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).

Monday, 29 April 2013

Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Church Leaders

Just got this off facebook. Brilliant!

Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained

10. A man’s place is in the army.
9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.
8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.
7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.
6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.
5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.
4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.
3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.
2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, and maybe even lead the singing on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.
1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Unbelievable? The Conference 2013 - Jesus: liar, lunatic, legend... or Lord?

Sat 25 May, 9.30am - 5.30pm, The Brewery, Chiswell Street, London, EC1Y 4SD
Now in its third year, Unbelievable? The Conference is the leading UK event for apologetics and evangelism. Ordinary Chistians (yes you!) will learn how to share their faith effectively. We'll also be marking 50 years of CS Lewis' remarkable legacy as well as how to engage with today's ethical and scientific issues in a variety of seminars featuring expert speakers.

Speakers: Alister McGrath, Amy Orr Ewing, Peter S Williams, Fuz Rana, Dr Trevor Stammers, Kurt Jaros
Every booking of 2 or more tickets will receive a free copy of Unbelievable? The Conference 2012 triple DVD worth £20.
Book in at http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable2013

Flames of Love

I have just finished reading Flames of Love: Hell and Universal Salvation (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2012) by Heath Bradley, a United Methodist elder in Arkansas.

It is a very well-written defence of Christian universalism with the middle-level reader in mind. Bradley engages a set of common objections to universalism and uses them as a means of exploring what universalism does (and does not) entail, of showing why it does not fall foul of the objections, and of arguing that it actually has the advantage over the more mainstream views of hell.

After a helpful introduction in which Bradley sets out the reasons why we need to revisit the question of hell (namely, that the mainstream ideas in the tradition are deeply problematic for a whole host of reasons) he considers are the following objections to universalism:

1. Universalists don't believe in hell
2. Universalists don't believe the Bible
3. Universalists deny human freedom
4. Universalists think all religions are equally true
5. Universalism undermines evangelism
6. Universalism undermines holy living

With a gracious manner, an engaging writing style, and clear thinking he makes a good case for his conclusions.

I especially appreciated his generous and sympathetic treatment of religious pluralism (a view that he argues is deeply mistaken). I would have been more inclined to blast it but I felt corrected by Bradley's gentler, though uncompromising, engagement with it.

I also really breathed a sigh of relief at his recognition of just how limited and hemmed in our freedom really is. It seems to me that theologians often seem to work with some idealized notion of human freedom that does not take seriously enough the experienced reality of our freedom and its limits. (Echoes of Marilyn Adams on this same issue.)

I did not agree with everything in the book. For instance, I do not think that Bradley is correct to claim that universalism must be inclusivist rather than exclusivist. In part his conclusion on this matter is based on too narrow an understanding of what exclusivism is. To my mind exclusivism is simply the view that one must explicitly place one's faith in Christ to be saved. That view is compatible with universalism. But Bradley understands exclusivism to also include the claim that one must place one's faith in Christ before death in order to be saved. Obviously that view does exclude universalism. But I see no reason why an exclusivist HAS to add the "before death" qualification (even if, in practice, most do).

This is not to say that I am an exclusivist — in fact, I am very sympathetic to inclusivism (though open to the possibility of exclsivism) — merely that I think one could be an exclusivist and a universalist.

But that was a minor issue.

In conclusion: a clear, engagingly written, well argued, heart warming, and pretty convincing defence of Christian universalism. Recommended.

Friday, 19 April 2013

The Poetry of Pain: A Study Day in Lamentations (in London with Robin Parry)

So I will be doing a day of seminars on the book of Lamentations on May 13 at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. If that is of interest to you please come along. You can book here.

The day is entitled "The Poetry of Pain: A Study Day in Lamentations."

Here is their website blurb for it:

Western cultures are notoriously averse to pain and tragedy. We're no longer shy in talking about sex, but seem lost for words when it comes to grief and death. In churches too, Christians are more comfortable singing in a major key of joyful praise, but less familiar with the minor keys of mournful despair.

The biblical book of Lamentations is thus a gift to us - providing a voice for expressing our own pain and grief, and allowing us to connect with the sufferings of others in the world. But how does a collection of poems written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century BC function as Scripture today? How does God continue to address his people, Jew and Gentile alike, through this part of his word? How should we understand the poems on their own terms, and what difference, if any, does the coming of Christ make in how we appropriate them for today?

Combining teaching sessions with opportunities for discussion, this day workshop will be suitable for all those who would value an opportunity to dig deeper into Lamentations, exploring how Scripture nurtures and sustains Christian identity and discipleship in today's world.

The day will be led by Robin Parry. Formerly a Sixth Form College teacher for eleven years, Robin has worked in publishing since 2001 (for Paternoster and, since 2010, for Wipf & Stock, a US-based theological publisher). He has written and edited several books, including a commentary on Lamentations in the 'Two Horizons' series, published by Eerdmans. He is married to Carol, is the father of two daughters, and the owner of a three-legged cat called Monty. In some of his spare time, Robin blogs at 'Theological Scribbles'.

Think I might go along to that.

