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Je suis Charlie - A sermon reflection

Lessons: Exodus 3: 13-15; Psalm 24: Romans 12:14-21; John 10:11-18

"God said to Moses, 'I am who I am ... the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob'" (Ex 3:14-15)

The atrocities being perpetrated by Islamic extremists across the world have shaken our confidence that disputes can be resolved by rational discussion. Conditioned to believe that Australian values of decency and tolerance are universal, we try to explain their actions by blaming religion, social isolation, economic hardship, Western imperialism or mental instability.

But the causes of this murderous evil lie deeper than we think. In our secular society, where belief in God is now treated as a private matter that mustn't intrude into the public arena, we can't understand the dismay of Muslims at the failure of Christians (also heirs of Abraham) to honour God's name (and speak up for Jesus) in every area of life. If we miss the fact that Islam believes that God is the reality of the world, whose will is to be obeyed, then we will be impotent to fully respond to this reign of terror.

We may huff and puff about destroying this 'extremist ideology' (as world leaders promise) and trumpet the right to freedom of expression (as the Je suis Charlie rallies call for). But, if, as a society, we continue to believe that 'God' is not the One with whom we have to reckon in all things, but is merely the projection of our private fears and needs, then we will be blind to the challenges being posed to secular values and Christian faith in Australia (and elsewhere).

Nothing that is said excuses the barbarity of the terrorists! They must be vigorously opposed by the international community! But their fanatical desire to restore the ancient Caliphate (which blossomed from the C6th to C16th) and honour Allah and his prophet Mohammed, can be understood historically. If you believe that Islam is the completion and purification of Judaism and Christianity, then it makes 'sense' to wage war on them.

We need to examine what it means for Muslims, Jews, Christians and secularists to believe in God. The three Abrahamic religions all believe in 'One God' who reveals himself as being unlike any other being. For Jews, the name of God, 'I am who I am,' is so holy that it can scarcely be said. For Christians the holiness of God is embodied in JC, who said 'I am the way, the truth and the life.' For Muslims Allah is the holiest name of all.

For all of them, blasphemy is the greatest of sins! 'You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain' and 'You shall have no other gods but me.'

In the secular West this doesn't make 'sense.' Religions that originate with Abraham are treated with scorn. It is easy to ridicule God/Allah when God is widely thought of, not as the awesome Creator and merciful Redeemer who calls us to newness of life, but as an 'imaginary friend' or a crutch for limping minds and timid wills. When Descartes (C17th French philosopher) said 'I think, therefore I am' he opened the way to think that 'who I am' is not determined by God ('I am who I am') but by what 'I think about God.'

Thus, in a multi-faith society that is proud of being tolerant of diverse beliefs about God, we are mystified and horrified by laws in some Islamic nations that set the death penalty for blasphemy against Allah and Mohammed.

The usual Western reaction against blasphemy laws and Jihadi violence is to argue for laws to uphold the right to 'freedom of expression' no matter how offensive. The catchcry 'Je suis Charlie' ('I am Charlie'), that followed the brutal slaying of journalists at Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris, is typical.

This is a necessary but inadequate response to such barbaric actions. The freedom to express opinions that are unpopular or thought to be wrong without fear of retribution is a vital part of a vibrant, open community.

But we shouldn't be too smug! Western societies, too, pass laws and create conditions that intimidate free speech. No-one is free to 'blaspheme' against 'sacred values' that pander to our self-indulgent life-styles or self-righteous causes. If you do, you will be called an 'extremist.' The hypocrisy of shouting 'I am Charlie' to defend the right to mock Islam (and other monotheistic faiths) shouldn't be missed. Those who offend believers in One God don't usually extend the same right to them!

It's not that the monotheistic faiths are united on God and faith. Far from it! But it would be a huge mistake if we were to treat the evil perpetrated by ISIS, Boko Haram et al as irrational, mentally unstable, the result of social isolation or totally foreign to Islam. There may be elements of delusion. Not all terrorists are committed Muslims. Many Muslims are appalled.

