroes are the great Pentecostal giants-of-faith Smith Wigglesworth and Reinhard Bonnke: two people I’d encourage anyone to get to know. (I remember being a fellow-speaker at an Australian charismatic conference in Adelaide with Bonnke: and I’ve never witnessed, before or since. an auditorium filling up from the front backwards as early and as quickly as in Bonnke’s healing meetings!).This is a balanced book, so Evangelicals and ‘Mainliners’  won’t be confronted with too much Pentecostal craziness (!). Sample: ‘Never accuse people of not having enough faith if they are not healed. We may not understand why people are not always instantly healed, but it is OK to admit we don’t know why’ (p. 183). I like that.Highly recommended (with the couple of caveats mentioned earlier).¬¬¬¬Linda M. MacCammon, Liberating the Bible: A Guide for the Curious and Perplexed (Orbis, 2008).Professor MacCammon teaches theology and ethics to College students, and these chapters read like her lecture notes (and at the outset I want to record my envy of her students!).Her first sentence in Chapter 1: ‘The Bible is a dangerous book. It is without question one of the most misinterpreted, misunderstood and misapplied books on the planet. Over the centuries, it has been used as a rationale for economic and social exploitation, the oppression of women and minorities, slavery, war and genocide. It has fostered anti-Semitism, misogyny, racial animus, homophobia… and every sort of crackpot cult imaginable. Yet the Bible has also been the driving force behind numerous social and political reform movements…’More… ‘There is often a mistaken assumption that Biblical teachings can be extracted and applied directly to contemporary situations… [People cite] biblical texts on questions of divorce, homosexuality, stem-cell research, the status of women… the validity of other religions, and other complex issues…’The old adage that ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’ comes to mind. As does this quote from Terry Eagleton: ‘If it is true that we need a degree of certainty to get by, it is also true that too much of the stuff can be lethal!’So with a professional theologian and ethicist we proceed with humility and a teachable spirit! But don’t let me discourage you: she inhabits ‘simplicity the other side of complexity’. And her mentors are the best of the best – people like Paul Ricoeur, John Bright, E P Sanders, Leander Keck – and the evangelical F F Bruce.And she applies the Bible to life. Like this: in the reflection questions at the end of the chapter on Genesis (and a discussion of the story of Cain and Abel) she asks us to ‘recall the last time you were really angry. Write down how you felt. Why were you angry? What did you want?’ Etc. Beautiful!And this: How would each of the three Isaiahs assess some contemporary issues, such as global warming, the war in Iraq, HIV and AIDS, the growing gap between rich and poor…?’ (etc.)(I hope I’m whetting the appetites of any reading this who’ve not yet had the privilege of studying theology with a good teacher! You can’t do better than to take a year or more off to do that – with no other distractions).Three Isaiahs? Yes, and the validity of the documentary hypothesis for understanding the authorship and provenance of the Torah etc. Some stories in Genesis belonging to ‘sociology’ rather than ‘history’? Yes, maybe. But our good professor has a lively faith, and her purpose in raising these questions – which are everyday puzzles for professional biblical scholars – is to help us tread carefully through hermeneutical minefields, and come through on the other side with an ‘examined’ faith. In her Questions for Discussion and Reflection she guides us gently into some complex issues.Like this one on p. 205: ‘Matthew’s anti-Judaism is not unique to the New Testament. How do you think anti-Jewish passages should be treated by contemporary interpreters? What does this phenomenon suggest about other biblical biases, such as sexism, homophobia, and intolerance of other faiths?’The last paragraph is a comment by the Hindu sage Ramakrishna on the wisdom that our grasp of the Sacred is always partial and limited:Mother, Mother, Mother! Everyone foolishly assumes that his clock alone tells correct time. Christians claim to possess exclusive truth… countless varieties of Hindus insist that their sect, no matter how small and insignificant, expresses the ultimate position. Devout Muslims maintain that Koranic revelation supersedes all others. The entire world is being driven insane by the single phrase: “My religion alone is true.” O Mother, you have shown me that no clock is entirely accurate. Only the transcendent sun of knowledge remains on time. Who can make a system from Divine Mystery?If it’s not too late, order this one as a Christmas gift and spend a month dawdling through it on your annual holidays! It will open your eyes to the wonders of a biblical faith.


