May 27, 2017

I’ve been watching The Young Pope, an intriguing TV series on HBO about, well, a young Pope. He’s a suave and dashing figure, entirely unlikeable, serious parental issues, hovering somewhere between closet atheist and bonafide saint.

When I first started watching the series I thought it was anti-Catholic porn. The ultimate progressive fantasy, imagine a Pope who was an atheist and tries to bring the whole thing crashing down. But then it admixes real deep spiritual, ethical, and ecclesiastical textures, I liked it by the end.

My favourite scene is from episode five where Pope Pius XIII addresses the cardinals in the Sistine chapel and it can only be described as the Benedict Option meets a Vatican I.

Here are the words:

Brother cardinals, from this day forward, we’re not in, no matter who’s knocking on our door.

We’re in, but only for God. From this day forward, everything that was wide open is gonna be closed.

Evangelization. We’ve already done it.

Ecumenicalism. Been there, done that.

Tolerance doesn’t live here anymore. It’s been evicted. It vacated the house for the new tenant, who has diametrically opposite tastes in decorating.

We’ve been reaching out to others for years now. It’s time to stop! We are not going anywhere. We are here. Because, what are we? We are cement. And cement doesn’t move. We are cement without windows. So, we don’t look to the outside world. “Only the Church possesses the charisma of truth”, said St. Ignatius of Antioch. And he was right.

We have no reason to look out. Instead, look over there. What do you see? That’s the door.The only way in. Small and extremely uncomfortable. And anyone who wants to know us has to find out how to get through that door.   

Brother cardinals, we need to go back to being prohibited, inaccessible and mysterious. That’s the only way we can once again become desirable. That is the only way great loves stories are born. And I don’t want any more part-time believers. I want great love stories. I want fanatics for God. Because fanaticism is love. Everything else is strictly a surrogate, and it stays outside the church. 

With the attitudes of the last Papacy, the church won for itself great expressions of fondness from the masses. It became popular. Isn’t that wonderful, you might be thinking! We received plenty of esteem and lots of friendship. I have no idea what to do with the friendship of the whole wide world. What I want is absolute love and total devotion to God.  

Could that mean a Church only for the few? That’s a hypothesis, and a hypothesis isn’t the same as reality. But even this hypothesis isn’t so scandalous. I say: better to have a few that are reliable than to have a great many that are distractible and indifferent. The public squares have been jam-packed, but the hearts have been emptied of God. You can’t measure love with numbers, you can only measure it in terms of intensity. In terms of blind loyalty to the imperative. Fix that word firmly in your souls: Imperative.  

From this day forth, that’s what the Pope wants, that’s what the Church wants, that’s what God wants. And so the liturgy will no longer be a social engagement, it will become hard work. And sin will no longer be forgiven at will. I don’t expect any applause from you. There will be no expressions of thanks in this chapel. None from me and none from you. Courtesy and good manners are not the business of men of God.  

What I do expect is that you will do what I have told you to do. There is nothing outside your obedience to Pius XIII. Nothing except Hell. A Hell you may know nothing about but I do. Because I’ve built it, right behind that door: Hell. These past few days, I’ve had to build Hell for you, that’s why I’ve come to you belatedly. I know you will obey because you’ve already figured out that this pope isn’t afraid to lose the faithful if they’re been even slightly unfaithful, and that means this Pope does not negotiate. On anything or with anyone.

And this Pope cannot be blackmailed! From this day forth, the word “compromise”, has been banished from the vocabulary. I’ve just deleted it. When Jesus willingly mounted the cross, he was not making compromises. And neither am I. Amen.

Photo from HBO.

March 13, 2020

For  those of you stuck at home, either under quarantine, or because classes are canceled, here are my tips for what to read, watch, and listen:

Book: Scot McKnight and Nijay Gupta, The State of New Testament Studies. I can’t emphasize enough what a tremendously helpful volume this is. I specialize in Synoptics and Paul’s letters, with a few forays into Luke-Acts and 2 Peter/Jude. So this book tells me what is happening in the parts of the discipline that I am not aware of. Terrific essays by Rodney Reeves (Matthew), Josh Jipp (Luke-Acts), and Dana Harris (Greek).

Book: Ross Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, this is a great biography of the famous  American founding father that inspired Lin Manuel’s smash hit musical, quite a good read.

Book: William Webb and Gordon Oeste, Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? Wrestling with Troubling War Texts, a terrific volume wrestling with how Christians read the OT texts about war, violence, and inter-tribal conflict in the ancient near east.

