A Little Background
During the lockdown in 2020 I gave myself the task of writing a few books that would express the core of my beliefs (theology) and hoped they would be stimulating for others to explore their own beliefs. In them I express my acceptance of Scripture as the norm for beliefs and behaviour and seek to allow the text to guide me.
This series of books (and articles / discussion groups that accompany the books) are positioned to be accessible for as many as possible. They are not the final word, the definitive article, and in that sense represent the ‘shallow end’ but seek to be an honest exploration.
For those who like the overall picture of the trajectory of the series, the ‘Arc’ of the books article will be good to read.
I also have a Simple Summary that seeks in less theological language to address the Jewish and the (Roman) Imperial background. I try to outline how remarkable Jesus was in his context, and how unlikely that a message from an obscure province gained any traction (outside a minority of Jews that might have been attracted to the ‘sect’), a message comprising of those who claimed a crucified young man was the Messiah appointed by God.
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Why these Books?
A few books written over a few months, without access to a library, so they are certainly not a set of ‘professional’ books nor with content that could not be disputed… however, my small contribution at this time. This time? As Pope Francis said the time we are in is not an era of change, but is better described as a change of era. That certainly would be my conviction.
I came across discussion about ‘stages of faith’ and a shift in how evangelicalism was defining itself, both of which seemed to gain momentum in the early to mid-90s. It is from that time that I read the very profound statement that:
Something new is happenning; what is new is not that people are leaving the church, but that they are leaving in order to preserve their faith.
A journey of faith must involve questions and the questions rather than being a sign of doubt are actually an indication of a deepening faith that is robust enough to question. At the same time (mid 90s) there was a significant outpouring of the Spirit that many people were impacted by. Add to that global shifts and I think the ‘change of era’ phrase becomes quite descriptive. I hope that between the books and the Zoom calls we can explore within a safe space. Ilia Delio, a Franciscan Sister and American theologian at Villanova University said:
Do we really think God will get angry if we think about God in radically new ways? If so, then we probably should not identify ourselves as Christian, for the person of Jesus Christ was a mutational figure who turned the Jewish God upside down and inside out.
There were many factors that came together to finally push me toward writing. In the mid 90s I received a prophetic word from Marc Dupont that I would write a number of books. In the immediate years that followed I did indeed write a number of books with quite a few translated into other languages. Some 20 years later I met Marc again, not having seen him in the years between. Before we engaged in any level of conversation he simply said - ‘I see another flow of books coming from you.’ I received what he said as it resonated strongly, but was also aware that the viability of selling books only becomes possible when one has a public presence - something I have tried to avoid, so any fulfilment had a barrier to overcome. My response was to have a tattoo inked on to my leg of a plume, an old writing instrument, as a sign that I would write but that inevitably it could not be in a conventional way.
Then came the restrictions with COVID-19 and I was drawn into a number of Zoom groups and I saw that they could facilitate an open-style discussion, so decided to initiate some groups and I wrote some pdf’s to be the basis for discussion. They were incredibly productive for me… then I discovered Boz Publications and the possibility of print on demand (as well as the companion eBooks). As far as the books are concerned, the phrase ‘the rest was history’ became applicable.
I am sure over the next years how the groups run will evolve and as far as possible they will be adjusted to whoever is in them, but the basic concept is to use the material as a bouncing off point in a way that others can bring in their perpspective, reactions and experience. The sub-title to the books as ‘Explorations in Theology’ I hope will be an adequate covering umbrella, with the desired outcome not being that everyone agrees with me!
There is an overall ‘arc’ to the books and the content from one book to the next follows that arc (use the link to ‘The arc of the books’), with the desire to challenge what are often seen as fixed points. The two anchor points I have are
1) submission to the authority of Scripture, but with an approach that means Scripture itself follows a trajectory, a story line from Creation to New Creation; and 2) that the death of Jesus acts as a roadblock to destruction, to the results of total dehumanisation, and opens up the possibility of reconciliation to the Father, thus restoring the journey toward New Creation.
The discussion is open to all - no one becoming involved can do so as the expert. I certainly commit myself in on that basis.
The 'arc' of the books
The four books lay a foundation for many discussions and perhaps other volumes could have been added that address issues of eschatology. The intention of the four volumes is to suggest a direction that would be appropriate on further subjects, and so act foundationally. Read the article to see the flow and direction.