Brian McLaren – Scripture Interpretation

Here's the Q: 
Tim Challies, a well-known Reformed blogger recently wrote a nasty piece about you, listing you among "notable" false teachers in Christian history. Many of the comments are even worse than the article. I don't know how you keep from blowing up about things like this. The venomous hubris of these Reformed know-it-alls is stunning. Would you respond? What would you say to this guy if you knew he would truly listen?
Here's the R:
First, I should say that "Neo-Reformed" is probably a better name than "Reformed" for folks in this camp. Reformed Christians of the broader designation don't seek to think and say exactly what Calvin and the other Reformers thought and said, as the Neo-Reformed tend to do. Instead, they look at how creatively and insightfully the Reformers responded to issues in their context and they seek to respond to our very different context enlightened and inspired by the Reformers' example.
Even though I'm a happy outsider to the Neo-Reformed system of belief, I have high regard for the broader Reformed tradition - which includes theological giants like Barth, Pannenberg, Bosch, Boesak, Newbigin, and Moltmann. (I know, not any women on the list - that's a problem in all theology, but thankfully it is beginning to change.)
The World Alliance of Reformed Churches exemplified this broader Reformed mindset beautifully in the Accra Confession, which I think is one of the most important statements made by any group of Christians in my lifetime.
When I read the piece you linked to, I was struck by a few things.
1. The author may be wrong in his larger conclusion, but he largely gets it right when he says:
In A New Kind of Christianity he insists that Christians have long been reading the Bible through the distorted lens of a Greco-Roman narrative. This narrative produced many false dualisms, an air of superiority, and a false distinction between those who were “in” and those who were “out.” These three marks of false narrative have so impacted our faith that we can hardly see past them. His book attempts to do that, and to reconstruct the Christian faith as it is meant to be.
2. I didn't think his piece was nasty. I've seen plenty of nasty, and this struck me as comparatively civil in its tone and rhetoric. For example, the author was kind enough to actually include my own statements. Rather than making judgments on my motives and claiming to represent me with a lot of spin, he lets me speak for myself. For example:
[McLaren] goes on to say, “I’m recommending we read the Bible as an inspired library. This inspired library preserves, presents, and inspires an ongoing vigorous conversation with and about God, a living and vital civil argument into which we are all invited and through which God is revealed.” After all, “revelation doesn’t simply happen in statements. It happens in conversations and arguments that take place within and among communities of people who share the same essential questions across generations. Revelation accumulates in the relationships, interactions, and interplay between statements.” He understands the Bible to be a slowly-evolving human understanding of God. “Scripture faithfully reveals the evolution of our ancestors’ best attempts to communicate their successive best understandings of God. As human capacity grows to conceive of a higher and wiser view of God, each new vision is faithfully preserved in Scripture like fossils in layers of sediment.”