Theology/Bible/Christianity Podcasts: So many to choose from. I reckon the best ones are NT Review, OnScript, and Ask NT Wright Anything, but mentions in despatches for Church Grammar, Undeceptions, Theology in the Raw, Split Frame of Reference, Disruptors, Where Do We Go From Here.

Cooking: Smashed avocado with poached eggs. Cannellini soup, it is so easy and delicious. Homemade buffalo wings are always a hit.

You.Tube: I did a great panel discussion at SEBTS about ecclesiology. Also recommended is Jorg Frey The Spiritual Gospel. From Kings and Generals is the short doco The Ancient Greek State in Afghanistan.

Other Podcasts: On politics and culture, I LOVE Quilette and Spiked, for history, it is Revolutions, History of WWII, History of Byzantium, and History of Yugoslavia.

Movies: The Two Popes, but steer clear of The Young Pope TV series.

TV Shows: Man in the High Castle.

Audio Books: New Testament in its World.

July 20, 2018

In a recent Guardian article, Christina Rees offers her own diagnosis and prescription for how to revitalize the Church of England.

As an Anglican priest and a British expat living down-under, I can relate to the issues that Rees raises because we face many of the exact same issues in Australia.

I think Rees also points out a problem with an ecclesial system centred on the local parish. The reality is that the village church or suburban church was a great thing, it created community, because you had high street shopping and high church liturgy all within walking distance.

However, the reality is that cars and the internet are maybe not killing, but undermining the parish system. People would rather drive 20 minutes to a church that they like than walk to their local parish. Concurrently, the internet has created as a smorgasbord of on-demand sermons, videos, podcasts, social media, and on-line communities that have come to substitute for the parish community. In addition, some multi-site churches equipped with pastors, musicians, and techies are now practical dioceses within themselves. In response, proposed initiatives based on increased community involvement and alternative models of church are certainly one way of addressing this issue if we want to avoid English Anglicanism becoming reduced to twenty or so mega-parish networks, thirty or so cathedrals, a smattering of small niche churches for people united by their disgruntledness on women bishops or LGBTI inclusion, and a strange array of e-churches.

But I found Rees’s suggestion to be very lacking:

If the church wants to survive, and thrive, it will need to see itself in a new light – more responsive, and willing to embrace how people live today. Most people, especially young people, don’t want to have to step through the doorway of a church to engage with the big issues of life. They don’t want to sit in pews on Sunday mornings to listen to a sermon or a set, age-old liturgy. They want to know how to navigate the complexities of their lives and how to address their deepest longings, doubts and fears. And they want to feel safe. So the whole church will have to become much more interactive and flexible. The pattern for the future may well look a lot more like the early church, with small groups meeting in each other’s homes.

I can affirm Rees’s quest for holism, her attempt to balance evangelism and justice, and holding forth an integrated theological, social, and ethical praxis. But there’s a downside.

First, her prescription sounds a lot like group therapy for young people combined with hardcore #wokeism. Nothing Rees suggested needs the Christian message or even Christian people. I reckon you could get everything she proposes with a comfy couch, a couple of friends, a blanket, Netflix, retweeting Guardian articles, and a bag of crisps.

Second, Rees promotes consumerism as the answer to a caricature. Rees imagines that young people don’t want to endure having to actively listen to someone, they don’t want to have to sit down on something hard, or pay attention to anything that’s not on their iPhone. Rees implies that if you are not talking about young people then they are incapable of listening. Rees supposes that without spatial luxury, without something entertaining for their short attention spans, and without something therapeutic for their tender egos, that young people will simply abandon church and resume their quest for a narcissist nirvana. I know some young people who are like that, but I also know a great many who do not fit this caricature. So I would counsel that therapeutic moral deism, gourmet coffee, talking about feelings, and sitting on fluffy pillows is not a solution because, just maybe, not all young people are quite so consumerist and self-absorbed as Rees alleges.

Third, Rees is in favour of small groups meeting in people’s homes. Well, the house church movement has been around since the 1960s, it got a shot in the arm with the emergent experiments of the 90s and 00s, and it has been effective in places like China. But house churches have never really become a serious competitor to the parish system in the UK, Australia, or America. Maybe that will change, maybe house churches will supersede the parish system, or more likely, the parishes that thrive will be those with a robust network of house groups.

Fourth, notice words that Rees didn’t use in her article: “worship,” “Jesus,” “Scripture,” and “discipleship.” In a frankly bizarre and stunning omission, she left out everything that constitutes the marks of a true church and what actually are the best things about church! The magnetic power of Jesus, the mystery of the sacraments, joining something ancient, the joy of worship, hearing God’s word preached with passion, rejoicing and lament, discipleship, mentoring, sharing in life together, a global communion, baptisms-marriages-funerals, and mission.

