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Nigerian wedding scam?

July 5, 2009

I just received one of the most creative 419 style spams I think I’ve ever received. Given the nature of my occupation I actually thought it might be real for the first sentence or so. If I were Catholic and lived in England, I may well have fallen for it!


I am Martin Vrzal, I will like to make a wedding booking on the 5th
September 2009. I will like to know if you can handle the wedding
arrangements/planning for the couple.

The details of the wedding are as follows:
Names of couples:William Walsh and Linda Gardener

Religion: Christians ( Catholics)
Nationality : British
Date of the wedding: 5th of September, 2009
Type of wedding: Social
Number of Invited Guests: Maximum of 30 persons.
venue of the wedding: Catholic Church
reception Venue: Suggested by you
Time of wedding: Suggested by you
You will provide: Videographer and photographer if convenient for you.
Every other necessary details will be forwarded to you as soon as they
are available. Please Let me know the deposit to be paid so as to have
you booked for that, details will be forwarded to you as soon as they
are available.

Please Let me know the deposit to be paid so as to have you booked for that day.
Mode of payment: via credit card.
Your swift response shall be well appreciated.

Warm regards,
Mr. Martin Vrzal
40 Murrayfield Avenue ,
Edinburgh , EH12 6 AY, Scotland


Convert an atheist… and win!

July 4, 2009

This is bizarre. A Turkish reality TV show will be pitting a Greek Orthodox priest, a rabbi, an imam and a Buddhist monk to see who can convert the most atheists to their respective religions.

There’s no word about what will happen if the religious guys lose their faith.

Thanks, boingboing!

Repaying a curse

July 4, 2009
tags: ,

I was at a meeting of various Christians this week and one of the guys made an interesting comment. It turns out, he said, that the main difference between the Vietnam War and the wars that had gone on before it was that American (and presumably Australian) troops were cursed by Buddhist monks when they landed. The effect was, apparently, to cause a much higher than expected incidence of mental illness after the war in our veterans.

Now I really don’t go in for the whole idea of monks actually being able to inflict some sort of spiritual disturbance on our troops by simply praying at them, or whatever their technique was. I’ve been scratching my head about this one for a few days now, wondering what to make of it. The Bible says a bit about curses, but trying to figure out what it means in the 21st Century is something of a puzzle.

I also realise that what soldiers in Vietnam went through (and still go through) isn’t a trivial matter. I think the sort of comment my friend made was intended well, but somehow trivialises what many of my father’s generation have to endure.

It occurred to me today, though, that the Bible has a few very clear things to say about curses. Here’s the clearest:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

(Luke 6:27-28, NRSV)

Here’s another one like it:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

(Romans 12:14 NRSV)

I’m going to guess that the troops being cursed didn’t respond with blessing. Did any of the chaplains pray blessings back at the Buddhist monks? Were the soldiers instructed to lay down their weapons and wish their enemies all the best?

I’d love to hear that I’m wrong about this, but somehow, I don’t think so.

How do we deal with adherents of other religions?

May 31, 2009

Adam Walker-Cleaveland of pomomusings has been running a series of posts called ‘Plurality 2.0.’ Each post has been contrinuted by a guest author. I’ll admit that I haven’t really followed the series, but I was struck by a comment made by the most recent contributor, Brian McLaren:

Of course there’s a place and time for speculating on the fate of people of various religions and no religion. (Where and when – and for how long – is another question in itself.) But my sense, after spending quite a few years on the path of following Jesus, is that my primary duty is to look in the mirror and focus, not on the failures or deficits of “the other,” but on my own. My identity as a disciple prompts me to ask what it would mean for me to love my neighbor of another religion as myself, to do for my neighbor of another religion as I would have her do for me, to be willing to sacrifice and suffer (and even die) on her behalf, to take the Christ-like posture of a servant toward my neighbors of other religions – washing their feet, showing them true respect, considering them as better than myself and not looking out for my own interests only, but also theirs.

And this line of thinking raises still more questions: would I want my neighbor of another religion to be preoccupied with my status as an outsider – as “other”? Would I want him constantly seeing me either as a potential convert or as a threat and competitor in the religious market? Would I be happy for her to minimize any common ground we might share and instead, repeatedly and habitually maximize our differences? If my answer to these questions is no, then how can I justify doing these things to my neighbor?

Hmm. When Jesus told us to treat others the way we want to be treated, I think he might have meant it.

The Burial of Jesus—a review

May 19, 2009

Some time ago I received a review copy of James F. McGrath’s book The Burial of Jesus. Professor McGrath is associate professor of religion at Butler University, specialising in history and biblical studies.

