On the weakening of theology amongst friend and foe

By , 2 April 2010 7:31 pm

As often the case what I’m stimulated to write on today comes from a couple of things coming together.

The first is some interesting research in the States from the Barna Group on public perceptions of Easter. Their conclusions include this. “The results indicated that most Americans consider Easter to be a religious holiday, but fewer identify the resurrection of Jesus as the underlying meaning.” Actually, I worry about the definition of Easter being about the resurrection; I always thought it was the cross and resurrection. But it fits with my own perception that in many churches the underlying framework of theology is slowly weakening. We worship and we celebrate and we rejoice but please don’t ask us why. I’m afraid I am irresistibly and troublingly reminded of 9/11 when for a long time the Twin Towers apparently resisted the effects of flame and blast before their heat-weakened steel framework suddenly and unexpectedly gave way.

The second was that I have bought the latest Philip Pullman book: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. This is his reworking (I think a stronger word than ‘reworking’ is needed) of the Gospel accounts in a somewhat bizarre fashion. Mary has two children Jesus and Christ. Jesus is good (in a rather weak and wishy-washy liberal late-20th century Anglican fashion) whereas Christ increasingly comes to represent the worst aspects of formal religion. Jesus becomes an atheist and dies on the cross whereupon Christ effectively forms the church. Needless to say the supernatural is absent.

The reason for getting it was that there had been some discussion with a publisher about whether to write a rebuttal. The moment I saw the book on the shelf I realised that we didn’t really need to write a response. Why? It was already reduced to half price. Anyway it is fundamentally a revisiting of the oft repeated, old old lie of the noble peasant preacher Jesus full of homilies and non-judgemental good sense who is made divine only by the early church, in particular Paul. It’s not actually a very good book in any sense and I really wouldn’t advise you to buy it because it’ll probably turn up in a second-hand bookshop very quickly and if whoever read it had grubby fingers I bet you won’t find the mark of their prints much beyond page thirty.

Now what is relevant here is that Pullman has incorporated elements of the Gospel accounts but he too is theologically light. Somehow the entire history of Judaism, the sacrificial system of the temple, the establishment of Passover, the priestly castes, the great division between Jew and Gentile and a hundred other things are all mysteriously missing.

So I suppose I am vaguely comforted that if the church is undergoing theological amnesia so are our enemies. Just as well really….

Anyway have a blessed and theological Easter.

6 Responses to “On the weakening of theology amongst friend and foe”

  1. Boaz says:

    “Actually, I worry about the definition of Easter being about the resurrection; I always thought it was the cross and resurrection.”

    I thought we had Good Friday to celebrate, or remember, the Crucifixion, and Easter was to celebrate the Resurrection. In any event, since the Resurrection has happened, it is always appropriate to sing, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”

    On a brighter note, there may be a resurgence of theology outside of the large denominations (is it appropriate to call them Big Religion?) at least here in the U.S.A. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2010/0327/Christian-faith-Calvinism-is-back

    But it all comes back to this:
    He who was without sin was made sin for us. He suffered the wrath and punishment that was ours, and because that punishment was fully given out, we may enjoy fellowship with God.

    We praise you, Lord, for doing what we are unable to do: bring us to you while still being just. We praise you, Lord, for raising our Lord from the dead.

  2. ChrisW says:

    Is it possible that in the US Easter is considered to be the Saturday-Sunday alone? In the UK it is normally held to be a much broader period of time: at least Good Friday to the Sunday or even the Monday.

  3. Bill D. says:

    Here in this part of the USA (the Rocky Mountains), a good number of the churches near where I live hold services on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Some of the larger ones have multiple services on Easter weekend. The one I attend has seven services, counting Good Friday, and 3 each on Saturday and Sunday to accommodate the high attendance. I’m sure it varies widely throughout the country.

    The Resurrection story is clearly the scriptural exclamation point, in fact the hinge on which the validity of our faith swings.

    Blessings to all there in Wales and elsewhere in the UK on this day of days!

    Bill D.

  4. Boaz says:

    “Is it possible that in the US Easter is considered to be the Saturday-Sunday alone?”

    For what it’s worth, I’ve always seen (and been shown in the church) a distinction between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. So, yes it is, at least in my experience. Perhaps it’s just the tradition I grew up with, but I’ve seen the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday (inclusive) be called Holy Week, with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. (I’ve not seen any special name for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, or the day after Easter.)

    So given that you meant the focus on the entire week being the resurrection without the cross, I would wholeheartedly agree with you.

    Without the resurrection, the cross is meaningless. Without the cross, the resurrection is impossible.

  5. Matthew says:

    Growing up, schools always seemed to let out on Good Friday, though more recently there’s been a sway to not recognizing Good Friday amongst some of the larger schools (and more diverse student-body). Colleges let off for “Spring break”, but this doesn’t always coincide with the Easter weekend. And then from a business perspective, all the while I’ve worked for the company, we’ve never been let off for Good Friday.

  6. K says:

    Sounds like he suffered from the same problems he did in attacking Lewis in THese Dark Materials. Pullman never stops to think that he’s far more ideological than the writers he attacks. He sees Lewis as a bastion of theological conservatism, when in actuality Lewis probably moderated American evangelicalism, rather than radicalizing it.
    It also sounds like he’s shamelessly ripping off the much better agnostic work, THe Gospel According to Jesus Christ, by Saramago.
    Hope you are well, Chris.

    John

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