Books and Publications
Bird and Bees: Having the ‘talk’ today.
Having 'the Talk' Today
Birds and the Bees by the Book
reviewed by Lisa Yew
"Where did I come from?" It's the question that makes parents and carers to squirm, but these days it seems so much more complicated. Questions that children may or may not be asking out loud still need clear answers. Is it ok to look like me? Why do two men want to marry each other? Am I really a girl? Why do those pictures make me feel so good? How do we teach our children to think biblically about sex and sexuality in our current world? And how do we do it without needing an industrial plunger to remove our foot from our mouth?
Patricia Weerakoon's picture book set Birds and Bees by the Book, illustrated by Lisa Flanagan is a great tool for introducing these and other issues around sex. Consisting of six books, the set looks at different kinds of families, the body, the brain, gender, sex and pornography in an age-appropriate, biblical, and straightforward way.
Each book is underpinned with a relevant truth from the Bible. They look at how the first family was made, that God wonderfully made our bodies and brains, and sex as a part of a marriage relationship. This focus teaches children to approach sexuality as a positive thing created by God.
The books explore the good aspects, and the potential pitfalls of each topic. From recognising that many families differ from nuclear families, to avoiding images that are unhealthy for your brain, to valuing bodies that don't conform to media images, to rejecting inappropriate touch, these books are filled with good safeguards that are relevant for today.
It sensitively broaches current issues around sexuality. In previous generations, people didn't talk about transgender or homosexuality, especially not to children, and there was little chance of viewing pornography. Today, this is not so. Birds and Bees by the Book appropriately defines what these are, but importantly also what they are not. Gender is not about stereotypical behaviours, and the friendship love you feel doesn't define your sexual orientation. Thus, confusion around what to think and how to behave in light of todays issues is minimised.
Godly attitudes and behaviours are encouraged, especially that of loving different kinds of people. There is a strong warning not to bully, and to report any bullying of anyone. Instead, children are encouraged to be kind to boys who look or behave like girls and vice versa, or to people with different sexual orientations. Just as Jesus loved all kinds of people, the books encourage children to follow his example.
Children everywhere can benefit from this excellent resource. The style of the writing is concise and factual and concepts are introduced simply and clearly. The pictures show children and families from a range of ethnic backgrounds in action and having fun. Rather than being clinical, the pictures support the writing in the style of picture story books. These books are invaluable for seven to ten-year olds, as a fantastic starting point for that awkward conversation parents dread.
Parents and carers need no longer fear talking about the birds and the bees. Even though the topic has become more complicated in recent years, we can springboard from the Birds and Bees by the Book set and begin the conversation with our children. We can flesh out the issues with our own anecdotes and examples, and be a clear light that helps children navigate through our hyper-sexualised culture. So, there are no more excuses to put off having 'the talk,' Birds and Bees by the Book equips you to have the talk today.
Lisa Yew is married to Manfred Yew, the Assistant Pastor at Belrose Uniting Church, NSW and mother of four young daughters.
Note: The accompanying web site has support information: http://birdsandbeesbooks.com/
Civility no Match for Nihilism
Despite the fact that, according to the 2016 Census, only 1% of households are headed by same-sex couples, debate on 'Marriage Equality' continues to rage.
As Uniting Church bodies prepare to debate the issue at the Assembly in July 2018, they would benefit from close study of a recent book, Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church (2016). Published by an evangelical Christian publisher in the USA, it features contributions by Drs Bill Loader (Uniting Church minister) and Megan DeFranza, who support the 'affirming' view 'that consensual, monogamous, same-sex relations can be blessed by God and fully included in the life of the church,' and Drs Wesley Hill and Stephen Holmes, who support the 'traditional' view 'that all forms of same-sex sexual behaviour are prohibited by Scripture and Christian theology' (p15).
Unlike much current debate, their scholarly convictions and disagreements are firmly and respectfully argued in a spirit of deep pastoral concern and without recourse to demeaning slogans.
Loader, Hill and Holmes basically agree that Scripture opposes all forms of same-sex sexual intimacy, in contrast to DeFranza who argues that it mainly refers to exploitative relationships. However, where Hill and Holmes claim that prohibitions apply to behaviour resulting from a prior disposition, Loader locates them in 'sexual orientation' itself.
As a celibate man with same-sex orientation, Hill rejects this distinction on the ground that predisposition does not necessitate practice. Indeed, his experience of same-sex attraction, commitment to celibate ministry, and support of marriage between a man and a woman is at odds with the popular view that, as a matter of justice and compassion, people with a same-sex sexual orientation must not be denied the right to find sexual intimacy in 'marriage’. His testimony should cause the church to think before making decisions which falsely assume that same-sex orientation and practice are fixed and invariably directed towards sexual union and/or same-sex 'marriage.'