But the whole-hearted commitment to honour Allah and Mohammed and shape the whole of life by the teachings of the Qur'an is shared by all devout Muslims. All are aghast at the flippant attitude to blasphemy by citizens and the Church in Western nations. On TV last night a Muslim leader said that, unlike Christians and Jews, Muslims would not give-in to godless secularism.

Until Western societies and churches understand the absolute priority of God's will for Islamic faith and practice, we won't get to the heart of the problem that has surfaced in these barbaric attacks. Condemning them unequivocally, they should also act as a wake-up call.

A secular society that thinks it can mock the Christian faith (which has profoundly shaped public life and institutions), and treats religions as diverse forms of 'individual faith,' must ask whether, like Charlie Hebdo, freedom to mock God is a sufficient basis for a flourishing society that will last?

A Christian Church that has let its faith and life be marginalised, privatized and trivialised, must ask whether it still believes that 'the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof' (Ps 24:1). Do we have a vision of the KG that has transformed the world through Christ's crucified-and-risen love and brought hope by judging-in-mercy our self-indulgent and self-righteous behaviour ? Are we so convinced that Js is 'the way, the truth and the life' (Jn 14:6) that we are prepared to promote a 'culture of life' (JPII) and oppose shallow values that now shape public life and mock God's good purposes for all? ...

Perhaps these atrocities are being used by God to shake the Western Church out of our lethargy? In the Bible, terrible events, in which God's goodness and love are violated, are sometimes the means by which the faithful have their eyes opened to reality, their wills strengthened to face conflict, and their hearts warmed to those whose lives have been shattered.

We are being prodded to ask different questions about the Church's future! It's not about how we can survive in a society that treats Christianity as a private religion to be kept out of public life, but how we can express the Christian vision of a world where God is honoured and human dignity upheld.

Although Islam and Christianity have fought terrible battles, we share a deep sense of dismay at how secular societies 'devalue' God's holy will and the hope that God will be honoured by all in the whole of life.

At the same time, the differences between us are great! Briefly:

  • Blasphemy is condemned in the OT and 'taking the name of God in vain' is very serious in the NT. But the One accused of blasphemy against God's Holy Law actually embodies God's mercy. 'Father forgive them' (Lk 23:34); 'Love your enemies' (Mt 5:43-48); 'Do not repay evil for evil but overcome evil with good; Don't avenge yourselves but leave judgment to God (Rom 12:14ff).
  • In Christianity, the Kingdom of God isn't identical with any earthly kingdom. It is present in, and challenges false values of, the world, but its fulfilment lies in a future that God will bring. The relation between Church and State, which involves separate functions and mutual criticism, is different from the theocratic State in Islam where religion and politics are completely one and obedience to Allah is to be enforced.
  • By contrast, Js embodies the KG and calls the Church to bear witness to God's love before the political power-brokers of the day. They are speak the truth, resist evil, pray for their enemies, and look forward to the new heaven and new earth. They are not called to bring-in the KG by their actions.
  • Ultimately, the crucifixion of Js separates the two visions! In Islam it is blasphemous to believe that a holy prophet, or God himself, should be humiliated. Christ's power is displayed in triumphant suffering love. In him there is no ground for Holy Jihad to kill the infidel; simply a call to costly love. The political zealot Judas betrayed Js; Peter was told to put away his sword!
  • It follows that Christian teaching about sin and redemption recognises that the pursuit of holiness, like unholiness, can stand in the way of honouring God. Js accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy because they refused to welcome sinners as God does. And he poked fun at religious pretension. It helps to remember that we are flawed creatures called to believe in God and not to take ourselves too seriously.

Thank God for the humour of Dave Allen, Monty Python, Father Ted, The Vicar of Dibley etc who send-up our pious short-comings? As we laugh at ourselves, we should remember that there is a chasm between the kind of humour which is soul-searching and affectionate and satire that is vicious, demeaning and hedonistic!

Thankfully, there is a vision of reality not found in the pursuit of Holy Jihad (as in extreme forms of Islam) or in the right to freedom of expression (as in the extreme secularism of Charlie Hebdo). This vision might be glimpsed if we were to draw a cartoon which removed the self-righteous 'I' from 'Je Suis Charlie' so that it read 'Jesus, Charlie.' The vision of a truly human life willed by God is to be found in the One who laid down his life for all!