This is an accurate reflection of my views. I would only add that I believe this evolutionary process is the medium for inspiration and revelation, and it has profound advantages over static propositional dictation.
3. Of course, when he calls me a false teacher, he is speaking from his vantage point as an articulate, committed, zealous, and sincere Christian fundamentalist. (I mean "fundamentalist" not in a pejorative sense, but in the tradition of J. Gresham Machen, to whom the author refers.) From that vantage point, he speaks the truth as he sees it. Similarly, both Tim Challies and I could be considered false teachers by people of other traditions, since (as far as I know) neither of us are under papal authority established by apostolic succession (Roman Catholic) or the ecclesial authority of bishops recognized by the Orthodox communion, nor do we honor the seventh day appropriately (Seventh Day Adventist), nor do we affirm the "second blessing" and speaking in tongues as the initial physical evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit (Assemblies of God).
4. I could quibble about a few things - like the main point of the article (!). Apart from that important difference, what strikes me is how much we agree on. 
A. We agree that the Bible is tremendously important. It's not like my critic loves the Bible and I hate it, or vice versa.
But I think we part ways on our understanding of the relative importance of Jesus and the Bible as the Word of God. As I demonstrate in my upcoming book, I believe the Bible teaches that God's ultimate word is not a book, but a person who is testified to and presented to the world through a community, which is informed and formed by a very special library of documents. I like how Martin Luther said it: the Bible is the manger in which the Word is given to the world.
B. We agree that the Bible is inspired by God, as 2 Tim. 3:16 says. That's a significant agreement. Where we part ways, I think, is in our understanding of what "inspired" means.
To the author, inspired necessarily precludes being "subject to error, evolution, antiquation, or reinterpretation." As I explain in several of my books, I think that makes sense if the Bible were inspired under modern conditions as a legal constitution. But I think the Bible was inspired under the terms of ancient people, for whom storytelling was their "scientific method." (Again, I explore this in my upcoming book, We Make the Road by Walking.) I try to let "inspired" hold its meaning in the context of ancient storytelling cultures.
In fact, when we read the Bible as an inspired library in the genres of ancient storytellers, it comes alive in liberating and challenging ways and yields invaluable treasures. Stories quarrel with stories. Ideas - like sacrifice, like the priesthood, like the necessity of holy buildings or circumcision or polygamy, like the death penalty for Sabbath breaking or adultery - evolve. Some rules become antiquated (Jesus' speaks of Scriptures being "fulfilled" - i.e. fulfilling their purpose, creating new conditions which require new rules). Standing concepts or stories are later reinterpreted and given new and previously unimagined readings - as Jesus does when he challenges his hearers on the purpose of the Sabbath (it was "made for humanity"), or as Paul does with Sarah and Hagar in Galatians. We are brought into the conversation, and called to extend it in our own time. (Which is what is happening even in this interchange.)
C. We agree that Jesus sets an example in how to engage with the Scriptures. The author is right to say, "Jesus himself spoke clearly about the authority and relevance of Scripture, and showed no hesitation in unfolding its meaning and faulting others for misunderstanding it." Amen. I agree wholeheartedly. That is in fact what I try to do in my books. But we differ in how we understand Jesus to have engaged with the Scriptures. As I see it, Jesus himself dared to say, "You have heard it said…" and then to add those powerful words, "But I say." To me, Jesus stands above lawgivers, priests, and prophets of old: as God's Son, he reveals God's heart with a fullness and finality they could not provide.
D. The author and I agree that I am not a fundamentalist. I was born one, and being a dutiful, first-born son, I tried my best to remain faithful to my tradition. As I grew older, I found the claims made by fundamentalism to be untenable - and, in fact, unbiblical. I also found the spirit of fundamentalism too often to be unChrist-like. To the author, this places me in the category of liberals, which may or not be true, depending on how you define the term.
Some definitions of liberalism don't apply to me. For example, I'm not a big fan of reducing the gospel to fit into the categories of Enlightenment modernity. I see the gospel challenging all human categories - premodern, modern, postmodern, whatever. But if people are considered liberal because they follow their conscience and their best (and growing) understanding of the Bible and Christ - even when doing so means disagreeing with contemporary gatekeepers of tradition - then, yes, the shoe fits. But by that definition, Martin Luther was a liberal, and so were C. S. Lewis and John Stott and Dallas Willard. So, in fact, was Jesus.
The author makes an accusation almost all fundamentalists make, one I used to make in my more conservative days: that when people use their minds to interpret and apply the Bible, they place their own "authority over the Bible instead of placing [themselves] under its authority." That dichotomy is very simple and popular, but I find it highly problematic.
Texts don't exercise their authority until they are interpreted, and all interpretation involves the mind, values, and interests of the interpretive community in and for which the text is interpreted. So when people claim to be under the authority of the Bible, they may in fact be under the authority of an interpretive community's interpretation of the Bible, whether they realize it or not. It's far easier to say, "The Bible says!" than to say, "The leaders of our interpretative community say that the Bible says…" That's one reason why it's so hard to change one's interpretation: doing so often means one is no longer welcome in the familiar community where one has been nurtured and to which one belongs.
To be "under the authority of the Bible," then, presupposes the authority of this or that interpretive community and its rules of interpretation. That's why the existence, assumptions, and vested interests of any interpretive community should be made explicit and critically scrutinized, because fundamentalists of all varieties have an interpretive agenda, assumptions, and interests they bring to the text - just as "liberals" and "moderates" in all their diversity do.
I'm reminded of the debates in the 19th century in which the pro-slavery majority in the South claimed that the abolitionist minority rejected the authority of the Bible. It would have been a good thing to be labeled a "false teacher" under those circumstances. Sadly, I don't see many in the conservative camp who have identified the faulty interpretive methodology of 19th century conservatives and publicly chosen another path of interpretation. The same interpretive methodology still reigns supreme.
By the way, I see the same lack of self-critique in many sectors of the "liberal" camp. Who is paying attention to the faulty interpretive methodologies of 19th and 20th century liberal interpreters? Thankfully, I think that is exactly what contemporaries like Anne Howard, Frederick Buechner, Barbara Brown Taylor, Walter Brueggemann, Cameron Trimble, Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, Phyllis Tickle, Tony Jones, Diana Butler Bass, Doug Pagitt, Maggie Dawn, Eric Elnes, Amy Butler, Alexia Salvatierra, Stephanie Spellers, Randy Woodley, Jo-Ann Badley, James Cone, Naim Ateek, Leonardo Boff, and many others are seeking to do in a variety of ways. I think they represent a convergence of what we might call post-conservatives and post-liberals. It is among them that I feel most at home.
E. When we acknowledge that all our interpretations are provisional, we are open to ongoing Reformation, and in that way we are all "unfinished" - unfinished-ness being another point of common ground which the author and I share. I agree with what he says in his bio:
Unfinished - Though I find great beauty in traditional Protestantism, I realize that in some areas traditions may not be fully Scriptural. Where that is the case I am eager to change as the Spirit convicts me through the Word.
OK, as to what I'd say if I knew that the author would listen, here are some thoughts … not a big treatise, just what flows from my heart tonight.