The book does not explore the complex biological, psychological, personal and social causes of same-sex attraction. The contributors agree that 'sexual orientation' is a strong physiological drive that provides a deep sense of personal identity. They differ about whether same-sex (and other-sex) attracted people are right to express themselves in consensual relationships, including marriage, which involve sexual union. DeFranza and Loader regard the imposition of restraint as a denial of human rights; Hill and Holmes regard restraint as a tough virtue.
Central to the debate is how Scripture is used. The 'affirming' writers interpret texts on sex and marriage in the light of Jesus' command to love thy neighbour, to show compassion, and to act justly. This position enables them to modify what is said in Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19:3-12; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 7:1ff; 11:1ff; Ephesians 5:21-33 etc. in order to correspond more closely to contemporary views about equality, companionship, sexual diversity, and divorce. By separating love from law, however, they misrepresent 'traditionalists' as being tacit accomplices of the legalists who opposed Jesus and Paul (p66).
Strangely, neither side focuses on the Biblical-theological significance of the body, an approach that would have opened up fruitful discussion about the ethical implications of docetic and Gnostic understandings of sexuality, both ancient and modern.
St. Augustine: 'On the Goods of Marriage'
With the help of Augustine's seminal work, the Christological and present significance of marriage is discussed at length. According to him, the three goods of marriage are: Procreation, Fidelity and Sacrament. That is to say, 'Marriage is a bond of male and female, ordered to procreation, sealed in faithful union, and signifying Christ's love for the church. (p131).
The different emphases in the Old and New Testaments on procreation are acknowledged by all. But the implications are debated, particularly in relation to the marriage of infertile or elderly couples. Loader and DeFranza argue that this position creates space for same-sex couples who cannot bear children. Holmes and Hill argue that such marriages still model the only form of complementarity that is open to procreation.
All agree that fidelity and companionship are vital aspects of marriage and deep same-sex friendships. But they strongly disagree about whether genital intimacy is appropriate to same-sex relationships and, thus, to same-sex unions in marriage.
There is also basic agreement about the place of marriage as a sacramental sign of God's love for Israel and the church. What is at issue, and is a major point of contention among Christians, is whether the Biblical metaphor of husband-wife / male-female can be used exclusively of marriage in a post-patriarchal, egalitarian Western society. Might not the otherness that exists between same-sex couples also serve as a metaphor for the Otherness of God who unites Godself to the church?
The issue here is what counts as gender complementarity. In this context, Ephesians 5:21-33 is pivotal. Fearing that this is another attempt to smuggle in male superiority, DeFranza argues that all of us, in different ways, exhibit 'male' and 'female' attributes. Therefore, because the marriage metaphor that runs throughout Scripture expresses a past cultural form which no longer applies, it must be replaced by a more egalitarian form of otherness. Implicitly, for her and Loader, the otherness of male and female bodies and their function in procreation, become 'a', not 'the' defining, metaphor of God's union with us. When applied to sexual relations within marriage, the psychological, affective and companionable aspects of otherness are held to be paramount.
Although the mystery of male-female otherness isn’t easy to characterise, attention should have been paid to the incompatibility between the Judeo-Christian concept of persons, as male-and-female, and the androgynous concept which is individualistic.
None of the contributors considers the possibility that, rather than promote equality between the genders, 'same-sex marriage' devalues both genders. Widely regarded as necessary for the public good in business, politics, education etc., it is ironic, if not hypocritical, to argue that gender complementarity is not necessary in this most basic social unit.
A major strength of the book is its pastoral concern for same-sex attracted Christians. Contributors agree that the starting point for discussing sexuality is to acknowledge that the church is a community of sinners whose desires are less than perfect and who seek to be loving, compassionate and just.
But they disagree about what this view means for accepting monogamous same-sex sexual relationships as marriages. Loader and DeFranza believe that love and justice demand their acceptance; Holmes and Hill believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that space must be made for recognition of spiritual, non-sexualised friendships.
What is not acknowledged by any of the writers is that unwanted same-sex attraction may, with great difficulty, patience and pastoral sensitivity, be reoriented towards other-sex relationships. The effect of this omission, which is typical of mainstream discussion, is to erase from public memory the experience of large numbers of same-sex attracted people.