Rev Dr Max Champion is a member of the ACC National Council

Film Ministry for a Brave New World

In past end of year editions of ACCatalyst I have outlined some possible films for watching or use during the Christmas and New Year periods. I decided to give a brief outline of the some of the thoughts behind this focus again to encourage some wider interaction with this medium.
Of course, the Christian church has long used different media other than the printed word to tell its story, notably the simple art of story-telling, a very effective and often visual presentation helpful for those who were illiterate.
Plays based on religion, usually arising from the Catholic mass, including the mystery plays and the Passion plays developed in medieval times, with the Oberammergau Passion Play first performed in1634 and the next to be undertaken in 2020.
It took a while before new technologies developed to enhance a ‘technological' experience of the visual with the ‘magic lantern projection' (like an early form of OHP or overhead projector for those under 30 years), emerging in the 17th century and continuing until the development of photography in the 19th century and then the relatively quick move to early forms of motion or moving pictures.
The 20th Century film witnessed the rapid expansion of the motion picture industry and Christians were vitally involved in the first twenty-five years, including for the ground-breaking Australian work within the Salvation Army, with Herbert Booth (son of the movement's founder), and Joseph Perry using film for the Army's mission. The first major work produced in Australia was a combined film, lecture and slide show about Christian martyrs and heroes of the faith Soldiers of the Cross (1900). In one sense this presentation was similar to what many people do with PowerPoint or similar computer-based programmes today. 
The first period of film was termed the ‘silent era'. There were thousands of productions and many notable silent films had religion as a central element, though interestingly, this was also the time when questions arose about the church's involvement, especially as secular films began to show some of the more immoral aspects of life. For many in the church, film was beginning to be seen as the devil's work, and religious groups retreated for a period.
Once commercial film became more cost effective in the 1950s and especially the 1960s, Christian organisations explored again the medium, realising it could be very effective to promote their missionary endeavours or use for evangelism. One Australian example of evangelistic follow-up was Shadow of the Boomerang (1960), which was a follow-up film to the influential 1959 Billy Graham Crusade in Australia.


Over the last 50 years, Christian film has continued to develop, though the focus initially was on historical and biographical features, especially about Christian missionaries, or for example well-known church founders like Times Squares Church founder David Wilkerson, played by Pat Boone in The Cross and the Switchblade (1970).
During the 20th Century, only a small number of Christian companies produced major films due to cost and distribution difficulties, but the 21st Century has witnessed a full circle of change, with again individual churches and ministers producing and distributing films, because simply the technology is there to enable cheaper, and more quality productions and every church is now a possible screening venue.
An Australian group Heritage HM was founded ten years ago to help produce and distribute inspiring films. I have reviewed many of these in ACCatalyst, and believe screening a film is a simple and effective evangelistic outreach in this visual age. Many churches have undertaken such events, and have reached people who would never come to a church service. Recently the DVD of the much publicised 2014 film 'Son of God' has become available, and it is just one movie from the wide range of helpful resources to encourage people in this ministry; see the Heritage HM website: Movies Change People 

Occasionally during my ACC visitations, I have presented a seminar that outlines more about these ideas and also goes over the history and development of Christian involvement in film.
I would be pleased to interact with people who are keen to explore this issue more.
Peter Bentley
(ACC National Director)

 

The Road Trip that Changed the World

A Review of THE ROAD TRIP THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Mark Sayers (2012, Moody Press)

I purchased and read this book at the request of a 90-year old friend who was reading it and wanted my opinion. I found it fascinating and scary at the same time. Sayers, clearly a cultural commentator with an almost unnerving perception of what is going on in our world gives us some amazing insights into what has been happening over the last 50 or so years. He also discusses reasons why both the culture and the church are struggling at this time. As John Dickson, Director of the Centre for Public Christianity, has commented, this book is "a mesmerizing blend of anecdote and literature, pop sensitivity and cultural analysis, earthiness and biblical reflection".

The writer takes as his focus a novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac published in 1957. He claims to have written the book in three weeks. Kerouac's book described by Sayers as "part confessional, part travelogue and part novel" apparently describes a road trip taken by a group of males in the USA between 1947 and 1951. These men who criss-crossed America a number of times were seeking unfettered pleasure and total freedom from any kind of commitment. Speed, sex and drugs were all on the agenda. As the monument to Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts where he was born proclaims, "The Road is Life".