I would urge people to read Rees article, and then to go to the other extreme and read or watch Pope Pius XIII’s speech to the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel (from HBO’s The Young Pope). It is quite a speech!

Brother cardinals, we need to go back to being prohibited, inaccessible and mysterious. That’s the only way we can once again become desirable. That is the only way great loves stories are born. And I don’t want any more part-time believers. I want great love stories. I want fanatics for God. Because fanaticism is love. 

I don’t go for either Rees or Pius XIII’s plan for the church, but if push comes to shove, I’m more inclined towards Pius. Forget pandering to millennials, let’s be mysterious, alien, passionate, and (in the best sense) fanatical.

Photo: Wikimedia commons.

September 3, 2018

Given the clergy sexual abuse scandal that is currently rocking the Catholic Church about what Pope Francis knew about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, I thought I’d post this quote from St. Basil.

A cleric or monk who seduces youths or young boys or is found kissing or in any other impure situations is to be publicly flogged and lose his tonsure. When his hair has been shorn, his face is to be foully besmeated with spit and he is to be bound in iron chains. For six months he will languish in prison-like confinement and on three days of each week shall fast on barely bread in the evening. After this he will spend another six months under the custodial care of a spiritual elder, remaining in a segregated cell, giving himself to manual work and prayer, subject to vigils and prayers. He may go for walks but always under the custodial care of two spiritual brethren, and he shall never again associate with youths in private conversation or in counselling them.

Twitter tells me the source is: St. Peter Damian’s Liber Gomorrhianus #38 (quoting Burchard’s Decretals quoting St. Basil).

I have it on Google Books.

April 19, 2016

The Saint Hilarious Herald: Southern Seminary Students Build Shrine to Tom Schreiner
Students at the Southern Seminary Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky have begun building shrines and icons to one of their most beloved teachers, Professor Thomas R. Schreiner, the renowned biblical scholar and pastor.

Thomas R. Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Associate Dean of the School of Theology. Schreiner, a specialist in the study of the Apostle Paul, is the author or editor of several books including, Romans, in the Baker Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament; Interpreting the Pauline Epistles; The Law and Its Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law; The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance; Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives of Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace; Paul, and especially his well-known volume Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology. Schreiner is  not only a first-class scholar, he is also one of the most popular professors on campus, and even finds time to preach regularly at Kenwood Baptist Church.

There is nothing strange about professors being popular with students, but Schreiner’s popularity went from stratrospheric heights to positively heavenly. A group of students, led by Billy-Joe Wachowski III of Lexington, have started venerating Professor Schreiner as a living Baptist saint. Billy-Joe and his friends are convinced that Schreiner’s textbooks not only contain biblical doctrines, but impart supernatural wisdom to students, and even emit divine healing powers. The Saint Hilarius Herald’s NASCAR and religion correspondent Michel Vogel went to Louisville to find out what all the fuss was about. He spoke to Billy-Joe in Southern Seminary’s on-campus BBQ house.

Billy-Joe chewed down a family size portion of pork ribs and a gallon of ice tea, and then related his story to Vogel: “One day right before an exam for my Romans class I went totally cray cray, I lost the plot, I couldn’t remember a thing. I couldn’t remember how many chapters were in Romans, who wrote Romans, or anything about Romans. My mind went blank and I panicked. So there in the hallway I prayed, and after a few seconds, nothing happened, brain still empty, zip, nada. I was so nervous and anxious, I was sweating like a Duke grad at a feminist convention, folks were asking me what was wrong, but I couldn’t speak. So I just picked up my of copy of Tom Schreiner’s Romans commentary and gently tapped it against my head as I prayed, ‘Lord help me remember.’ And then, all of sudden, with each tap, memories came flooding back, I could see the entire Greek text of Romans in front me like it was an open book, sentence diagrams flashed before my eyes, and bibliographies were downloaded into my head. With each tap of Prof Schreiner’s book on my head, I got smarter and smarter, until I was knocking that thing on my forehead like I was headbutting  an overly amorous moose. And it worked, I calmed down, I took the exam, and got an A triple plus. I normally gets C’s, so this was a miracle. Then I told everyone my story, and word got out.”

