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Christmas is about home…

A Theology Network Christmas

The Christmas season is looming! Well, almost… This might seem a little soon, but prompted by the release of the new John Lewis Christmas advert (mind those tears!) and an obsession with starting on the Christmas music early, we’ve been having a think about festive ideas for your Theology Network groups.

CU Carol Services

All around the country Christian Unions organise fantastic Christmas events – such as great carol services in co-operation with their student unions and other societies. As theologians in the Christian Union – get involved! Sing in the choir, bake mince pies or, if you would rather stick to your strengths, offer to do a reading from the bible (1 Timothy 4:13 anyone?)

Or, since the CU Carol Service is usually the biggest evangelistic event of the year, why not organise a pre-event event (if you know what I mean?!). Think mulled wine and mince pies, Christmas music and decorations, and have a speaker (the Carol Service speaker themselves? Or an evangelical lecturer?) give a short talk on ‘Christmas for theologians’. Hold it in a venue close to the church (the divinity department, a pub function room, a large flat) and when done have everyone walk to the Carol Service together!

Christmas debates

It’s only November – but now is a great time to start organising. Get creative now by thinking of ways to share the gospel with theology/divinity departments. Previously, TN groups have hosted debates on the theology of the incarnation, on the virgin birth etc. It’s just a perfect opportunity to challenge other students on the historicity of Jesus’ life and the implications of those nativity events – case in point “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”! (Matt.1:21)

Smaller events

If that sounds a little too formal, why not have a think about organising some smaller initiatives that will brighten up your course-mates’ Christmas? Give out candy canes or mince pies in your 9am lectures (you will, we are sure, attend these regularly anyway!), put on a hilarious, do-it-yourself nativity, host a short talk on the real meaning of Christmas, or write something on the same topic for your student newspaper. People love Christmas and they appreciate your generosity and Christmas spirit – they might even start asking questions as to why you love caring for them and why you get so excited around Christmas!

Revision sessions

Finally, have a think about getting together as a group to revise for those pesky Christmas exams. Make a day of it, share some good food, pursue theological excellence, and invite your friends who aren’t Christians to join in!

Give your ideas in the comments below!

Know God better, love Jesus more, join the Christmas revolution!

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Post by Josh Oldfield, Theology Network Relay Intern, 2014-15

Why Nietzsche was better than Dawkins

David Bentley Hart in Atheist Delusions:

What, however, we should never forget is where those larger notions of the moral good, to which even atheists can feel a devotion, come from, and this is no small matter. Compassion, pity, and charity, as we understand and cherish them, are not objects found in nature, like trees or butterflies or academic philosophers, but are historically contingent conventions of belief and practice, formed by cultural convictions that need never risen at all. Many societies have endured and indeed flourished quite well without them. It is laudable that Dennett is disposed (as I assume he is) to hate economic, civil, or judicial injustice, and that he believes we should not abandon our fellow human beings to poverty, tyranny, exploitation, or despair. Good manners, however, should oblige him and others like him to acknowledge that they are inheritors of a social conscience whose ethical grammar would have been very different had it not been shaped by Christianity’s moral premises: the ideals of justice for the oppressed the church took from Judaism, Christianity’s own special language of charity, its doctrine of God’s universal love, its exaltation of forgiveness over condemnation, and so on. And good sense should prompt them to acknowledge that absolutely nothing ensures that, once Christian beliefs have been finally and fully renounced, those values will not slowly dissolve, to be replaced by others that are coarser, colder, more pragmatic, and more “inhuman.” On this score, it would be foolish to feel especially sanguine; and there are good causes, as I shall discuss in the final part of this book, for apprehension. This one reason why the historical insight and intellectual honesty of Nietzsche were such precious things, and why their absence from so much contemporary antireligious polemic renders it so depressingly vapid. [David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies16.]

HT Bobby Grow

Did John rely on a ‘signs source’ for his gospel?

Rudolf Bultmann (1971) set the agenda for modern source analysis of John by postulating a ‘signs’ source, a ‘discourse’ source and a ‘passion’ source to account for a sizeable percentage of John’s unique material. Only the signs-source ever commended itself to a large number of scholars…

Gilbert van Belle’s exhaustive survey of scholarship on a signs-source summarizes five arguments supporting its existence and five reasons that make him conclude the hypothesis to be improbable (1994: 366-376). In its favour are (1) the fact that the first two signs are numbered (John 2:11; 4:54), as if John were relying on a source containing all seven signs that he presents (the rest without numbering); (2) the possibility that John 20:31 reads like the end of a Gospel because it formed the end of the signs-source (and thus it highlights the positive value of these sēmeia); (3) certain stylistic peculiarities in John’s miracle narratives; (4) the homogeneity of the form of these narratives, which is distinct from the synoptic miracle stories, and (5) the seemingly different theology and Christology of these texts.

On the other hand, (1) John could have numbered his first two signs as easily as a source could have; the lack of further numbers does not really count for or against a separate source document. (2) Chapter 21 should be viewed as an epilogue designed to be an integral part of the Gospel. (3) There are more stylistic affinities between the miracle accounts and the rest of the Gospel than there are differences. (4) The form-critical homogeneity is equally attributable to John. (5) Why appeal to a source at all, especially when there are other explanations of the theological tensions? If the final editor of John were really correcting the theology of his source(s), why did he not simply remove all trace of it, or at least radically subordinate the strand of thought he inherited to his own? While it might seem to bolster the case for historicity to appeal to an early written source on which the fourth Gospel drew, the evidence is too slight for us to do so with any confidence.