The book sets out to look at the burial and resurrection of Jesus using the standard toolkit of the modern historian. It begins by exploring the relationship between objective historical study and faith. These are often seen to be in tension with one another, because one relies on evidence and the other is often invoked without or even in spite of evidence. However, this is a misunderstanding of the role of faith, which is more to do with trusting the object of faith (i.e. God) rather than merely accepting a set of propositions with little more proof than wishful thinking.

The second chapter looks at how historians go about their business and some of the criteria they have for judging their sources. In keeping with the object of the book it focuses on the four canonical gospels. There is a good overview of the ‘synoptic problem’ (which refers to the relationships between the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke) and the reasons why most scholars today subscribe to the two source theory. The chapter finishes with a discussion of how historians judge the reliability of the contents of the gospels.

The third chapter uses the same techniques to ascertain what we can know about the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. McGrath marshals all the resources at his disposal here—our knowledge of Jewish law at the time of Jesus, first century historians, extra-biblical texts and of course, the biblical texts themselves. It’s important to note this isn’t apologetics—McGrath isn’t trying to arrive at a particular destination. He plays all the pieces of evidence against each other, finding points of agreement and disagreement. This is an important point—as much as many Christians would like to think otherwise, there are fundamental differences between the biblical accounts of the Easter story. Sifting through the evidence McGrath continually asks, ‘what is the most likely explanation for all of the evidence before us?’

The crucifixion and burial of Jesus are all accessible through the normal historical means. It seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus was crucified, his body was disposed of quickly, but disappeared soon after. However, the question of what what happened to the body of Jesus is far more complicated for the historian.

And thus the fourth chapter, which deals with the accounts of the resurrection appearances. Because of the highly unusual nature of a resurrection an historian is unlikely to consider it the ‘most likely’ explanation for the events recorded. Again, McGrath looks at all of the biblical evidence and comes to the conclusion he believes is most consistent with what he finds. (Don’t worry, folks! I won’t give any spoilers. If you want to know what McGrath’s conclusion is, you’ll have to read the book!)

The final chapter is somewhat more theological, asking what sort (if any) of resurrection is required by the church today. More broadly, he looks at some of the consequences of our view (stated and unstated) of eschatology. He also revisits his earlier material on the nature of faith, and how it has more to do with trust in a person than certainty about a doctrine.

I found this book quite invigorating. I’m not sure I agree with some of the conclusions. I’m also a bit concerned McGrath might have made assumptions in places that weren’t warranted, or at least need to be challenged. Overall, though, I would recommend this book to anyone who is serious about studying Christianity rationally. It would make a good primer for first year theology students who are trying to ‘unlearn’ a lot of the more dogmatic approaches to Christianity they may have picked up elsewhere.

A fuller gospel

May 19, 2009

Scot McKnight has just started a series of posts on ‘the Kingdom Gospel.’ In the first of the series we read

Many readers of the Bible read the whole Bible through the lens of the gospel they believe and this is what that gospel looks like:

  • God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.
  • But you have a sin problem that separates you from God.
  • The good news is that Jesus came to die for your sins.
  • If you accept Jesus’ death, you can be reconnected to God.
  • Those who are reconnected to God will live in heaven with God.

Every line of that statement is more or less true. It is the sequencing of those lines, the “story” of that gospel if you will, that concerns me and that turns Jesus’ message of the kingdom into a blue parakeet. And it is not only the sequencing, it is the omitting of major themes in the Bible that concerns me. What most shocks the one who reads the Bible as Story, where the focus is overwhelmingly on God forming a covenant community, is that this outline of the gospel above does two things: it eliminates community and it turns the entire gospel into a “me and God” or “God and me” gospel. Who needs a church if this is the gospel? (Answer: no one.) What becomes of the church for this gospel? (Answer: an organization for those who want to do that sort of thing.) While every line in this gospel is more or less true, what concerns many of us today is that this gospel makes the church unimportant.

(Note: Scot’s use of the term ‘blue parakeet’ is explained in his book ‘the Blue Parakeet’ which I blogged about last year. It refers to a person or idea that doesn’t fit into the generally accepted way of thinking, and is therefore assimilated or rejected rather than accepted.)

Once upon a time that would have been my view of the gospel, too. Scot’s series will be looking at a few of the deeper things in the gospel that we tend to either ignore or explain away because they don’t simply fit the narrow view we hold. This is much bigger picture than many of us might be used to: hang on and enjoy the ride!

