Making Sense of the Bible, by Adam Hamilton

Making Sense of the BibleAdam Hamilton envisions having a conversation with readers around questions they might ask of what the Bible is and what it teaches. He recognises that the Bible may be disturbing and  perplexing. It is not his aim to provide answers; he seeks rather to summarise ideas and encourage readers to think. He does this well, in clear language.

The book is divided into two broad  sections.  The first deals with the nature of scripture, beginning with biblical geography and a timeline before moving on to who wrote the books of the Old  Testament (Hebrew scriptures), when and why. Hamilton speaks of how the canon (accepted books) of the Old Testament was formed and discusses the place of the Deuterocanonical books that, for Protestants, are included in the Apocrypha. He moves on to discuss the formation of the New Testament, differences between the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John and  authorship of the letters attributed to Paul.

Having presented this in a very readable style, Hamilton addresses questions such as: is the Bible inspired? How does God speak through scripture? and is the Bible inerrant and infallible? He  sees inspiration as the Spirit’s influence on ideas and holds that sometimes biblical writers failed to understand God’s mind and character. If Jesus is himself the Word of God then, in Hamilton’s  view, the actual text of the Bible cannot be infallible in any absolute sense. Hamilton suggests that Jesus’ emphasis on love for God and neighbour is like a kitchen colander through which all the  teaching of the Bible should be strained. Continue Reading

Messages from the aether: Voices for the voiceless

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A God who gambles

Genesis Chapter 1 offers an insight into the bigger picture of the function of every believer. In this article, J Barrett Owen likens God to Martin Luther King, famous for his “I have a dream” speech. Martin  Luther King visualised the potential of the vast, seemingly barren expanse before him. Much like God, he deliberated over the problem and the potential, visualising a solution. Knowing that he did not have  his dream, just for the sake of it, he chose to take a risk on top of that dream, and he did this with others in mind. That is really the message of salvation in a nutshell and the mandate of every follower of Jesus Christ. We are put on this earth for others. To speak out and act on behalf of those who are incapacitated and unable to fight for themselves. Continue Reading

Freedom (movie), by Cuba Gooding Jr, William Sadler, Anna Sims and Bernhard Forcher

FreedomFreedom is Australian singer, turned producer/director, Peter Cousens’ first big screen directorship and features an Academy Award winner actor in the lead role.

Although directed by an Australian and released by the Queensland based Heritage Films, the movie was shot entirely in the US and represents a bold venture for independent film makers.

Those familiar words of John Newton’s hymn, Amazing Grace, feature large throughout the film and although Newton’s experience as the captain of a slave vessel in 1748 forms part of the screenplay, the movie is also about another man who also searches for freedom.

The 100 year separation of Newton (Bernhard Forcher) and slave Samuel Woodward (Cuba Gooding Jr) and his family in 1856 enables Cousens to have their two experiences share the rawness of what was acceptable human behaviour in generations past, the treatment (or perhaps mistreatment) of slaves in captivity.

A bold escape from the plantation near Richmond, Virginia takes Woodward and his family on a journey not without incredible danger and risk. A secret network of ordinary people known as the ‘Underground Railroad’ guide the family on their journey north to Canada. They are relentlessly pursued by the notorious slave hunter Plimpton (William Sadler). Hunted like a dog and haunted by the unthinkable suffering he and his forbears have endured, Samuel is forced to decide between revenge and freedom.Continue Reading

Undivided: Closing the faith-life gap, by Graham Hooper

UndividedThe easiest way to tell what anyone believes, what they value, is to look at how they behave and how they spend their time and money. It becomes uncomfortable when, through either our own realisation or  by someone else pointing it out, our external behaviours don’t match up with what we say we value.

Undivided by Graham Hooper is a book about what we do with these contradictions in our lives, both individually and corporately. These reflections are offered from one who has worked to connect his  ‘sacred’ faith with his life and ‘secular’ work as an engineer. This is important as sometimes the gulf between church on Sunday and work on Monday can be absurd, yet it is an absurdity that isn’t too hard to  be comfortable with. Continue Reading

1 John: The Epistle as a relecture of the Gospel of John, by Malcolm Coombes

1 JohnWhile 1 John is normally classed among the epistles or letters of the Christian scriptures, it lacks an epistolary beginning or salutation and the usual closing format. Searching for an alternative description some scholars have referred to 1 John as a tract or pastoral document. But however defined it is obvious that the author is writing to a Christian community and is writing out of pastoral concern, even if we cannot be certain who the intended recipients were or exactly what moral or theological difficulties they may have been experiencing.