These are open to all who wish to join. I have two ‘rules’!
- No one comes on with the assumption that Martin is correct… and
- no one comes on with the assumption that they are correct.
There are some people the zooms are either not for, or who would not benefit too much from them.
- If one has convictions that are so deeply entrenched in a position, and given my bias, particulary if that entrenchment a person has is rooted in the ‘Reformed’ camp, the groups will not be of value. Groups are not designed to set up something oppositional with those in one corner aiming their theologically honed stones at someone else. I anticipate views being expressed that not all will agree with, but expect that we will all give ear to. Given that I have presuppositions (Scripture’s authority and the cross as the means of reconciliation) zoom groups would be quite difficult if those two presuppositions were not agreed to at a substantial level.
- I respect those who sit in the Reformed camp, but the groups would be of little value to them or others from a very fixed position joining. If one is in that camp by all means review what I have written and feel free to drive a bus through the pages!
- There are also those who have abilities I do not have. I do not find it easy to comprehend what I read, and have not got a great level of knowledge beyond a very narrow area. I am not well versed in theology, the social sciences, history, politics., etc. and there are those who know much more than I do on those and related areas. They are probably far wider read than I am and I would not be able to act as a sounding board to them. Their contribution to the groups might well be invaluable, but would so quickly surpass any content I have written that my concern would be that it would not be valuable to them. I do not write that so that I can be a marginally bigger fish in a small bowl but with the hope that I can make a small contribution to encouraging us all to access the Bible and not to assume it is simply the domain of the expert. After all the writers of the texts were, in main, not towering academics, and even the New Testament was written in ‘koine’ (common) Greek, perhaps we could describe it as ‘street level Greek’!
Those who engage on Zoom calls will not be required to sign a statement of faith! They do not need to be already persuaded of my convictions, nor is that the goal of the process. Sympathetic, willing to step out of the restrictions of a more ‘hard-line’ evangelicalism will be more than enough… and a willingness to listen to others, and be as open as one is comfortable to be.
Hopefully the groups will not be intellectually charged. I am an amateur and given that I find it hard to comprehend what others write, I hope that will establish the basic nature of the zooms. I have written the material and that (unfortunately) puts me by default in the ‘power’ seat. To compensate for that I will introduce into most of the zoom groups a host. I also encourage people to start their own zoom groups for discussion, with the option of inviting me to join from time to time.
To join a group you will need a copy of the book (hardback or eBook) that is relevant for that group; you will need to read the appropriate chapter / section we will be discussing before the pertinent zoom meeting; preferably also to have read any pre-work (consisting of a short introductory article with suggested questions to consider) related to that chapter / section.
A few select articles
For those who are involved in the zoom groups I make available a series of articles, videos and podcasts. Below are a few of those articles.
Reading the Bible historically
Although I am by no means an expert I think it is important to read the text in its history, not simply history to understand the context, but in particular the context of Israel set in the wider context of dominating powers, with the very key element of allowing the Imperial domination (one-world government) of Rome to be what casts a dark shadow over the New Testament era.
The resurrection is such a cosmic event, with a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. In this article I track that the first appearance is to a woman, then to a couple. This opens sight. Sight on the future that repositions / realigns in the present; sight also on who God is in Jesus, that he has trudged through the dust of human journeying. That the ‘death’ sentence is what he carried as the three left Eden. Two bitterly disappointed, but one carrying the ultimate pain.
Sinlessness of Jesus
In Humanising the Divine there is a re-definition of sin that emphasises the aspect of not being ‘truly’ human and of dehumanising others. If this is an approach adopted then it opens up the necessity of looking again at the sinlessness of Jesus, and the necessary journey to growth (learning / maturity).
Too Much Weight
We all have a tendency to see a text or a passage as affirming how right my views are. Such texts might indeed to do that (as part of a wider appeal) but often we are placing too much weight on them. I think this is part of the (wonderfully) annoying part of Scripture. It is useful
in affirming I am right… in provoking me to be conformed further to the image of Jesus.
Why I am not a Universalist
A not irregular question I get on zooms is one version or another related to universalism. If one does not believe in ‘limited atonement’ nor that ‘all are lost except for those who are born again’ a logical possibility has to be that of universalism, all will be saved. So here is my short-ish response.