SA101–a quick review

April 26, 2009

One of the jobs I have as a Salvation Army officer is training people to be Salvation Army soldiers. It’s an important task, and one that I want to get right. Whilst such training continues for the whole time I am involved with the (prospective) soldier, there is a formal element. People who wish to become Salvation Army soldiers are expected to undertake a course of study explaining the basics of Salvation Army doctrine as well as Army history and practice. I suppose it’s analogous to confirmation classes or the like in other denominations.

battleorderslrdsThere are a few resources around to help with this task. For the last twenty years or so most Corps Officers I know have used a small book called ‘Battle Orders.’ This is a series of ten or so lessons which more or less cover the basics. Whilst the content is solid, I’ve never really enjoyed using it. I really don’t know why. Perhaps it’s just a bit dated, or the didactic style doesn’t suit me. Whatever the reason, I really would like something else.

sa_101A few weeks ago I received a copy of a new book which has been written for this purpose. It is written by a husband and wife team, Danielle Strickland and Stephen Court. It is entitled SA101: Training Warriors to Win the World for Jesus. On first inspection it seemed to be exactly what I was after. The emphasis is on training soldiers, not just completing lessons. Moreover, there are lots of different suggestions for further reading, videos that can be used and so on.

However, the book has a few flaws, some of which have heavily dampened my initial enthusiasm. Some aren’t that big a deal. For example, the book frequently refers to ‘General Catherine Booth.’ I may be quite wrong here, and I would appreciate a note of correction in the comments, but Catherine Booth was never General, and she was never referred to as such. Her husband was General, and she may have been called ‘Mrs General’ from time to time, but I don’t think she ever bore that title herself. Whilst it is a nice sentiment, I think it does her a disservice to give her a title because her husband bore it.

Another silliness is the insistence on referring to Satan as ‘satan,’ with a lower case ‘s.’ I’ve seen this sort of thing before, but I’ve never understood the logic. Sure, he might be the prince of darkness, but does that mean we have to throw out the basic rules of written English whenever his name comes up. And don’t get me started on K.D. Lang… 😉

Some of the flaws are far more serious and, to my thinking, render it useless (at best) to dangerous (at worst, but quite likely.) Allow me to share an example.

There is a section that treats the importance of the Bible in the Salvation Army. There are a couple of paragraphs that discuss 2 Timothy 3:16 and the high number of ancient manuscripts available. Then we get this, on page 16:

The Bible is even reliable scientifically. No, the Bible is not a science textbook. But it includes in its pages many allusions that can be tested scientifically. And in those cases, it is accurate, often supernaturally so. For example, it consistently spoke truth before the conventional science of even relatively recent history discovered it:

  • Every star is different (1 Corinthians 15:41). ‘Science’ used to believe that all stars were the same;
  • Light is in motion (Job 38:19,20). ‘Science’ used to believe that light is fixed in place.
  • Air has weight (Job 28:25). ‘Science’ used to believe that air was weightless.
  • Wind blows in cyclones. (Ecclesiastes 1:6). ‘Science’ used to believe wind blows straight.
  • Blood is the source of life and healing (Leviticus 17:11). ‘Science’ used to believe that sick people must be bled….

And of course, the Bible indicates that the earth is a sphere (Isaiah 40:22), while it took ‘Science’ quite a while to get away from the flat earth belief.

Most of these ‘scientific teachings’ of the Bible are strained attempts to read our modern understanding of the world into holy writ. The authors of those texts were often writing poetically, and they were certainly writing according to the generally accepted understanding of the time. Most of our pre-modern scientific beliefs were derived from Aristotle and other ancient Greeks, not from the ancient Near-East.

On the last point offered—regarding the shape of the earth—my reading of the passage suggests that the Bible teaches that the earth is disc-shaped, not spherical.

My concern is that this is far too glib an introduction to a topic that is highly controversial but very important in the church today. Moreover, I would suggest that the position taken is, quite simply, wrong. If the last four hundred years of science and theology have taught us anything, it’s that theologians are constantly having to reinterpret the Bible in the light of scientific discovery. Trying to do science by looking at the Bible for guidance is a recipe for disaster.

I would be very concerned if one of my soldiers tried using these examples to engage someone apologetically.

I have other concerns, but I’ve written more than enough for now. I feel like I have been quite negative about this book. That isn’t my intention, but unfortunately, the more I look at it the more I find to be negative about. It has good points. Perhaps I’ll try to balance this post with a more generous one in the near future.

I would be interested to hear from anyone who has other suggestions about good resources for soldiership and/or discipleship training. If I can’t find anything I am comfortable using, I guess I could take the old fashioned approach and write a resource myself. Thoughts? Ideas?