Kerouac saw himself as seeking "a return to a deeper understanding of life in contrast to the shallowness of contemporary living". His impact, however, according to Sayers, has been quite the opposite. Sayers traces our current culture of individualism, obsession with freedom and commitment phobia to the influence of Kerouac and others like him. In this analysis, the road is a metaphor for the kind of life where both the freedom to please oneself and a lack of commitment to anyone or anything seem to be high priorities for the current crop of young adults. According to Sayers, a whole generation was encouraged "to chase experience and self-absorption - in other words, they were clearly the "ME generation" eschewing the concept of covenant or commitment as too restricting.

As one young person who had actually read Kerouac's book pointed out to me, most people in her generation would not have read it. It seems, however, the ethos has continued to permeate both the culture and the church for several generations. Full commitment to one another is resisted in personal relationships, as well as in the church, and even in terms of commitment to Christ. It is interesting to note that at the end of his life, Kerouac claims to see the Cross " as clear as anything I ever saw in my life". It is not clear whether he cried out to Christ like the thief on the cross.

Sayers' cultural commentary is beautifully written. It includes a thoughtful exposition of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden including what he sees as the devastating effects of Adam's passivity. He also analyses God's call to Abraham, suggesting that he was the first countercultural rebel. Unlike Kerouac, Abraham's life "offers us a road of faith, in contrast to our culture's road of self". He goes on to argue that Abraham when he parts ways with Lot is
"again asked to break with his culture, with the world, to walk to a different beat, to obey a set of rules that seemingly makes no sense. He is being asked again to walk the path of faith."

I also enjoyed the story of Takashi Nagai near the end of the book. Nagai was a Japanese scientist, a committed Christian who experienced the bombing of Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War. Nagai showed himself a true saint engaging in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings as he rescued bedridden patients from the inferno that was the local hospital.

The book then ends with Sayers preaching in a German Lutheran church in Manhattan where he discerns an openness and receptivity to the Word and "choices for community over individualism, for covenant over consumerism, for Christ over self". There is hope!

Emeritus Professor Pat Noller (Convenor of the ACC Board of Communication)
(Published in ACCatalyst December 2014)

 

 

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings: A comment’ review’

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014, M)
Firstly I want to note this is not a traditional ‘old-style' biblical epic and thus those people seeking a message of traditional biblical encouragement and endorsement will be disappointed. It is a traditional Hollywood movie, and of course the themes are ones that resonate with Hollywood dramas are front and centre:
Hero starts well and has significant influence; has problems and falls from great height; has time away in the wilderness; comes back renewed and finds true purpose and meaning in achieving tasks set out at the beginning; settles down at end.
Leading actors Christian Bale (Moses) and Joel Edgerton (Ramses) have some excellent scenes and Bale grows into the Moses character, though at times he does give the impression he is like a bearded Old Testament version of John McClane from the Die Hard series. Some other acting parts are a bit hammy and some lines are a little too 21st century for the context. Of course, hammy acting in epic biblical based films has an honourable cinematic tradition, but there is a very odd portrayal by Aaron Paul as Joshua. Paul is well-known for his role in Breaking Bad, and in this role he looks like he tapping into the role of a wide-eyed blue crystal druggie.
Overall the film needs some editing. You do not want people screaming out ‘Let my people go (out of this cinema)'. While the overall editing is good, one could easily remove 25-30 minutes, which at least which would make it more manageable and more seamless in the story. It also oddly drags a little once the Red Sea scene is concluded, with these parts almost like an appendix.
A star in the movie is the computer generated imagery which goes well with the 3D base, though perhaps ironically, or deliberately, ‘The parting of the red sea' was a little underwhelming, but then it is probably difficult to do something without appearing to be a homage to The Ten Commandments (1956), though I suspect the main reason for this film's ‘parting of the Red Sea' is the implicit nature based interpretation for most of the miracles.
From church arenas, I imagine there will be a good bit of criticism and focus on the areas where it departs from the biblical message. One could list many, though the use of the giant crocodiles to turn the river into blood is an intriguing secular approach and reminded me more of the black comedy of Lake Placid (1999).
The choice of a child to ‘play out' the voice of God - when God is speaking direct to Moses, will also ensure endless controversy and question about what he was attempting to do? Scott told The Hollywood Reporter magazine that "Sacred texts give no specific depiction of God, so for centuries artists and filmmakers have had to choose their own visual depiction," Scott tells THR. "Malak exudes innocence and purity, and those two qualities are extremely powerful." (November 21, 2014)
I believe overall people need to be realistic. The director Ridley Scott did not set out to make a film to capture a Christian audience. This is clear from the start as he uses the term B.C.E. for the period setting, firmly establishing it in a secular context. God is very present in the film, but God is perhaps primarily the God of certain people's imagination, rather than the Great I Am.

