Monthly Archives: December 2012
This is an oldie but a goodie – from the (now retired) Merrie Theologiane:
The Merrie Theologiane loves the odd bit of art. In this Christmas card for the Skinny Magazine, artist Nick Cocozza imagines the greatest head to head “in all history” – the patron saint of Xmas, who leads his devotees in a pilgrimage of Coca Cola consumerism each ‘winter holiday’, against baby Jesus (now grown up), the one who bangs on about the real meaning of Christmas (virgins, mangers, angels, wise men, asses, etc.). Just do a bit of letter jiggling, and it’s clear that Santa is Jesus’ sworn enemy! Right? Wrong!
If Santa and Jesus met (and most surely they already have!), Santa would be very much on Jesus’ side! The real Santa, is a great Hebrews 11 style witness to help us celebrate the coming of the Saviour of the world at Christmas time. Santa Claus/Sinterklaas/Saint Nicholas was a bishop in south eastern Turkey in the fourth century. Gift-giving, stockings, generosity, chimneys, being nice to children, bags of chocolate coins, all have their origins in the life and legends of old St. Nick.
The stories surrounding St. Nicholas – of selfless generosity and care for the poor (and the odd miracle!) – give us a glimpse of a man who was a great example of love for Jesus producing love for neighbour. So Claus and Christ are no enemies. But there was another occasion on which Santa Nicholas gave evidence of his great love for Jesus – and this one did involve some boxing…
Bishop Nicholas was one of the 318 in attendance at the famous Council of Nicaea in 325AD, from which we get our Nicene Creed. There was great controversy because Arius, a priest from Alexandria, was arguing that, though Jesus was fully human, he was not fully divine. On hearing Arius’ denigrating of Christ, ‘jolly old St. Nick’ got up and gave him a good slap round the chops! The rest of the council agreed with Nicholas, and Arius was condemned a heretic, but Father Christmas found himself behind bars for the night!
So you see Christ vs. Claus is really very far from reality – and we should reclaim this great prize fighter of the faith for the Lord he loved! Gene Edward Veith suggests we need to tweak the Lapland mythology to suit this end: “Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean.” And maybe we need some new songs and TV shows too: "’Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,’ ‘Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,’ ‘Frosty the Gnostic,’ ‘How the Arian Stole Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus.’"
So when you’re writing your letters to Santa this year, remember that a very very long time ago, he wrote one to you:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth;
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.
But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.
[Translation of the original text of the 325AD Nicene Creed from Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom]
Glen Scrivener’s brilliant poem comparing Santa with God.
They say there’s a big man who lives far away,
Supposedly jolly but it’s hard to say.
I’ve never seen him, and neither have you.
But the children believe, and I spose that’ll do.
He’s known as a loner, with many a quirk
No time for a chat, he’s embroiled in his work
He keeps to himself, for most of the year,
I reckon we’re grateful he doesn’t appear.
We send him requests, for particular needs,
But we never hear back, who knows if he heeds?
We try to be good, give his arm a twist,
To merit our place on his blessed little list.
And maybe one day if we do what we should,
He’ll give us our things, so long as we’re good.
I’ve had it to here, I’m calling his bluff:
He’s a weird moralistic dispenser of stuff!
Granted, this rant is a strange one to pick
But listen I’m not really after St Nick
As strange as he is, and Santa is odd,
In fact I’m attacking most folks’ view of God.
It’s God who we see as a distant Big Guy –
An ancient, invisible, St Nick in the Sky.
“He’s sees you asleep, He knows when you wake
He’s watching and waiting to spot your mistake.”
And just like with Santa, requests we hand in,
We want all his things but we don’t want him.
That’s our connection with old Father Christmas.
We might dress it up, it’s essentially business.
Throughout the year, good behaviour’s our onus
When Christmas rolls round we’re expecting our bonus.
“Just leave us the gifts Nick, we’ve been good enough!
And then please push on, now we’ve got all your stuff!”
I mean Santa is interesting, curious, quirky
But no-one wants him to share their Turkey!
I’m sure his “ho, ho, hos” are sublime,
But I fear what he’ll say once he’s drunk our mulled wine.
That’s old St Nick, but the picture rings true,
It’s how we imagine what God is like too.
But Christmas resounds with a stunning “Not so!”
The One from on high was born down below.
To a world in need He did not send another.
God the Son became God our Brother.
He drew alongside, forever to dwell,
Our God in the flesh, Immanuel.
This God in the Manger uproots all our notions:
A heavenly stooping, divine demotion.
Born in a stable, wriggling on straw,
Fully committed to life in the raw.
Santa gives things and then goes away.
Jesus shows up, to befriend and to stay.
Santa rewards those with good behaviour.
Jesus comes near to the broken as Saviour.
If you don’t like God, I think I know why…
You probably think He’s St Nick in the Sky.
You’re right to reject that far-away stranger!
This Christmas look down to the God in the manger.
Follow Glen Scrivener at his blog Christ the Truth, and on Twitter @glenscrivener
This book is an odd one. The premise is very specific, but the application and utility of this book cannot be understated.