Monday, 15 April 2013

McEucharist: I blame Zwingli

I have been hanging around evangelical free churches since 1984 and it seems to me that there is something of a problem with the way in which Holy Communion is practiced.

Problem 1: Who-carist?
The first problem is that the Eucharist can be an infrequent visitor to free church gatherings — more who-carist? than Eucharist. The weeks and months (and sometimes the years!) roll by and not a scrap of bread or a drop of wine is seen.

Problem 2: McEucharist
The second problem is that when the Eucharist is celebrated it is often shoe-horned into the little space between the "worship" (i.e., the singing) and the sermon in the spiritual equivalent of fast food for Christians on the go.

How is it that the meal that was given by Jesus to the church and which has been at the centre of Christian worship down the centuries has been relegated to a sideshow by so many contemporary evangelical churches?

A simplistic answer with more than a grain of truth:
I blame Zwingli. The Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli, in his zeal to reject anything that looked like transubstantiation and that smacked of medieval hocus pocus (from hoc est corpus, latin for "this is my body"), reduced Communion to a mere symbol. For Zwingli Holy Communion is a memorial meal to celebrate Christ's once-for-all victory at Calvary. But Christ is NOT present in the Eucharist — Christ is in heaven.

Zwingli was right about some things and wrong about others.

He was right that Christ's death was once for all and that communion celebrates it. He was right that Christ is in heaven. He was right that transubstantiation (as a metaphysical account of real presence) has its problems.

BUT he was wrong to think that transubstantiation is incompatible with the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ (as were all the Reformers) and he was wrong to reject the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. You can have real presence without transubstantiation (as is clear from looking at Orthodoxy, at Luther, and at Calvin).

The reason why it matters is that Zwingli's theology unintentionally undermines the significance of the Eucharist. If the physical elements do not mediate Christ's presence (by the Spirit) — and Zwingli did not think that they could — but merely help us to think about Jesus then Eucharist ceases to be essential. There are plenty of ways that we can be reminded to think about Jesus' once-for-all death. We can, for instance, sing songs about it.

For many evangelicals Bread and wine are simply a slightly odd prompt for reflection. And they break the flow of "the worship" (i.e., the flow from one song to another song, like Tarzan swinging from vine to vine). And so it is that we take communion less and less often and when we do it we do it quickly so we can move on to more important things. (Of course, we don't say that but if we really valued the Lord's Supper would we celebrate it the way that we do?)

Learning to eat well:
But Zwingli was wrong.

Holy Communion is a sacrament: it mediates grace; it mediates the presence and life of Jesus. If we are to recover the significance of communion as evangelicals we need to rethink out theology.

I recommend Calvin as a great place to start.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The gift of heresy

"Really, Watson, you excel yourself," said Holmes, pushing back his chair and lighting a cigarette. "I am bound to say that in all the accounts which you have been so good as to give of my own small achievements you have habitually underrated your own abilities. It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it. I confess, my dear fellow, that I am very much in your debt."
Sherlock Holmes to Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles

Christian theology is not a completed project but an ongoing journey. Along that journey many of us take wrong turns and head up blind alleys. Sometimes those alleys are a harmless waste of time, other times they are more serious, leading to what the church comes to consider heresy.

But we need to be clear of a few things about heresy:

1. Those who embrace what come to be seen as heretical opinions are usually sincere people in pursuit of the truth of God in Christ. That are not trying to "distort the truth" or deceive people. The church may come to discern serious problems in the positions espoused but that should not be taken to mean that those who embrace heretical positions do so as a result of a desire to lead people astray. Even a smidgen of knowledge about Apollinarius, for instance, would reveal that he went astray in his very attempt to defend Nicene orthodoxy and oppose Arius.

2. The pursuit of truth will often lead to dead ends and sometimes those ends are judged heretical but that does not mean that the routes were not worth exploring nor that they are obviously "dumb." Heretical views always spring from some genuine insights into God and usually have some sensible logic underpinning them.

3. Even in matters heretical some heresy is worse than other heresy. For instance, Docetism (which denies the humanity of Jesus) and Arianism (which denies the divinity of Jesus) are worse than Nestorianism (which affirms both but, in spite of Nestorius' best intentions, failed to do justice to the unity of Christ).

4. Indeed, the heretics offer a gift to the church for it is the very exploration of certain theological dead-end routes that enables the church to clarify its own thinking on the matters concerned. To corrupt Holmes, heresy may not possess "genius" but it can stimulate "genius" in others. Without various Christological heresies the church would not have clarified some central matters about the person of Christ and of the Trinity, for instance.

5. Holding heretical opinions does not make one a heretic. If that were the case LOADS of Christians would be heretics. I know plenty of Christians (including Christian leaders) who are holding heretical views without realizing it. To be a heretic one must know that the opinion runs counter to the mind of the church and still hold on to it in spite of that.

So I am glad for the presence of those who come to be designated heretics in so far as their provocations help the church to clarify its own mind. They were, for the most part, sincere people with some sensible ideas that deserved exploring.

I am less pleased when some Christians return to heretical opinions after their problems have been exposed and the church has rejected them. That, to quote Proverbs, is like a dog returning to its vomit.