I have often commented on how films provide opportunities to discuss faith, and this is one that certainly provides an opportunity to start a conversation, that could become a very biblical one.

Peter Bentley is the ACC National Director

Freedom - a new experience of Amazing Grace

Freedom (2014 M) was originally to be known as 'Carry Me Home', a title resonating with the spiritual songs in the film. It is a film intimately related to the tradition of the 2007 film Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace was one of the first films reviewed in ACCatalyst when we started in 2007 and the poster graced our second cover. 

Freedom stands more firmly in the Christian film tradition, especially as it was filmed in the USA (Connecticut) and is clearly aimed at a certain market.
Musical theatre actor and Australian actor and presenter Peter Cousens is the director - his first film, clearly a labour of love, and a worthy effort. He would be well-known to Australian audiences from many musicals and television shows and he uses his musical theatre background in a variety of ways in the film, overseeing the many well-known spiritual songs and laterally connecting a musical acting troupe and the anti-slavery movement.

Freedom has two intertwined stories, connected by a bible and slavery. Virginian Slave, Samuel Woodward is played by US actor Cuba Gooding Jr.

Samuel leads his family to escape using the Underground Railroad - a network of anti-slavery workers - many Christians, especially Quakers, who provided safe passage for slaves to the north and to Canada.
The other story develops the Amazing Grace theme through John Newton as the slave trader, and connects with the second period as among his cargo of slaves on one trip was Samuel's great grandfather. As readers and singers will know John Newtown's life was eventually changed and this Amazing Grace is experienced by others in the film too.
The film itself is partly a musical as there are times when the actors break into song, but it is mainly a drama and is mostly well acted and made, though could have been helped by a tighter script, and some further editing and also deletion of some visual effects in favour of the simple storyline. The songs are memorable and quite moving. I personally found the star of the movie to be the singer Jubilant Sykes, who plays the slave translator Ozias. After taking up the film's kind offer of downloading four songs, I played City Called Heaven on a continuous loop while I was thinking about and writing my review.
Go and see this film, or buy the DVD when it comes out and invite some friends to view and discuss. It has a warm heart and addresses some serious issues and is part of the increasing world-wide campaign to recognise and address the continuing slavery scandal that belies many increasing wealthy countries.

Peter Bentley

 

 

Son of God - new film released

Son of God (2014, M) - Film released 22 May 2014 in Australia
Producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett brought the epic miniseries The Bible to life last year and created a significant amount of media and general public interest in the bible. I have no doubt that many readers viewed all of the ten episodes. Following on from the miniseries is a feature film about the life of Jesus which uses material from the mini-series as well as some scenes not featured. While the publicity refers to this as the first film about the entire life of Jesus since The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), I think the 1979 Jesus film could reasonably be referenced. Jesus is the 1979 docudrama that is available in many languages and has been widely used as an outreach tool. There are some similarities in the approach and the desire for outreach, though I see the Son of God as being a more visually contemporary film, utilising the digital age's stunning film capabilities.
Mark Burnett was always going to prepare a film focussing on Jesus as the material was there for a separate feature. The film could also be fashioned in a more contemporary film style, and Burnett has pointed to it partly as political thriller, and the elements of intrigue and the politics of the day certainly stand out. It is good background and provides the overall context to enable a secular audience to understand that Jesus will die, and given the level of knowledge today, perhaps to be genuinely surprised that he appears after death - raised!
Originally the film was to be about 3 hours, but the final version is 2 hours and 15 minutes. Many secular critics have commented it is a bit ponderous or laborious, and I can understand that they say it is one for the faithful. I think to capture the full attention of many (and younger) secular people today one would need to edit down to the standard 90 minutes, but personally I found many of the well-known stories moving and well-done. Some were wonderfully illustrative of the amazing answers that Jesus provided, especially to the Pharisees. 