Nothing on Nihilism
The major defect of the volume is also its strength - Pastoral Civility. Ecclesial politeness hides the fact that the cause of a small group is so prominent in the public mind due to the persistence, misrepresentation, aggression, and media savvy of its most vocal advocates.
The contributors do not confront the nihilistic alternative to the Christian doctrine of humanity that underpins demands for change. While Holmes and Hill see the need to uphold the ‘tradition’, they are silent about the dire social and ecclesial consequences of failing to do so. On the other hand, DeFranza and Loader, while disagreeing with each other on the status of Biblical norms, undermine the tradition by 'affirming' forms of love, equality and human rights that are at odds with the goodness and splendour of marriage attested throughout Scripture.
Unfortunately, all authors fail to discuss the ramifications of changes to marriage law. If, in order to satisfy the desires of no more than 1% of households, marriage is to be defined by the State as the life-long consensual union of two persons regardless of sex, the church will be discouraged from teaching that humanity's God-given glory is uniquely embodied in our male-female complementarity, and forbidden from shaping her educational, hospital and welfare agencies accordingly.
Rev. Dr Max Champion is the Convenor of the ACC Theology and Ecumenical Relationships Commission.
This review is published in the September 2017 edition of ACCatalyst in Max's Column Pseudo Maximus.
Review of Stealing from a Child
A strong recommendation to thinking friends.
After much thought, I agree with the author of the book shown here that if Same-Sex Marriage is made law, our culture will change radically in ways of which the average person is unaware. I admire Penny Wong as a thoughtful and socially responsible politician, but her remark that SSM will effect a small change without any dire social consequences is, on all the evidence available, naïve in the extreme.
I fear that many good people, accepting such reassurances at face value, are sleeping through an escalating culture war. Dr van Gend’s analysis, by contrast, convincingly argues that in statistical terms, SSM will have serious flow-on effects, especially for children.
Dr van Gend is a qualified and experienced medical practitioner in Queensland. For some years he has been President of the Australian Marriage Forum. Having recently heard Dr van Gend speak at a launch of this book, I believe him to be a genuine and competent researcher, not given to wild generalisations.
Further, having marked many academic theses in my time, and after careful reading of this book, I judge the book to be a solid analysis of evidence-based research. It does not rely on particular religious beliefs to prove its case. Rather, it documents many statistically secure findings from social and psychological sources.
In later chapters of the book, he also reviews the Safe Schools program, which has been widely publicised as an “anti-bullying program.” The evidence he presents is again very strong. Safe Schools is shown to be a deliberate and ideologically driven attempt to promote an agenda of gay sex education in schools, by-passing parental consent if necessary. It aims to encourage all children from the earliest school years to consider their own gender perceptions fluid, and to engage in sexual experimentation. On ethical grounds, I rate this as indoctrination, not education.
Incidentally, for a clearer idea of what will happen to parents if the Safe Schools program is made compulsory, view the testimony of a parent who, after she’d read the Safe Schools materials, withdrew her children from Frankston High School in Victoria, after having been refused her right to have the children opt out from this material because it was across the curriculum subjects. It is a rivetting 9 minutes and can be viewed here.
At $30, the book deserves wide dissemination, and I gather that copies can be ordered at Connor Court.
Professor Brian Hill, 12/10/2016
‘Same Sex’ Marriage Debate - Anglican Report
A Review of Human Sexuality and the ‘Same Sex Marriage’ Debate, compiled for the Sydney Diocesan Commission, edited by Mark D. Thompson, published by Anglican Press Australia, March 2015 (Rrp $16.95)
This short book offers a readable approach to a difficult topic in a language and style that is accessible to the not so theologically trained. The five chapters are divided into bite-sized sub-sections, beginning with ‘Where are we?’ and ‘How did we get here?’ These leading questions set the scene for the first chapter: ‘Human Sexuality in Contemporary Context’. The four remaining chapters cover the topics of ‘How can we begin to apply the Bible’s teaching to today’s context and questions?’, ‘What does the Bible actually say about marriage and human sexuality and so about homosexual practice?’, ‘How do we speak about the Bible’s teaching in such a highly charged public debate?’ and ‘How do we care for those who experience same-sex attraction’. Chapter Three includes a postscript for those who are not married.
As might be expected from the Sydney Anglican Diocese, the book argues from the framework of orthodox Christianity rather than present-day attitudes in our church communities as seems to be the tenor of the current Uniting Church enquiry. To my mind, this Anglican publication is closer to the spirit of the Basis of Union § 11 in terms of ‘literary, historical and scientific enquiry’, ecumenical engagement and the kind of ‘fresh words and deeds’ which may now be expected of those who act ‘trustingly, in obedience to, God’s living Word’. The last chapter exhorts Christians to offer compassion to those who experience same-sex attraction and to demonstrate courage in the face of likely incremental persecution.
