Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bible reading plans

The good folks at Crossway have posted a whole page of Bible reading plans here. The beauty is that they have included a range of formats, from web to print and - my favourite - files to import into iCal. The web and RSS options even include audio, if you prefer listening to reading.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas, hope & history

I remember reading Moltmann's Theology of Hope back in 2003 with Byron Smith, Andrew Katay, Murray Smith, Matheson Russell and Rob Forsyth (how's that for name dropping? - my contribution was to refresh the tea). I was delighted and moved by his representation of the historical nature of faith. Faith takes up the contradiction between the resurrection and a world which puts up with death.
That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.... Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. (p.8)

The promise of God is what creates history. Israel, like Christians, lived in a world where time was sanctified 'in the cyclic recurrence of the epiphany of the gods in the times of festival' (p.85).  But for Israel, the significance of the appearance of God was found in the promise contained in the revelation.
Its effect is that the hearers of the promise become incongruous with the reality around them, as they strike out in hope to the promised new future.... The sense and purposes of his 'appearances' lies not in themselves, but in the promise and its future. (p.87)

Every year, we celebrate Christmas, just as every year, the pagans held feasts in honour of their gods. The difference, however, is that our God came once in flesh, and will come once more - our celebrations, therefore, are not mere recurring markers in an unending cycle, but marks on a ruler. They do not merely represent the rhythm of life, but the rhythm of the expansion joints beneath the wheels of a train, on its way somewhere.

One great danger of church in the late-modern world, of course, is that we keep the celebrations and empty them of their narrative, their sense of history as a story unfolding. Christ becomes an epiphany of our social gods to visit us and instill good cheer. Another, corresponding danger is that we keep the narrative and lose our celebrations. We can come to think that this history is ours to make, rather than celebrate. We can forget that the promise has already been made which makes the present unbearable.

Our new website

Barneys has gone live with our new website. You can see it at

Free money for new lives

The Rudd government's $10.4 billion (that's real billion, not American billion, which is a mere 1000 million, though with the Aussie dollar the way it is, it's a moot point) has started to make its way into the hands of a desperate populace. Actually, many of them may indeed be desperate, especially those in receipt of the $4.8 billion down payment on welfare reform.

But among the many needy low income families (anyone who receives Family Tax Benefit A), to whom the government has direcedt $3.9 billion, there are people like us. Frankly, we only look low income because federal tax regulations for not-for-profits (including churches) are so relaxed.

I've decided that the Rudd government has set a wonderful example. Since they so clearly believe that the ancillary political benefits of a $1000 handout for every child outweighs the implications that they've got nothing more important (and, oh, economy-stimulating) to spend the money on (like, hmm, hospitals, ahh, education, refugees...) than plasma TVs, you can follow suit. Free Money for New Lives will spend the money for you.

This is a fantastic initiative. And the beauty of it is, you don't have to feel guilty that you didn't dig in for the country and buy a new Blu-ray player.  Money given to charity doesn't evaporate - they'll spend it on services, printing, counselors, advocacy and media. Completely in accord with the intentions of the Economic Security Strategy Payment (!).

And remember - every child saved is a new consumer.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Trailer Trash and the Faithfulness of God

We have just finished a very short series on the book of Judges called 'Trailer Trash and the Faithfulness of God.' It had been our intention to shoot for Ruth, but we discover that the Sydney University Evangelical Union, bless their cotton socks, had beaten us to it.  Anyway, here are two of the talks, on Gideon and Samson (though really on you, me and God).  You can also download them from the Barneys website.  Lovers of Rose Tattoo should be pleased - but then again, that must be pretty easy to achieve, if this music video is anything to go by.

Special thanks goes to Rene Pfitzner for his fantastic animations on the life of Samson in Judges 13-16, which you can watch by selecting 'WATCH THIS MOVIE' here (Judges 13-15) and here (Judges 16 - the denouement).

Monday, November 10, 2008

No one is coming

It's my 32nd birthday today.

We had some family over beforehand for birthday celebrations, as I will be working with our parish council this evening.  And this is what my daughter, Susannah, wrote on my birthday card this morning:
Dear Daddy, happy birthday! We have some cake left over from last night. No one is coming for your birthday. Love, Susannah.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The logic of 'agnostic atheism'

A number of atheists have told me that I either don't understand, or have slyly manipulated, what they mean by atheism.  These atheists have all been what they call 'weak atheists' - in their own words
we don't claim to know there is no god, but we also don't believe

If this is their definition, then they are right: at the moment, I don't understand it.  And that's mainly because I don't think it (a) makes sense or (b) somehow represents a kind of epistemic neutrality.  But I'm looking for an explanation - so feel free to point out errors (real and perceived) below!

The difference between the first clause ("we don't claim to know there is no god") and the second ("we also don't believe") has to do with the difference between belief and knowledge. Classically, knowledge entails that something be true, be justified, and be believed. If you believe that there is no God, but do not claim to know that there is no god, then it means one of two things. On the one hand, you could believe that your belief in the non-existence of god is not knowledge because it is not true. But this would be a logical contradiction (because you would be believing in the non-existence of god and disbelieving in it at the same time).

On the other hand, you could believe that your belief in the non-existence of god was not knowledge because you do not believe you can justify this belief.  But this second case is obviously false, too, as atheists evidently try very hard to justify their non-belief in god. From this I can only conclude that the statement "we don't claim to know there is no god, but we also don't believe" is illogical - it is nonsense.

BTW: this isn't just the case because we're using the g-word. Let's exchange 'magic sky faeries' for 'god', using the contraction MSF. I could say I do not believe in MSF, but do not claim to know that MSF do not exist. Here is the problem. Knowledge entails belief, truth and justification. If I do not claim to know that MSF exist, then I am saying either:

(a) I do not believe they do not exist; or
(b) While I believe they do not exist, this is not knowledge, because I do not believe that their non-existence is true; or
(c) I cannot justify my belief in MSF' non-existence.

(a) is contradicted by the second clause: I do not believe MSF exists. (b) is internally contradictory. (c) depends on behaviour, and if the behaviour of aMSFists is like that of atheists, then aMSFists actually work quite hard to justify their position.

In other words, whatever you replace 'god' with, you end up with a nonsense statement. It is inherently self-contradictory.

Furthermore, to say "we don't belief in a god" entails a whole set of other beliefs. That's because "we don't belief in a god" is not logically equivalent to "we don't belief anything about god."  In addition, it generates other, secondary beliefs. For example, that religion is a natural phenomenon. That morality is non-absolute. And so on.

In other words, without having to move beyond atheism into humanism or naturalism, one belief becomes a whole set of beliefs - in other words, a belief system.

Now, I like atheists.  Some of my best friends are atheists.  :-)

But I imagine that atheists, of all people, would not want to seek refuge in the irrational and illogical.

BTW: The image above is a section of Sanskrit text taken from the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rigveda (RV10.129) which is one of the earliest examples of logic, and of ontological discussion of formal non-existence.