Intriguingly at times I caught myself thinking that the portrayal of Jesus by Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado was so genuine that he captured the spirit of the person, but then (and as he has intimidated) who can really portray Jesus? When I reflected, I realised it was his words that are of course so stunning (and yes they are handled with grace and care) and they are (mostly) the words from the Bible. There is some historical ‘development' but the aim; like in The Bible mini-series is to be faithful to, and affirming of, an orthodox understanding of Jesus Christ.
There are extensive resources to use to promote or study the film. I believe it would be helpful for churches to show the trailer on a Sunday, and also encourage people to see and take people to see ‘at the movies' as this visual picture is meant for the big screen.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: click here
RESOURCES:  Click here

12 Years a Slave - a critique

12 Years A Slave (2013, MA)
It is difficult to pen a critical review of the winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture, but I believe it is necessary to do, as the film's reception has been illustrative of the sometimes uncritical approach to films that focus on important issues. The issue of ‘historical' slavery in the USA is clearly one that people thought worthy to highlight for the issue itself, rather than the quality of the film.
The film tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a New York state born free African-American who is kidnapped and sold into slavery and forced to work in a Louisiana plantation. When freed in 1853 he wrote an account of his time and this memoir was rediscovered in the 1960s.
While there are some reasonable portrayals, the acting is woefully uneven with some parts amateurish and ungainly. The director's seeming attempt to provide an art-house film as well as mainstream picture conflict, causing at times an odd and sometimes jarring collection of music, dramatic scenes and visual camera techniques that I believe detract from the central elements of the story. A warning to potential viewers; there are some concentrated torture and beating scenes, which ironically could have the adverse effect of turning people off from the central story. The film is also at times boringly didactic, and yet there are quite moving parts as well. It is worth noting that the director, British born Steve McQueen did not receive the Oscar for Best Director.
While it is certainly worth considering for the story itself, it continues the history of Oscar winning films which were worth nominating to raise awareness of an issue, and ended up winning the main prize. Mind you, I could be quite mistaken; as most critics have been so effusive in praise one would think they had directed the film. Certainly I was the only one in the audience laughing at some of the pretentiousness and acting - a rarity for me, as I am usually so socially conformist I wouldn't dare to do so during a preview screening.
You will already know from the title that Solomon did not remain a slave, and thank God for that, but I hope that does not soothe our consciences. Let us reflect that slavery still continues today and the sexual slave industry is estimated alone to be about 21 million people.
Peter Bentley

Forgetting How to Blush

Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism's Compromise with the Sexual Revolution 

(Bristol House, Fort Valley GA, 2012)