I found the first chapter the most useful in telling me what I didn’t know already. It offers dates and details in a history, commencing in 1966, of long-term activism by the ‘gay rights movement’. This process includes persuading the American Psychological Association that homosexuality should be removed from the list of psychological disorders, causing some debate about whether paedophilia should also be removed from the list. The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders (2013) is reported to list ‘paraphilias’ as disorders in cases ‘whose satisfaction has entailed personal harm, or risk of harm, to others’.
The book is a compilation by eight authors. The preface disclaims the attempt to remove slight differences of emphasis between the chapters and admits that much more could be said and done in the area. For me key topics for further exploration would be:
- the possibility of homosexual disorder in relation to the current search for identity
- use of language by the ‘gay rights movement’, e.g. ‘homophobia’ and ‘equality’ 
- the gendered and non-gendered imago Dei
- the rationale for ‘gay rights’ and emphases of the feminist movement
I would class this publication as recommended reading for those inside and outside ACC, and the first chapter in particular for decision-makers e.g. Federal Parliamentarians.
Katherine Abetz (BA, DTheol, Dip. Nursing, and ACC Member in Tasmania and member of the Northern Cluster)
 See pp. 22-25 and especially footnote 25.
 Human Sexuality and the ‘Same Sex Marriage Debate states that ‘Wainwright Churchill of Homosexual Behaviour Among Males (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967) … introduced the term ‘homoerotophobia’, a likely precursor to the term ‘homophobia’. Last time I checked Wikipedia, it stated: ‘Homophobia has never been listed as part of a clinical taxonomy of phobias’. Unlike ‘marriage equality’ which means the definition of marriage has to change, an equal right to vote doesn’t mean the definition of voting has to change.
 Compare ‘it is only with the woman that the man can be God’s image and it is only with the man that the woman can be God’s image’ in Chapter Three with Chapter Five: ‘God has created every human being – those struggling with same-sex attraction and those in the LGBTI community no less than any other – in his image’.
 Broadly speaking, I would say that feminism has moved from an emphasis on equality and, for this purpose, unisex to an emphasis on identity and embodiment as a woman. The ‘gay rights’ agenda seems to try to combine equality and identity.
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)
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.
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
Helping Families Stay Together
Review of All-In2night
Published by Even Before Publishing/Wombat books. 140 pages
This volume is a sequel to this author’s earlier publication All-In Night, in which Lynne Burgess promotes a regular night each week where the whole family stays home and participates in a special activity with a treat (usually a dessert) to follow. The book is based on a concept that the author has actually put into practice with her own family of five children. In the dedication, Lynne Burgess writes that the “book is for parents who want their children to experience a relationship with Jesus so they can live a bold and victorious life, no matter what the circumstances”.
There are 40 activities involving an amazing array of what I would call psychological variables: self-esteem, courage, loneliness, patience, empathy, confidence, self-sabotaging, revenge, enthusiasm and so on. For each topic, the author provides a purpose so that the aim is clear to the parent who is leading the activity. These nights are not held in school holidays so that both the parents and the children have a break: hence, the 40 weeks. It is interesting to note that the author reports that her adult children who have left home still come back on Monday nights for All-in night.
For the topic courage, the purpose is “to help your child to develop courage so that they have the ability to face difficulties”; for priorities in life, the purpose is “to teach your child to understand priorities in their life and that priorities can change through different phases of life”; for pride, the purpose is “to explain what unhealthy pride is and to teach your children how to deal with it”. The purpose is generally followed by an explanation of the concept under consideration.
There is often a Scripture verse or verses to be shared with children to help them understand the biblical basis of the lesson. For self esteem, the verses are Psalm 139: 13-14; for eating healthy food, the verse is 1 Cor 6: 19; for patience, the verses are James 1: 2-5; for fear, Joshua 1: 9; for worry, Proverbs 12: 25. I was surprised at some of the topics that didn’t have a biblical verse, and was not sure why. Examples included ‘unhealthy pride’, ‘humility’, ‘jealousy’, ‘guilt and shame’, ‘criticism’ and ‘God has a unique purpose for your life’.
I think this book could be very useful for families of primary-school children, combining as it does, fun and serious learning about oneself and others. It is important to remember that these characteristics are produced in young people over years of stable, loving parenting and not in a single session focusing on a particular characteristic.