First, thanks for being far more kind and fair in your treatment of me than many people who agree with you have been. I sincerely respect people who try to treat others as they would want to be treated - especially when they disagree. To me, that's more than just being "nice." It's kind and loving and decent.
Second, you and followers of your blog may wonder why I, a person who used to see things as you do, now sees things differently. You may feel I am simply too proud, stupid, weak, lazy, cowardly, rebellious, eager for fame or popularity, or otherwise sinful to hold to the truth as you understand it. (Or perhaps I'm simply not one of the elect, therefore have not persevered as a true saint would, am predestined for reprobation, etc.). I understand that kind of assessment because I spent many years of my life in your camp. I remember the appeal of your position, and I know you think what you think and say what you say out of complete sincerity and with the highest of motives, and with a sense that you are standing for and with God against a rising tide of darkness.
Eventually, I began to see problems with that approach, as I've explained in my books. I began feeling I was conforming to convention largely to avoid criticism from the more aggressive critics in the conservative camp. Over many years as a pastor, I became convinced that there were better ways to faithfully read and live by the Bible, and I became less willing to live in the valley of the shadow of fear of men. After much inner struggle I concluded, gradually and with a lot of prayer, fear, and trembling, that God would be more pleased with me being honest about my questions than with me pretending to be sure of answers that no longer made sense to me.
So if my only option were to be a Christian in the way you are, I simply could not be a Christian. My conscience wouldn't allow it. My understanding of the Bible wouldn't allow it. My devotion to Christ wouldn't allow it. If you want to define me as a false teacher, not a true Christian, etc., etc., you are certainly free to do that, and I don't hold it against you. I honor you for speaking your mind, and for doing so with far more decency and kindness than some of your colleagues. You are a good man with a good heart, trying to do the right thing.
When I started on this path, I knew it would not be an easy road. I expected to lose almost all my friends, lose my ministry, lose everything. But I felt, as Paul did, that it would be worth it to risk and lose everything in order to honestly and truly seize hold of what I believed God was calling me toward.
Yes, I did lose some friends. In fact, there have been many losses. But to my surprise, there were other blessings that came. People started approaching me, often in tears, saying, "If I hadn't found your books, I would have left the faith entirely." Not just one or two people, but many. Many pastors have even told me the same thing. This has continued for over 15 years now, and if anything, the intensity and frequency of these responses only seems to be increasing.
I know you hope and pray that this won't happen, and I realize this is pretty unlikely … but when your kids or grandkids are older, one or two of them may come to you and say, "Dad (or Grandpa), I'm sorry, but I just can't believe the version of Christianity you taught me. I love you, and I don't want to displease you, but I took this course in college, and we learned …."
If that happens, I'm sure you'll do your best to turn them back to the straight path as you understand it. But if that doesn't work, if they simply can not in good conscience follow your path, I hope you'll consider slipping them one of my books or something by the kinds of post-conservative/post-liberal writers I mentioned earlier. It will not be what you would have wished. It will not motivate them to believe in verbal plenary inspiration, absolute inerrancy, TULIP, women's subordination, the unacceptability of gay people as gay people, or eternal conscious torment in hell. But it will encourage them to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. There are worse things they could live by than that.