Karen Booth's book is a fascinating account of a major US denomination's journey in tandem with the sexual revolution within the wider society. The title is excellent and one that we could well use in parts of our society as well. It comes from Jeremiah (in several references but one will suffice: Jeremiah 6: 15 "Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them," says the LORD."
Karen is presently the director of Transforming Congregations, an organisation that aims to "help train and empower local church leaders so they can reach out with faithfulness and compassion to the sexually confused, broken and sinful in their midst." , based on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7: "Equipping the Church to model and minister sanctified sexuality."
Transforming Congregations is now an official Program of Good News, the largest and oldest renewal and reform ministry within the United Methodist Church (UMC).
This is a very helpful and detailed book as church events are related to the influence of societal and educational changes, especially through certain key leaders such as the now quite discredited so called sex ‘researcher' Kinsey. It was also illuminating to learn that for the UMC, one church figure in particular was clearly very influential - Rev. Dr Ted Mcllvenna, who has become a celebrated gay rights figure (though not homosexual himself). I even found an article on him entitled The Porn-Again Minister highlighting his extensive collection of pornography and involvement in liberal sexual education movements. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/4710272/The-porn-again-minister.html).
The book follows the major studies and programmes initiated by the UMC and shows how the liberal direction was started and developed. It provides helpful background to a denomination not dissimilar to the Uniting Church, though more complex due to its size and number of ministers, specialised ministries and range of congregations. There are simply many more people able to be involved in liberal and sexual experimentation and to press for change. It was sobering to read a more detailed analysis of the protests by various liberal groups and their supporters that have been conducted at the four yearly General Methodist Conferences since the early 1970s. UCA members would probably be amazed to learn about these quite strident protests about the UMC position on sexual practice for Christians, and the general lack of respect for the operation and arrangements of the Conference. Despite the protests, the General Conference of the UMC has continually affirmed a normative Christian sexual ethic, though this seems to engage libertarian activism among some UMC ministers and members even more, and as the website Juicy Ecumenism has pointed out, even over the last 12 months there have been a variety of practices and activities within the liberal leaning lobby organisations that need to be highlighted so people can be aware of the extent of the issues involved.(see: http://juicyecumenism.com/2013/10/04/19488/)
There is an important section at the end in the context of ‘remembering how to blush' that discusses the issues associated with the idea of the ‘third way' that I found very insightful. There is promoted in some quarters the idea that a third way will be found that will allow everyone to live in harmony and peace (my paraphrasing). This is a difficult area for all of us in the institutional church. I can appreciate the ideal of this if the person is sincere and genuinely though perhaps naively wanting to maintain denominational unity, but for those of us who have seen this debate over too many years in the wider church, you would understand that the third way often simply means that those who hold traditional and biblical understandings of sexual practice are helped to compromise even further by ‘well-meaning' liberals who are simply manipulating the arrangements to suit their own desired outcomes. I think Rod James's discussion of the two ways in relation to the UCA is illuminative of the issues here: Why' Gay Marriage' is not good for Australia (ACCatalyst September 2013).
Rod outlines that the slant road the UCA is on simply contains an increasing number of bridges to be crossed. The present dominant group wants to imply once you cross this bridge it will be all be okay again, but across the bridge there is another bridge. The narrow way has been far removed and the broad way with many bridges waits.
Other helpful features in the book are a timeline of events and developments; outlines of various organisations and detailed appendices. Though there is a tremendous amount of information, I found this book to be quite a pastoral journey as well, as it interweaves Karen's own story and her pastor's heart, with that of people called Methodist and the call to be holy among the broken and deluded world.
Peter Bentley
National Director of the ACC

Key Writing on the Trinity

Church of the Triune God.

Edited by Michael Jensen, Aquilla Press, Sydney First published 2013 pp.224. ISBN 978-1-922000-85-9. Price $19.95