…Pierson Parker’s famous tongue-in-cheek dictum (1956: 304) has proved prophetic: ‘Unlike the various parts of Matthew and Luke, the writings supposed to underlie John exhibit the same theology and the same language and style throughout. It looks as though, if the author of the Fourth Gospel used documentary sources, he wrote them all himself.’

From The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, by Craig Blomberg, pp.45-46

Theology Football Squad

This world cup I have really enjoyed. The games are exciting, the teams tend to have an attacking philosophy and there have been lots of goals. Given the joy it has brought, I have decided to combine it with my studies to come up with a theology football squad. So without further ado, here it is.

Theologians United: Starting Eleven


Goalkeeper – Athanasius of Alexandria

A world class keeper, Athanasius is a stalwart shot stopper. This was vicariously demonstrated at the Nicene Cup, where he saved attempt after attempt from the talented playmaker Arius. With a determined yet composed mind-set, this boy’s courage in the face of adversity makes him the first name on the team sheet.

Right-back – Anselm of Canterbury

This player will never settle for anything less than the greatest conceivable result. Always to be relied upon, Anselm will not be satisfied with his performance without a complete sacrifice on his part, as demonstrated by his excellent marshalling of inform striker Guanilo last week.


Centre-back – Thomas Aquinas

Coached by Aristotle, it is no shock that he is at the heart of the defence. Don’t be fooled by his analogical interviewing style – this man is the real deal. Aquinas’ natural ability manifests itself in working with the players around him up towards the desired victory. His athleticism, ability to read the game, strength, speed and his prolific goal-scoring from set plays are just five proofs of why he should be in the team.


Centre-back – Augustine of Hippo

Following a disastrous move from city to city and his latest off-pitch confession, it is a real surprise Augustine has made the starting line-up. Having overcome his original sins, it was thought he had turned a corner, but recent events suggest otherwise. However, his past record of being able to ascend to lofty heights from even the darkest moments of his career may have inspired the manager to choose him, knowing that a bit of grace is what this player needs to shine.


Left-back – N. T. Wright

This lad has offered a fresh, new perspective on how to be a left back, causing a division of opinion amongst commentators and players alike. Having had his techniques undermined and exploited by strikers Piper and Carson, in recent seasons Wright has had to reign in his novel approach and has begun to incorporate more traditional elements to his game. Nevertheless, with a tremendous output, jovial attitude and vast experience, the opposition must be wary of his prowess.



Right Midfield – John Wesley

Something of a perfectionist, this winger has developed his game to a high standard. Having been ridiculed for his training methods, his play has silenced the critics with its sublime organisation combined with exuberant performances. His roaming attacks strangely warm the heart, igniting a spirit of attacking football.


Central Midfield – John Calvin (Captain)

Having instituted a reformation in the fortunes of Geneva United, it was predestined that Calvin would have his name on the team sheet. Having had triple honours at club level, it is now time for him to make his mark on the world stage. Emphasising simplicity, this man’s ability to dictate play and allow others to build upon his work is impeccable.

Central Midfield – Karl Barth

A revelation of late, this dogmatic midfielder plays off Calvin and gets stuck into the action. Following the manager’s word, he is a reliable, yet visceral player, enforcing his side’s dominance. However, this abrasive style can often cause dialectical dischord between him and his fellow teammates.


Left Midfield – Cornelius Van Til

It was presupposed before this column that Van Til would be selected, as his skill is truly transcendental! Through this one man, many other players are united through his excellent distribution of the ball, electric movement and game management. One risk with his selection may be his long time feud with Barth, ignited by Van Til calling him irrational after a club match. 



Forward – Martin Luther

The manager’s faith in Luther has been fully justified as he has had some stunning performances of late. Only he can grace the pitch with such speed, aggression and skill. A great communicator, Luther leads by example and inspires others to get the best out of their attributes. However, he does not see the coach as the final authority on tactical matters, which could prove a problem if he disagrees with the manager’s interpretation on how to win the game.


Forward – Soren Kierkegaard

Whilst his form is objectively uncertain, this player’s subjective commitment to the cause is unquestionable. Modelling his style on the father of football, Abraham, Kierkegaard is a classic centre forward. Regardless of the guise he has assumed, he always pops up in the right position to score. However, with his fragile temperament, it was a leap of faith on the manager’s part to pick him for this important match.


Tactical View



Substitutes and Management

Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa all find themselves on the bench today. Whilst these three persons have a perichoretic chemistry, the nature of team does not suit their ticci-tacca style. However, if the team needs a change, these top players of Cappadocia F.C. all have a lot to give. 

Also substitutes are Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff. A liberating presence on the team, these two attackers can open up oppressive defences to great effect. However, the beautiful game requires a revolution before they truly have a place in football.

Duns Scotus may make his debut today. This lad’s nominal quality is far exceeding most others, with his precision passing a delight to observe. His presence on the park is universal, and his ability to formally distinguish the flaws in the opposition is a marvel to behold. 

In form striker Francis of Assisi is on the bench. Whilst he spends his time with lots of birds, this man’s charity on the ball is to be admired. Moreover, his work ethic is to be praised, carrying on even when he is faced with stigmatic injuries.


Manager – Paul of Tarsus

No one else could manage a side with so many big names. Having been a world class player, being an extremely zealous footballer, Paul has brought that ethic into his management, encouraging his players to unite in spirit. Moreover, he has successfully coached Thessalonica F.C., Corinthians, Ephesus United among other clubs. Recognising that a team is like a body, he has a good balance to his squads. Yet most importantly, he engenders a philosophy within his players to be living sacrifices for each other.


Do you agree with this selection? Who would you choose? Leave your comments below, and thanks for reading. 

Thanks to my father for contributing to some of the selections. 

Guest post by Nathan Hood, a former Edinburgh Theology Network group leader who blogs at solumjesum.blogspot.co.uk