Head to Toe: Men and Their Roles in the First Two Generations of Christianity, by Ross Saunders, Acorn Press, 2014

This is an interesting book: its twin, published earlier, is Outrageous Women, Outrageous God: Women in the First Two Generations of Christianity. In both books Ross Saunders unpacks the idea that Jesus upended ancient Mediterranean notions of honour, authority, leadership, and servanthood. He offers readable, well-researched word-pictures of Jesus' first-century disciples as they work out in their personal and communal/ecclesial lives what it means to be truly radical, eschewing privilege and power. The struggles they faced in the first two generations of Christianity are also still ours. 

Ross Saunders (1926-2005) was a Sydney Anglican clergyman best known as a religious broadcaster. But he was also an 'auto-didact' - a scholar in the fields of Theology, Ancient History and Communications. 

Anthropologists tell us that Mediterranean cultures were built around honour maintenance; women were recognized only in relationship to some man: a father, an uncle, a grandfather, a brother, a husband, a son. It was almost impossible to better the social position into which you were born. And it’s important to note that only men experienced dishonour, not women.Women without  the benefit of male sponsorship found it almost impossible to survive. Social security as we know it did not exist. The 'poor' helped by temple-funds were usually asset-rich males who'd fallen on hard times. The beggars in the streets were poor or disabled males. Women couldn't easily survive by begging, because passers-by would favour males. Younger women often had no option but to go into prostitution.

Eldest sons invariably followed their father's craft (so Jesus was a plough-maker, as Joseph was). Peter came from the household of an entrepreneur: he had no status until his father died. Until then he was known as Simon-son-of-Jonas. 
Jesus had brought shame upon his father's reputation by leaving the household after his father’s death. (Note that at the cross Jesus hands over his mother to the care of the disciple John. Note also that with Jesus' death, his brother James became next in line in the household. 'But Jesus had changed that by entrusting his mother to John, not to James').

And following Jesus came at a cost. If a junior member of a household became a disciple there would be division in the household, often resulting in that member being disowned. Should Jesus prove to be a fraud, they could not return to their families as though nothing had happened. It was an irrevocable decision.

Socio-cultural result? In contrast to a situation where everybody has a place virtually fixed at birth, in today's world we regard ourselves primarily as individuals. Christianity changed the way its members found their identity and, in the process, helped to break down the Mediterranean household as the basic unit of society. 'When households are mentioned [in the NT] in connection with conversions to Christianity, this was the exception and not the norm. This was one of the things that set Christianity off from all other religions at the time.’

Ross Saunders’ main emphasis is on the theme of leadership: Jesus in his life and teachings changed the model of leader-as-director to leader-as-servant.'Ultimately, this is what Christian leadership is about: eliminating the chasm between the leader and the led'. Jesus called upon his followers 'to relinquish their status... [so] women went up a step or two on the social scale, [while] men went down a step or two'.Adult males were to divest 'themselves of all their pretensions to status, and became like a child - in that society completely without status –[otherwise] they had no hope of membership [in the kingdom]'. When he sent out his disciples [in Mark 6:7-13] they were to wear sandals, the footwear of the peasant. But 'the concept that honour must be attached to leadership... was [still] strong, and it was something that was to dog missionaries like Paul...'

Saunders’ book does not go beyond the end of the first century: then 'male bishops took over Christianity, [reverting] to the normal household model for centralising church structures, and lay ministry, both male and female, disappeared almost totally.'  

This book is as interesting in terms of scholarly style as it is thematically. I don't think he cites one scholar, and there are no footnotes. However an excellent Select Bibliography gives us a clue about his wider reading: here there are listed authors like the Evangelicals F. F. Bruce, I. H. Marshall and E.A.Judge, to scholars with a wider theological stance, like J. Jeremias and G. Theissen. He has, for example, a fairly conservative view of who-wrote-what in the NT, but he is not afraid to cite differences in the four Gospels' narrative-details - without doing too much explaining about how they can be reconciled. They are simply left, side-by-side, expressing differences in perspective between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Australian colloquialisms are sprinkled throughout:  'a dandy dressed up to the nines'; 'cop all the shame'; 'they tear out in great consternation to find their leader'; 'whatever I have in mind for John, even if it is to hang around until I return to earth’; Peter was ‘clapped in irons in prison’…
And twenty-to-thirty more…

I marked the following, to ponder:

  • For Israelites, prayer was always audible, never silent in the mind the way we today tend to pray. The Ethiopian eunuch was reading his scroll aloud: 'Silent reading was certainly not the process of reading in those days'.