This book is written by a group of students of Dr Robert Doyle, who taught at the Anglican Moore Theological College in Sydney from 1982-2012. Their essays are intended to celebrate his ministry. It is thus in the form of the traditional Festschrift (book in someone's honour), which focuses on two of the main themes of Dr Doyle's teaching. They are the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity from the Church Fathers Athanasius, Augustine to Karl Barth and T.F. & J.B. Torrance, and the implication of the Trinity for the church's life and mission. Dr Doyle prepared his doctoral thesis under the supervision of Professor J.B. Torrance of Aberdeen, Scotland. Members of the ACC will recall a number of visits to Australia by Professor J.B. Torrance, through his close friendship and fellow teacher at Aberdeen, Professor George Yule. Many will have appreciated the lectures he gave on these visits.
There are 12 contributors and the papers cover the two themes of the Festschrift. One may be tempted to describe the contents as something like the curate's egg, ‘something that is at least partly bad, but has some arguably redeeming features'. This would be somewhat churlish as there is some excellent material in some of these essays. In particular, though lacking reference to Athanasius' major works against Nestorius and the Arians, which furnish the basis of his Trinitarian and Christological teaching, the writer, though concentrating on his Festal Letters, expounds some key aspects of Athanasius' understanding of the Trinity and the relationship of the church and the Trinity. One important conclusion he draws from Athanasius' teaching relates to the contemporary church's preoccupation with ‘ministry structures' in fulfilling its mission.
"So much of church life is niche-oriented rather than common - student ministries, men's ministries, women's ministries, children's, youth, seniors, marrieds ... (Athanasius') observation of the infinitely sufficient grace that we have in common in the life of the church ... suggests (that) by our practices, the grace of salvation is insufficient to meet the diverse needs of our congregation."
This observation follows an analysis of Athanasius' understanding of God's ‘accommodation' of himself to our needs, manifest above all in the incarnation of God in Christ for our salvation.
The essay on T.F. Torrance shows an appreciation of the depths of Torrance's teaching on the Christian doctrine of God as holy Trinity whilst providing some important information about his spiritual formation and motivation as a Christian teacher. It should be noted that Torrance did not teach courses on the Trinity, although the writer observes the oxymoron involved in the situation because Torrance was Professor of Christian Dogmatics at Edinburgh University.,. It was not until he retired that his magnum opus on the Trinity (The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons) was published. This strange state of affairs came about because the laws of the Faculty of Divinity reserved teaching of the Trinity to the faculty of Divinity not Dogmatics! This was and is a prime example of the contradiction to which Karl Rahner draws attention, that in western theology the doctrine of the one God, as distinct from the Trinity, assumed primary importance. The Trinity in the West has become locked in splendid isolation. He observes that Western theologians speak,
"of the necessary metaphysical properties of God, but not of God as experienced in salvation history in his free relations to his creatures. For should one make use of salvation history, it would soon become apparent that one speaks of him whom Scripture and Jesus calls Father, Jesus' Father, who sends the Son and who gives himself to us in the Spirit." (Rahner, K. The Trinity. London: Burns & Oates, 1970, p.18.)
It is precisely this malaise in Western theology, beginning with Augustine that this book, The Church of the Triune God, seeks to address. Though it does not do so directly, the book does it by means of the practical orientation of the theological teaching of the one it seeks to honour. This endeavour, though concentrating on the experience of the Anglican Church of Australia and in particular the Sydney Diocese, is the critical task confronting the theological traditions of all Christian churches. It is obvious that the Sydney Anglicans at least know what the real problems are that confront the church in contemporary culture and attempt to offer an important clue as to where answers may be found. This is of no little importance and the authors are to be thanked for the offerings they have made.
Dr W. Gordon Watson, Port Macquarie NSW

 

The Railway Man

The Railway Man (2013, M)
While not an explicitly Christian film, the strong theme of forgiveness in The Railway Man will resonate for ACC readers. Colin Firth is Eric Lomax and Nicole Kidman plays his wife Patti Lomax. Some of you may have read his autobiography of the same name (published in 1995). The process of bringing it to film is a story in itself though the film does not deal with aspects of his family life prior to him meeting Patti whom he would marry in 1983.
During WWII British soldier Eric Lomax is captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore and ends up working on the Thai-Burma Railway. Apart from the general appalling conditions, Lomax (and many others) was tortured, with a particular incident providing the background to Lomax's torture.
The film weaves back and forth from the war times to the 1980s, illustrating his continuing psychological difficulties, particularly its impact on his second marriage. Eric eventually learns of a book published by one of his captors who is now running a tourist- type memorial (not exploiting the time but attempting to show remorse), and he eventually makes a journey to meet him. The former Japanese officer Takashi Nagase (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), from the prison camp was an interpreter during the torture sessions.
Laura Barnett in The Guardian Film News (24 January 2014 9:30 AM) writes: "'The torture scenes are terrifying - and completely realistic' ... . says torture rehabilitation expert Dr William Hopkins. I saw this film with a colleague who knew Eric Lomax, whose memoir it is based on. He had been a victim of torture, too.
" We both found it strikingly realistic: the torture scenes are terrifying without being remotely sensationalist, as can sometimes be the case with film and TV. Both Lomax's experience of torture in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and his ultimate reconciliation with his torturer are put across excellently."
Both men had become aware of the need for forgiveness, but as is often the case one person has to take the first step to reconciliation, and Eric knew he had to offer forgiveness as the only way to stop the hatred that had dominated his life and start to live again.

Peter Bentley