“Unapologetic Apologetics” is a book of essays on apologetics that was borne out of discussion between a variety of former students at Princeton Theological Seminary. The story, at least to this part-time theology nerd, is quite interesting. The Seminary used to be powerful, biblical, and ran modules on apologetics. Eventually, they stopped. This story is told in one of the essays in this book, which as a story provides a stark warning to those of us who love study, love our institutions, and desire that Jesus be made famous even by people whose names end in “BA (Hons), MA, PhD, M. Div” and so on. This book seeks to begin to equip us to do so – I think it succeeds.
As a tool for apologetics, this is a useful one. Think of it as a swiss-army knife; it’s not perfect for any particular job, but it will get you started. The essays in this book are all written by serious brains, and reflect genuine and sustained engagement with the ideas that are discussed. And the range of ideas is pretty broad! Theology and Religious Studies students need to be jacks of all trades, at least at undergraduate level. Curveballs can fly in from all sorts of directions, and so a broad understanding of a range of key discussions is very helpful. “Unapologetic Apologetics” provides a fantastic starting point for lots of those discussions!
The first section, nattily entitled “Foundations”, is three essays that set the scene for the rest of the book. The first two of these are both by William Dembski, and the first is “The Task of Apologetics”. This opening essay is broad in its scope, but clear in its conclusions; “There is an inviolable core to the Christian faith. Harsh as it sounds, to violate that core is to place ourselves outside the Christian tradition. This is the essence of heresy”. We aren’t dealing with obscure Greek verbs here, this stuff matters. Dembski rightly challenges us to be “not merely a seeker after truth but an apologist for the truth”. The second of Dembski’s essays is particularly relevant, engaging with what he calls “The Fallacy of Contextualism”. The problem with this c-word comes when we move from the valid observation that underlies moderate contextualism, and instead “embrace the dogma that contexts fundamentally determine what is true”. This essay is a useful one, with the bold concluding aim, “the goal will be to transform the Christian context into the secular context”. The third essay in this opening is the aforementioned history of apologetics at Princeton Seminary, which provides a useful case study for those of us seeking to be faithful and at the same time academically rigorous and critically engaged.
The second section of this book equips the reader to think powerfully about the bedrock of Christian confession; Scripture. The three essays here touch on some of the most important issues surrounding discussion of Scripture, and which relate to some of the most common discussions in apologetics. The first of these is Dembski on “The Problem of Error in Scripture”. His opening question hits the nail on the head; “Is it possible to steer clear of a wooden literalism on the one hand and a hypercritical approach to the Bible on the other?” C.S.Lewis once wrote a stunning essay called “Fern Seed and Elephants”, where as a literary critic he observed that many critical biblical scholars are in fact very poor literary critics, simply as they fail to understand the text! There is obviously more to it than that, but Dembski’s essay is helpful here. Jay Wesley Richards’ essay on “Naturalism in Theology & Biblical Studies” is incredibly useful, engaging with the underlying cultural philosophy of much of our contemporary world, and why it is a shoddy basis for engaging in Biblical Studies! The third and final essay here continues the Princeton story, with Raymond Cannata’s “Old Princeton and the Doctrine of Scripture”.
The Third section, on Christology, is where this book really gets going in my opinion. The opening essay, “Is the Doctrine of the Incarnation Coherent?” is a good attempt at answering a frequently levelled challenge to Christianity. This is solid apologetics. We then read “Christology and the “Y” Chromosome”, before coming to one of my favourite essays here, “Can a Male Saviour Save Women?” Starting with a refutation of Mary Daly’s infamous “If God is male then male is God”, this is a thoughtful but firm analysis of some of the issues that arise in the touchstone of feminism and theology.
The Fourth part, simply titled Theology, is a trio of excellent though unrelated essays. The best here – and my overall favourite in terms of utility – is Leslie Zeigler’s “Christianity or Feminism?” This is a superb introductory engagement with the issue, one of great concern to at least half the world’s population, and a defining issue in recent and modern theology. There is an interesting essay here about “Jesus’ Paradigm for Relating Human Experience and Language About God”, but I was more interested in “A Pascalian Argument Against Universalism”. Universalism is of course another hot topic, so it is interesting to see it included here. This flows perhaps out of the contrast of this book and its apologetics approach, compared to the more pluralistic and relativistic attitudes of contemporary Princetonian thought.
The Fifth part is perhaps the least useful, except for specific theological engagement with science. William Dembski provides two of the three essays, opening with “What Every Theologian Should Know about Creation, Evolution & Design”, and following that up with “Reinstating Design Within Science”. The bold title of the first of these two is, in my opinion, better answered and grounded by Michael Horton in his systematic Theology, The Christian Faith. The closing essay in this section is another interesting one, with a more philosophical bent; “The Challenge of the Human Sciences: The Necessity of an Interactive & Dualistic Ontology”.
The afterword makes an insightful observation that demonstrates the value of this book. Commenting on the (American) trend of seminary students losing their faith, James Parker III comments; “They survived university studies because they understood the pervasive influence of naturalism at the university”.