  • The ‘laying on of hands’ was never on heads. Human hair was not to be touched by other people for fear of touching dust or sweat. The main greeting method: 'the two shoulders grasp'.

  • 'Giving to the poor was not counted as maintaining one's honour in the community. The poor could not repay by having a benefactor's name written up in the synagogue or temple.'

  • Paul was 'not a consultative or democratic kind of team leader... We must be careful... not to romanticise Paul and smooth over the sharp edges and directive attitudes'.

  • 'Whenever Paul uses "head" with respect to Christ it is always associated with his self-sacrificial love for the church. In other words "headship" here derives from commitment and self-sacrifice and does not entail privilege and the right to be obeyed.'

  • 'I believe it is abundantly clear that there were no orders, of deacons, priests or bishops, during the first two generations of Christianity. In fact, there were no clergy, in our sense, until the turn of the century.'

If there had been a list of discussion starters, this would have been a good one:
'Prayer and the drawing of straws' (Acts1:15-26). Does your church elect leaders this way?

Conclusion: 'For men, neither ascribed nor acquired honour had any place in the congregations. The usual games of challenge and response that occurred when men greeted each other on the street had to stop'. 'We must have a great deal of sympathy for those first two generations of men in the churches. They had to lose just about everything they had been born with: honour, prestige, position, authority and entitlement to dominion over women and children.'
Rowland Croucher

May 6, 2014 


Someone on FB



The Bible is history's number one bestseller by a factor of about ten. Six billion copies have been sold. Admittedly, it had a head start on other books; it was the first item off the modern printing press. But it has been No.1 every year since records have been kept—except for 2007 when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows topped the list, with 44 million sales. Unlike most bestsellers, however, the Bible actually increases sales each year. Harry Potter’s 44 million in a year is spectacular, but no doubt it dropped to about 10 million the following year, one million the next, and now Deathly Hallows probably sells in the mere 100s of 1000s.

The latest figures for the Bible are hard to fathom. It sold 30 million copies in 2009 alone. That is 82,000 copies a day, 3,400 copies an hour. That means someone gets a Bible every second – perhaps 60 copies have changed hands since you started reading this page. If we were to include the sales of individual portions of the Bible, such as books containing just the Gospels (the biographies of Jesus), you have to multiply these numbers by a factor of 12. The Bible is available in 2500 languages, Harry Potter in just 55.

Why is the Bible so popular?

One explanation is that the Bible’s popularity is linked to the Church’s power. Some people think of a domineering Vatican or some dark right-wing lobby imposing the Bible wherever it goes. I think that gets things the wrong way around. The Church does not create the Bible; the Bible creates the Church. Proof of this in the modern world is the situation in China. No one argues the Bible is being imposed on the Chinese, who have been under atheistic communist rule for decades. However, just recently, Amity Press in Nanjing had a public celebration for the 100 millionth Bible published in China. Today this monumental printing company, which I recently had the pleasure of visiting, produces 12 million Bibles a year, making up one third of all Bibles published in the world. Such figures make it difficult to sustain the argument that the Church is imposing its Holy Book. The Bible has its own life, its own uncanny attraction.

I believe the Bible is so popular and influential because it tells a story we recognize as true. I don’t just mean it tells an accurate story—though it is telling that the Bible stands tall even after 200 years of secular criticism. What I mean is that its account of humanity and the world we live in rings true. Reading the Bible can be like meeting someone you don’t know who, oddly, somehow seems to know you deeply. It is uncanny. Sometimes when you read the Bible you find yourself asking, “How does this book know that about me? How does it know that about our world—especially when it was written so long ago?”

When you read the Bible, it is as though it reads you. And it is my hope that as you dip your toe into the Bible’s story and viewpoint, you will find yourself feeling that the Good Book knows more about the world—and about you—than any normal book would.


This little book is an ambitious attempt to unpack the whole Bible or, perhaps more accurately, to give a sense of the whole biblical narrative and of the “theology” that emerges from it. More than that, I want to offer a snapshot of the worldview and lifestyle the Bible inspires.

This is probably more than anyone should attempt in so slim a book. The Bible itself, in most editions, runs to about 1000 pages. The walls of my office are lined with hundreds of commentaries on the biblical texts, literally hundreds of thousands of pages devoted to exploring the history and meaning of the Scriptures. As for giving insight into what it means to live in the light of the Bible, greater minds and better human beings than I have written about authentic Christian living.

