christianity culture philosophy theology


I have a serious looking book by a serious theologian on sacramental theology that has been sitting on my bookshelf for months.  I must have a look at it.   I only say this to start this point with a humbling admission that I have next to no experience of sacramental things.  Or perhaps maybe we all have more than we think?

The word ‘sacrament’ refers to a ‘-ment’ (“the result or product of the action“) of the ‘sacred’, just as an ‘achievement’ is the ‘-ment’ of ‘achieving’.  Wright defines the sacraments (Eucharist, Baptism, etc.) as:

…those occasions when the life of heaven intersects mysteriously with the life of earth, not so that the earth can control or manipulate heaven (that would be magic, not faith) but so that the story of heaven may become concrete, physical reality within the life of earth, catching up human beings within a world where all sorts of things make sense that don’t otherwise, and all sorts of things that might have appeared to make sense do so no longer. (After You Believe (U.K. title ‘Virtue Reborn’), p. 223.

All kinds of conversations come rushing into play here – or put the other way ’round, all sorts of tangents can be taken here.  But to tie it back to my opening thoughts, it occurs to me that there are competing forms of sacramentality.  There are various kinds of ‘heaven’ that are trying to achieve ‘-ments’ of their own particular kind of ‘sacred’.  For the Coca-cola corporation, purchasing and consuming one of their beverages is a sacramental act.  To use Wright’s language, Coca-cola’s ‘story of heaven’ finds concrete, physical expression when a Coke is sold and savoured.  Those who deny any kind of ‘heaven’ at all still have narratives about ultimate reality (or worldview stories) which find sacramental expression, perhaps in a new scientific discovery or achievement, bringing humanity one step forward (so goes the standard Progressivist Myth) in its march toward ever-increasing reasonableness.

One could multiply examples till the cows come home, using the implicit or explicit worldview-stories of travel agencies, pornographers, booksellers and political parties.  I only wish to focus on two points:

1) We all live sacramentally, so we’re more experienced at it than we may realise.  Indeed, the more subconscious and un-critiqued the assumptions and behaviour, the stronger the hold the ‘story of heaven’ has on you?

2) Christian sacramentality, both affirms and subverts various elements from other stories.  This is what Wright refers to when he talks about some things making sense that didn’t before, and vice versa.  The Christian ‘story of heaven’ is a story about being truly free, so it will subvert any story that enslaves in any way – physically, financially, imaginatively, relationally, psychologically, etc.  Of course, the best way to keep someone enslaved is to keep them from being aware they are enslaved, and whilst the sacraments of these enslaving stories may ‘make sense’ at one level, but the foolish wisdom (1 Corinthians 1) of the Christian story subverts them.  Slavery to Christ is true freedom.

christianity philosophy theology


Some different senses of the word/concept ‘religion’:

  • Like a bellybutton: a basic and unifying characteristic of humanity – we are all ‘religious’ in the broadest sense.  We all have a worldview, beliefs and values which inform and shape the way we live our lives.
  • Like a band: a particular and distinguishing characteristic of a group – this is my/our ‘religion’, which you are in/out of.  We all are ‘religious’, perhaps, but there are religions within religion.
  • Like a badge: a performance mindset characteristic of individuals (or a group) – I am ‘religious’ and therefore better (in the eyes of God or of other humans) than people who aren’t as moral as me.
philosophy theology

god and reality 2

…a somewhat better way to phrase the question (remember, words matter!) about god and reality, etc. would this:

Why does existence exist?

Answering the question by reference to any particular ‘thing’ that exists (a ‘force’, ‘singularity’, ‘multi-verse’, ‘string’, etc.) is to completely not pay attention to the question.  The answer cannot be in terms of any merely-existing thing, but must be in reference to some ‘more-than-existing’ kind of ‘more-than-thing’.  Phrases like ‘ground for existence’ or ‘foundation of the universe’ are appropriate attempts here.

The fact that these are metaphors shouldn’t surprise us.  (After all, even the most ‘technical’ and ‘precise’ terminology is metaphor at bottom anyway…)  It’s quite obvious that the universe doesn’t have a ‘foundation’ like a house; and it would seem obvious that ‘existence’ isn’t on top of some ‘ground’ in the same way that we might be at times.  But it remains that answering a question about why existence exists demands reaching for a category larger (or more ‘foundational’) than existence itself.  If asked ‘what is supporting that house’, could we really be satisfied with an answer that was in terms of house-ness?


coins have 2 sides

-you can’t say something is ‘evil’ if you’re not already assuming some concept of ‘goodness’

-you can’t say something is ‘poorly designed’ unless you’re assuming what ‘good design’ looks like

-you can’t say something is ‘chaotic’ unless you know what ‘order’ is

-and you don’t have goodness, design or order without some idea of teleology

philosophy science theology

god and reality

The problem with questions like is God “real?” or does God “exist“? is that the most basic understanding of God (let’s assume monotheistic belief for the moment) is that the sum total of existing reality (the Bible says ‘all things’) was created (caused, desired, effected, brought about) by Him.

If this stretches the mind (not to mention language) – then one is actually beginning to grapple with monotheism.

((Related recent post at ‘Just Thomism’: Proof’s for God’s existence))

philosophy www

buses, religion and life

Prof. John Stackhouse’s post (here) on the recent “bus campaigns” is quite good and balanced I think.

Apparently, the board of a Vancouver bus company has the following regulation on bus ads:

“No advertisement will be accepted which promotes or opposes a specific theology or religious ethic, point of view, policy or action.”


the future of atheism

I’ve checked out a book from the Carey Baptist library that’s proving to be very interesting:

The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath & Daniel Dennett in Dialogue

It’s essentially a written copy of a 2007 conference including the McGrath/Dennett debate and the other papers presented – plus a few additional chapters and an introduction by the author/editor, Robert B. Stewart.

What I particularly like about it (conference and book), is that it gives space for both sides to lay out their perspective.  Contributors include: Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, J.P. Morland, Keith M. Parsons, Ted Peters, Hugh J. McCann and others…

I look forward to reading as much of it as I can (probably late night reads while waiting for Thomas to feed, etc.!).

science theology www

tansaa events in 2009

TANSAA (Theology and Natural Sciences Aotearoa Auckland – a group emerging from LaidlawCarey Graduate School) is finalising their programme for 2009, and it’s looking great.

I’m particularly chuffed about the Conference planned for August 1, hosted by my church, Northcote Baptist.  Details:

ethics science theology

bob white in new zealand

Cambridge Geophysicist, Professor Robert (Bob) White is coming to New Zealand to take part in 3 events.

The first and second are the same talk both in Wellington and Auckland – a Christian Response to Global Warming (I’m planning on attending the Auckland talk).  For the third event (which I am sad to miss, due to a wedding up north), Robert will take part (with others) in a Symposium entitled: Science and religion in the 21st century: faith in science, science in faith.

Saturday, 14 March 2009, 8.30am-6pm
Theatre 401-439, ‘Neon Foyer’, Engineering School, Symonds Street, The University of Auckland
Please register for the symposium by Wednesday 11 March, with
Cost $20, non-waged people $10 (refreshments and lunch provided)
Parking under Owen G Glenn building, $5 flat rate

I’ve provided the PDF flyer for download by clicking here.

philosophy science theology

atheism and explanatory monism

I’ve quite enjoyed reading through “Is Nature Enough: Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science“, by John Haught.  One of the many points he articulates well is what he refers to as “layered explanation”.