Coombes explores the idea of 1 John as a relecture (or rereading) of the Gospel of John. He identifies linguistic and thematic similarities and differences and discusses the possibility that, in 1 John, ideas from John’s Gospel are being reread, developed, interpreted, reoriented and reappropriated for a specific pastoral purpose and historical situation.

Examining the literary structure of 1 John, Coombes comments on the rhetorical features used by the writer for amplification and emphasis including contrasts between good and evil, light and darkness, loving and hating. He also notes that while 1 John doesn’t quote directly from the Gospel of John, there are repeated allusions to gospel themes and links formed by key words. A number of tables are included that allow readers to follow this through for themselves. These are set out in a way that assists ease of comparison between 1 John and the Gospel of John. There is also a helpful index of gospel texts cited.Continue Reading

Messages from the aether: Life-giving

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How to stop procrastinating: 18 easy ways

Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone – Pablo Picasso. Everybody procrastinates. This article not only talks about the reasons why we tend to  procrastinate, but gives some easy ways to overcome procrastination, ultimately freeing up our time and aiding us in leading more productive lives. Continue Reading

Bathsheba, Bathed in Grace: How 8 scandalous women changed the world, by Carol Cook

How Scandalous Women Changed the worldChallenged to write a character study of women in the Bible, Carol Cook wondered if she would find enough women mentioned to provide the basis for such a study – but she found at  least 418 women named and wanted to know more. As she read, she realised that many of these women had faced the same struggles she herself had faced. This inspired her to let the  characters tell their own stories. The challenge was to let each woman find her own voice.

In this book, eight so-called “scandalous” women tell their own stories. They are not so much scandalous in terms of wilfully flouting moral and social convention, but rather because of  the circumstances in which their lives were enmeshed. Imagination brings each woman alive so that we hear her speaking in her own right. We are called to lay aside judgement and preconception and listen. As we listen, we may discern the life-changing grace of God at work lifting us out of situations in which we too may have felt entrapped. Continue Reading

Jesus then and Jesus now: Looking for Jesus, finding ourselves, by Gregory C Jenks

Jesus then and Jesus NowIn this book, Jenks, a biblical scholar and Academic Dean at St Francis Theological College in Brisbane, seeks out the actual person, Jesus, who lived and died around 2000 years ago  (Jesus then) and to reflect on ways that this Jesus is relevant to our lives and practice today (Jesus now).

Drawing from a plethora of source material, Jenks takes the reader on an adventure as he places Jesus into his Jewish Palestinian world of the 1st century. He offers some really  refreshing perspectives of Jesus: small town Jesus, out of place in what later became the centre of Christianity – the city; expendable Jesus: one of many who were victims of the  systemic violence embodied in the Roman Empire. Continue Reading

The Elephant in the church, by Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner and Mary Lynn Dell

Elephant in the churchWritten by a pastoral theologian and a psychiatrist, both ordained, this book brings pastoral sensitivity and psychological awareness to factors that can ‘kill ministry’. It is addressed  particularly to ordained ministers; however, it would be useful for anyone in leadership in a congregation, and especially those who are leading congregations without placed ordained  ministers. It explores how congregations often avoid facing difficult aspects of their history or hard decisions about their futures and how leaders might respond.

In this book, “Elephant stands for an obvious truth or issue that is ignored or unnamed, yet is allowed to occupy a large amount of space in the hearts and minds of those who tiptoe  around it.”

The authors point out that finding the elephants is not always as easy as may be imagined – like seeking the cleverly hidden Wally in the Where’s Wally books. Continue Reading

Messages from the aether: Time to act!

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Being in motion vs taking action

It’s a trap we all fall into. The rush of excitement we get when we make the decision that we’re going to take action. We map our course, write lists and think of ways to put our plans  into action. James Clear writes a practical article on the difference between us being in motion to reach our goal vs taking action to actually achieve it.Continue Reading