Emeritus Professor, School of Pyschology at the University of Queensland
Book Review: Teen Sex By The Book
Teen Sex By the Book (221 pages) rated MA 15+.
This relatively short book is quite easy to read and is a timely resource. I am not sure if young people will buy it – after all they are spending their time on the web (as the book recognises), so a suggestion later. One good aspect is the way the mobile world is highlighted, with the role of the smart phone replacing in a way the old idea of the computer that could be kept in the common family room and shared (and also an eye kept on what was being searched). Sex educator, researcher and therapist Dr Patricia Weerakoon accepts the reality of the situation for teenagers today and their sexual experiences and contact. For example, with regard to pornography, she is clearly not condoning, but also does not want to create a burdensome guilt, but to liberate and help those caught up or who could be caught in this web.
ACCatalyst readers may know Patricia as one of the panellists from the excellent ACL Webcast ‘Defining Marriage’ held in June 2012.
I see this book more for Christian kids before they are sucked into the contemporary mores and culture, but as I mentioned earlier it may be one parents and grandparents may need to buy. The discussion is clear and fulsome in parts, and has a helpful approach to a variety of sexual topics. I especially appreciated her subtle and reasonable approach to homosexuality. Overall this is a counter-culture book. It is actually refreshing to highlight the revolutionary aspects of a Christian approach to sex in a world where sex is devalued and exploited.
Some thoughts for further work:
1. Produce a series of short booklets based on the areas discussed to be given away.
2. Produce a more readable print edition (this may depend who really ends up reading this, but the print, some of the font and type used (eg, in the box and ‘colour’ design) are not helpful for print-based reading and also for making some points and issues stand out.
Having said this, I still believe this is a very helpful resource and reflective book for parents and grandparents. Helpful to know what is going on and also for the cyber world discussion, as your children or grandchildren probably know more than you do, or than you think. Further information at: http://fervr.net/teen-sex-by-the-book
The Alternative Gospel
The Alternative Christology of American Churches
Recently a friend gave me a copy of the book Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, written by Michael Horton and published in America by Baker Books. The book is a scathing critique of the American Church, both liberal and evangelical. Horton believes that the American Church has deviated from "the faith once delivered to the saints" in a number of inter-related ways.
Firstly, he says that American preaching and practice indicate that American Christians are focused more on themselves than on God and his saving work for all believers. "It seems," he says, "that we come to church less to be transformed by the Good News than to celebrate our own transformation and to receive fresh marching orders for transforming ourselves and our world rather than being swept into God's new world."
Horton's concern is that the American church is getting dangerously close to the place in every day life where the Bible is "mined for relevant quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms."
Sin has been trivialised in this theology. It no longer refers to a wrong against God but only a wrong against ourselves for failing to achieve our potential to be happy and to feel good about ourselves. There is no place in this theology for Psalm 51:4-5 where the author acknowledges "Against you (God), you alone have I sinned".
When sin is trivialised in the way it is by this alternative gospel and God's love takes care of any alienation that might occur there is no longer any place or need for reconciliation or atonement.
The question then arises, what is it that Christ does? The answer seems to be that Jesus Christ is "just a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a saviour who has already achieved it for us." Jesus' life and death can no longer be understood as atonement for sin or as a mediator between us and God. The most we can say about him is that he was a great philosopher, teacher, example, adviser and partner in helping us to achieve our own aspirations but we are left to do the hard work of achieving our goals and doing whatever it is we are called to do. This is not good news and not the gospel which the New Testament sets forth and the Church has affirmed through the centuries. It is more like the heresy of Pelagianism which troubled the Church in the fifth century which asserted that we must share the task of achieving our salvation.
The second major heresy Horton finds widely spread in American Christianity is Gnosticism. This heresy was a major challenge to orthodoxy in the early church. Gnosticism minimized the witness of the apostles and the Scriptures and maximized the inner experience of the individual. Truth is no longer to be found in creeds and confessions but in being alone with God. The tendency is well illustrated by the old hymn, "I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses". Certainly it is important that we should have a sense of God's presence through the Spirit but unless we have the highest respect for the historical witnesses there is no telling how we will end up.
These developments in American Christianity may seem to be of little relevance for us but with the constant flow of gurus from the USA we are bound to feel the influence of Christless Christianity here. Horton warns us to be wary.
I found the book very interesting, though not everywhere easy reading, but I would commend it to all Australian church leaders who are committed to the historic Christian teaching on the person and work of the Lord Jesus.
Gordon Dicker is a past Moderator of the NSW Synod, and former Principal of UTC.
This review was first published in the Feburary 2012 edition of ACCatalyst.