Assuming these confessions haven’t put you off, the value of this book, I hope, is that it offers something of a “biblical primer” for those who aren’t quite sure what to make of the Bible. Whatever our beliefs, there is still enormous value in getting our heads around why this book, like no other, has shaped the lives of millions of people for thousands of years (with no sign of letting up). This is not really an exercise in “apologetics”—the art of trying to prove the truth of the Bible—but a simple outline for curious doubters of what it might mean for life if the Bible happened to be true.


Both slavery, then segregation, were supposedly supported by the
Bible. They were not unintentional, but part of the divine plan. In
the American South, there was more bible study, and more
discrimination against African Americans. Reading the Bible to justify
the status quo. Slaves were free only to obey: this arrangement was
ordained by God, enshrined in the Bible, where slavery is nowhere
condemned. The curse of Ham provides the justification for subjugating
people with black sins to others with white skins.

No one in NAm, except the most hard-bitten white supremacists would
now read the Bible the way Southern Baptists read it a century ago -
or even 50 years ago.

Also a 'biblical basis' for anti-Semitism.

Bibliolatry, the worship of the Bible

Lord has yet more light and truth to break forth from God's Word.

How? Prophets.

Like Professor Hans Kung, who held the attention of large secular
audiences at Harvard University on the subject of his new book On
Being a Christian. He did it by making them think

Women: the largest section in any progressive divinity school
bookstore these days is the section on women. Until the recent
paradigm shift on GLBTI issues, the Western church has seen nothing
like it since the Protestant Reformation.

The roles of men and women in ancient agrarian societies were
prescribed by those societies' circumstances: in the three worlds of
which Paul was a citizen - the Jewish, the Greek and the Roman -
women's societal roles were dictated by the subordination principle.
So Paul's teachings reflected the mores of his time in terms of
standards of dress, social etiquette, dietary rules etc. Paul was a
social and political conservative - doesn't advocate rebellion against
the state, but counsels obedience to lawful authority.

Only in terms of his theology is he radical.

Fundamental mistake - assuming that the structures and systems the NT
describes are as sacred and authoritative as the principles it

Another - wine in the Bible. Always been a puzzle for temperance
people that Jesus multiplied the stuff - and it was good wine - at a
wedding. See Conservative Evangelical freedom Jensen's book.

Head to Toe: Men and Their Roles in the First Two Generations of Christianity. 

This is an interesting book: its twin, published earlier, is Outrageous Women, Outrageous God: Women in the First Two Generations of Christianity. In both books he unpacks the idea that Jesus upended ancient Mediterranean notions of authority, leadership, and servanthood. Jesus' followers made an uncomfortable journey 'from head to toe' - from status-seeking to serving. Ross offers readable, well-researched, word-pictures of Jesus' first-century disciples as they work out in their personal and communal/ecclesial lives what it means to be truly radical, eschewing privilege and power. The struggles they faced in the first two generations of Christianity are also ours. 

Ross Saunders (1926-2005) was an Anglican clergyman best known as a religious broadcaster, and 'auto-didact' - a scholar in the fields of Theology, Ancient History and Communications. 

This book is as interesting in terms of scholarly style as it is thematically. I don't think he cites one scholar, and there are no footnotes. Sometimes he'll make a comment that 'most scholars believe...' but we don't have any quotes from them. However an excellent Select Bibliography gives us a clue about his wider reading: here there are listed authors like the Evangelicals F. F. Bruce, I. H. Marshall and E.A.Judge, to scholars with a wider theological stance, like J. Jeremias and G. Theissen. He has, for example, a fairly conservative view of who-wrote-what in the NT, but he is not afraid to cite differences in the four Gospels' narrative-details - without doing too much explaining about how they can be reconciled. They are simply left, side-by-side, expressing differences in perspective between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

His essential thesis: Jesus turned the concept of leadership upside down, from the then-prevailing model of leader-as-director, to a model of leader-as-servant. Jesus called upon his followers 'to relinquish their status... [so] women went up a step or two on the social scale, [while] men went down a step or two'. His book does not go beyond the end of the first century: then 'male bishops took over Christianity, [reverting] to the normal household model for centralising church structures, and lay ministry, both male and female, disappeared almost totally.' [I'd be interested to read a modern scholar-bishop's commendation of this view].


His thesis?    

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