Word indeed got out, soon hundreds of Southern Seminary students were banging Schreiner’s books against their heads or just touching his lecture notes in hope of securing a blessing before exams. As a result, the average GPA of Southern students in New Testament studies jumped to a whopping 4.0 up from a previously modest 2.9. Sale of Schreiner’s books soared as everyone on campus purchased every book they could get their hands on. Student were not only carrying the books around in their bags, they even began attaching them to chains and wearing them around their necks as jewelry. One young man nearly had his ear torn off when he tried attaching Schreiner’s New Testament Theology to his earing. Soon there was only standing room  in Schreiner’s lectures,  students cued up for hours asking to be anointed with oil by him, and a riot broke out at a nearby Lifeway store over the last copy of his recent book on Hebrews.

It was then that Billy-Joe, with the permission of the SBTS administration, built a small shrine to Tom Schreiner in an unused office on the south side of the campus. It is a place where students could come to receive the shrine of Schreiner blessing to help them with their studies. Students  light candles, thank Jesus for Professor Schreiner, touch his books, and can be anointed with holy oil by one of Professor Schreiner’s teaching assistants. “We believe Professor Schreiner is a living saint,” Billy-Joe said from the small and crowded room, “God is blessing us students with grades and achievements through Professor Schreiner that are just not humanly possible. That’s fact.” Which is why Billy-Joe and a number of his friends launched a campaign to have Tom Schreiner canonized as a Baptist saint and to have his iconic image erected in Southern Seminary’s beautiful chapel.

Billy-Joe and his wife Xanthe at Southern Seminary’s Tom Schreiner Shrine of Exegetical Remembrance.

St Thomas the ExegeteProfessor Brian Vickers, Southern Seminary’s Vice President for Baptist Saints, Relics, and Iconography said that we should not be surprised at what is happening at Southern. “There is a long tradition of Baptist saint veneration. From John the Baptist, to Lottie Moon, to Johnny Cash, to Mike Huckabee, we’ve always believed that certain Baptist believers were given special spiritual gifts, that our communion with them is more powerful than death, and that God still guides us through their example and the relics they leave behind. For instance, I keep an autographed Johnny Cash guitar in my office which I use as a prayer aid, and Southern Seminary’s President, Al Mohler, never preaches without a cigar case full of Billy Graham’s toenail clippings in his pocket, not for luck, for divine empowerment.” When asked if this was controversial Prof Vickers acknowledged that it was, “Yes, some folks accuse us of popery and worshipping men, but Southern Seminary has two theological distinctives, Reformed theology and iconodore liturgy. And we’re proud of of them, very proud!”

Kenwood Baptist Church is in the process of changing it’s name to Saint Thomas the Exegete in honor of Professor Schreiner. Billy-Joe will be leading a delegation to the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual conference to campaign for the election of Prof. Schreiner as a living Baptist saint. Already former US Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush have co-authored a letter sent to both the Roman Pontiff and the Patriarch of Constantinople to secure their recognition of Schreiner’s canonization, and initial reports suggest that both the Catholic and Orthodox churches are warmly disposed to recognizing Schreiner as a Baptist saint. The decision of course rests with the SBC, but if the students at Southern Seminary have anything to say about, Saint Thomas the Exegete could prove to be the most popular Baptist saint in SBC history.

Professor “Saint” Tom “The Exegete” Schreiner will also be visiting Australia in May-June of 2016, and delivering the prestigious Leon Morris Lecture at Ridley College on Wed 1 June, see the website for details (FYI, this bit is true!)


Bishop photo from

Matt and Erin Browne for posing in the make-shift Schreiner shrine.

Icon by Aaron Long of SEBTS.

Thomas R. Schreiner photo from Southern Seminary

Disclaimer: The Saint Hilarius Herald is a fictitious and comical news source, much like The Onion and The Babylon Bee, so don’t take it literally or get offended, just trying to have some laughs.
July 7, 2014

Over at The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch, has a piece on The Great Secession about the apparent exodus of religious conservatives from mainstream culture and even every day life. Its a good piece to read and gives good pause for thought in the culture wars going on the west between the gay and god-fearing.

Rauch declares his main point:

I am someone who believes that religious liberty is the country’s founding freedom, the idea that made America possible. I am also a homosexual atheist, so religious conservatives may not want my advice. I’ll give it to them anyway. Culturally conservative Christians are taking a pronounced turn toward social secession: asserting both the right and the intent to sequester themselves from secular culture and norms, including the norm of nondiscrimination. This is not a good idea. When religion isolates itself from secular society, both sides lose, but religion loses more.

