About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Word made flash; the Word made kitsch; the Word made bland

Maybe I am a reactionary but I do get a bit fed up with some attempts to make Christianity flash (by which I mean cool and "relevant"). Of course, Christianity always has been and always will be contextualized; it is always encultured and always needs recontextualizing. So I am all in favor of that. But there are ways of allowing the divine Word to engage human culture and there are ways of obscuring the Word in our very attempts to make it known.

The Word made flash is sometimes simply kitsch. Take a look at the world of Christian gifts—T shirts, dolls, posters, etc.—and you'll see what I mean. Evangelicals are sinners here with our utter trivialization of the divine in our material culture but so too are Catholics (who can take kitsch to new heights). I remember seeing one T-shirt with a cartoon cute brain wearing glasses in a frying pan. It looked hot and its tongue was hanging out. Underneath were the words "This is your brain in hell." Really? Have we made Jesus' eschatological warnings of judgment "relevant" to teenagers in this way? Will they see the T-shirt and fall on their knees in repentance?

I recall a poster set out in Coke style with the words, "Jesus Christ—he's the real thing" . . . There's something better than Coke! No way! Please, tell me all about it. Mercy! What must I do to be saved?

There is a church I know that engages the local community with breathtakingly corny posters that make your heart weep with their utter stupidity. Not relevant! Stupid! Crass! Trivial!

Another way of making Christianity "relevant" is to reduce the tensions between the gospel and contemporary culture so that the gospel is seen to say the same thing as everyone else. I recall reading one book on film and theology which, if I may slightly caricature its argument, proceeded as follows:

1. Theology has much to learn from film.

2. Consider Film-X. Look—it communicates some ideas that are different from what Christians have traditionally said.

3. So theologians need to change what they have traditionally said and accommodate their theology to this (revelatory?) film.

Really? But surely the film might . . . be wrong.

And, of course, once we explain to the world around us that we are not so weird—that we really believe and behave pretty much the same as them—then they will understand that they are fine to stay as they are. There is no call to conversion here; simply a call to think and speak nicely about Christians. They ain't so bad; They're just like us really. The problem is that we often are. This is the Word made bland. Why would anyone want to hang out with people as bland as that? The gospel call is a call to the kingdom of God—a call to embody the story of the crucified and risen Lord. We are supposed to be different (though note that "different" does not mean "weird").

Christians are calling on each other to change all sorts of parts of their theology and practice in the name of cultural relevance. Now, I am open to such calls because Christian theology and practice are human affairs and are always open to judgment. But the judge is God and God's gospel and not any human culture, past or present. The gospel must be a challenge to cultures—all cultures—and not submit itself to cultures for judgment. It is not simply "trendy liberals" who fall foul of seeking to submit the divine Word to culture; some of the greatest offenders are conservative traditionalists of all stripes who oh so easily imagine that their culture best embodies the Word. For an example of this consider this picture—"One Nation under God" by Jon McNaughton. This is a gnat's whisker from idolatry.

I am not calling for all things traditional—not at all. Nor am I suggesting that the fine line between enculturation and compromise is easy to navigate. What I am saying is that we need to be ever-vigilant and ever-open to the judgment of the divine Word. We need to realize that to be relevant is not to be flash or kitsch or bland—it is to embody the story of Christ in our communities. It is to embody a divine challenge to culture and to be a vehicle through which the breath-taking and awesome God encounters people.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Jerry Walls on two views of God and damnation

An excerpt from Jerry Walls' "Hellbound?" interview from Kevin Miller on Vimeo.

Here is a good comment from Jerry Walls onGod and damnation.

It is from an interview he did for the Hellbound movie (though not one included in the film)

Hellbound movie on itunes movie trailers

The latest trailer for the Hellbound movie has been posted on the itunes trailer page. You can view it here.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Robin interviewed on "Beyond the Box"

I was recently interviewed on "Beyond the Box" on the issue of Christian universalism. The skype link is a bit iffy in places but you can get the hang of most of the stuff in the discussion. Here is a link.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Maybe we should refer to God as "Jehovah"

I have always been somewhat amused when Jehovah's Witnesses refer to God as Jehovah. As any student of biblical studies will tell you, "Jehovah" was never a name that was used to refer to God — it is not, in spite of what JWs think, God's name.

The name of God is the tetragramaton — YHWH. This was the sacred name revealed to Moses. As time went on Jews expressed their reverence for the name by never speaking it. Various techniques were developed to avoid uttering the name and one of those techniques was that when the name YHWH appeared in the Hebrew Bible the words "Lord" (Adonai) would be said instead. Early written Hebrew employed no vowels but when later Jews developed a system of vowels (written above and below the consonants) the name YHWH was written with the vowels of Adonai inserted into it so as to remind the reader not to speak the divine name but to substitute the word "Adonai". Thus what was written in the texts was YeHoWaH (or JeHoVaH in older style transliteration). But this name was never spoken as a name. God's name is not Jehovah; it is YHWH. (As an aside, in English it is not clear how the vowels of Adonai can be e o and a, but it works in Hebrew. Trust me.)

In recent times enlightened Christians often speak what they imagine the divine name to be (we cannot be 100% sure of the correct consonants, though the first part is almost certainly "Yah"). I have often done the same . . .

. . . yet I have also felt that something significant has been lost of the Jewish reverence for the hallowed name in this common deployment of it.

Recently I read R. Kendall Soulen's book The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity. One of the really good features of that book was his bringing the name YHWH right to the centre of trinitarian theology. But he shows beyond all doubt something that I had not adequately noticed before — Jesus and the NT authors, like all good Jews, avoided speaking the divine name. They employed a range of ways of avoiding doing so and they employed them very regularly.

So if Jesus and the apostles refused to speak the holy name should we Christians feel so unambiguous about it?

Interestingly, almost all English Bible translations do avoid writing YHWH (with vowels). Instead they translate YHWH as "LORD" (and Adonai as "Lord"). This is something that I have always criticized but now I can finally appreciate the wisdom of it.

However, the problem is that one cannot hear or even see much of a difference between LORD and Lord. At least with the Hebrew text one can clearly see the difference between YHWH and Adonai.

So perhaps there is some real merit with making use of the name Jehovah (or Yehovah). One can both see and hear that this alludes to the name of God and is not simply a title like "Lord". Yet, it is also NOT the name. And it is precisely because it is not the name but an indirect gesture at it than one may speak it.

So, after years of looking down my nose at Jehovah's Witnesses in their insistence that God's name is Jehovah I have come to see that while this is not so (the name is not Jehovah) there may be much merit in speaking the name YHWH as Yehovah.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

"God is nothing"; "God does not exist"; and other Christian Claims

Every Tuesday I will be posting on the new "Running Heads" blog.

My latest post is called "God is nothing"; "God does not exist"; and other Christian Claims.

Musings on divine otherness.