At one level I feel like Rauch has discovered that the Pope is Catholic. A huge chunk of conservative American Protestants have always had a “separatist” mentality, one that peaked in the 1920s-60s, and is proven by the number of private Christian schools and private Christian colleges. Christians love setting up their own little enclaves as it were (anyone been to Grand Rapids folks?) Yet I would point out, that the so-called secession is partly due to a secular push to get religion and churches out of the public square: out of education, out of government, out of media, and even out of charities that receive government funding. While some might be running out, others are being pushed out.

But he gets one thing quite right, the fear factor:

One is the fear that traditional religious views, especially about marriage, will soon be condemned as no better than racism, and that religious dissenters will be driven from respectable society, denied government contracts, and passed over for jobs—a fear heightened by well-publicized stories like the recent one about the resignation of Mozilla’s CEO, who had donated to the campaign against gay marriage in California. After a talk I gave recently in Philadelphia on free speech, a woman approached me claiming that the school system where she works harasses and fires anyone who questions gay marriage. I wanted to point out that in most states it’s perfectly legal to fire people just for being gay, whereas Christians enjoy robust federal and state antidiscrimination protections, but the look in her eyes was too fearful for convincing. Perhaps it is natural for worried people to daydream about some kind of escape. One Christian acquaintance told me, “I say half jokingly to my wife, ‘Where do we move?’ ”

He rightly points out the difference is perception and that is much of the problem:

I must sadly acknowledge that there is an absolutist streak among some secular civil-rights advocates. They think, justifiably, that discrimination is wrong and should not be tolerated, but they are too quick to overlook the unique role religion plays in American life and the unique protections it enjoys under the First Amendment. As a matter of both political wisdom and constitutional doctrine, the faithful have every right to seek reasonable accommodations for religious conscience. The problem is that what the social secessionists are asking for does not seem all that reasonable, especially to young Americans. When Christian businesses boycott gay weddings and pride celebrations, and when they lobby and sue for the right to do so, they may think they are sending the message “Just leave us alone.” But the message that mainstream Americans, especially young Americans, receive is very different. They hear: “What we, the faithful, really want is to discriminate. Against gays. Maybe against you or people you hold dear. Heck, against your dog.”

That probably sums it up and is the heart of the debate. How do you balance religious freedom with anti-discrimination laws, both of which are good things!

I actually agree with Rauch’s solution:

There is, of course, a very different Christian tradition: a missionary tradition of engagement and education, of resolutely and even cheerfully going out into an often uncomprehending world, rather than staying home with the shutters closed. In this alternative tradition, a Christian photographer might see a same-sex wedding as an opportunity to engage and interact: a chance, perhaps, to explain why the service will be provided, but with a moral caveat or a prayer. Not every gay customer would welcome such a conversation, but it sure beats having the door slammed in your face.

In fact, the missional reason to stay and work in the secular gay-friendly post/anti-Christian world is THE reason. Let me throw us out, feed us to the lions, but don’t walk away.

June 27, 2012

The last Australian Census (2011) has some interesting statistics. Note the following (HT: Australia Incognita)

  • Same sex couples: 33, 714 (so 67, 428 people);
  • Jedi Knights, 65,000.

So there are roughly the same number of gay and lesbians as there are jedi knights in Australia. Two implications:

(1) Perhaps we should provide state sponsored ceremonies to affirm and validate the jedi order and to give them the same rights and privileges as non-Jedi people – it’s time for justice for jedis.

(2) What if the two groups, of roughly the same number, actually refer to the same people. What if they are co-terminus? Yes, what if Australia is inhabited by  around 65, 000 gay and lesbian jedi knights? Think about it, it does make sense. Two male and supposedly “celibate” jedi knights cruising around lonely parts of the universe together. Best friend is a gold effeminate robot prone to panic attacks. Seem to have an unusual interest in long sword shaped neon lights. Known to be involved in using “probes.” Dress like hermit hipsters. Have a recurrent interest in recruiting young boys to join their club. It all makes sense now. The jedi order is more gay than Oxford Street in February. But let’s think this through. What if these gay jedi start using their jedi powers to force us to recognize their religion and to give them jedi marriage licenses. This could be bad.

So I say we turn to the one group who can save us from the Gay Jedi, who is that you ask, Catholic Sith Lords.

We need more than Defence of Marriage Act, we need a Death Star to guard us from these gay Jedi.

(Disclaimer: I actually like Benedict XVI, I’ve enjoyed his “back to the basics” approach, but please, my Catholic friends, next time you chose a Pope, try not to get one who looks like a super villain from a big movie franchise).

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