Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Christianity's Big Ideas

This coming semester I'll be teaching 'Christianity's Big Ideas'. I'm hoping to subvert the negative baggage that attaches to 'doctrine' and 'systematic theology' by starting from the fact that Christian faith provoked new and controversial ideas. I also want to subvert the view that ideas are simply reducible to the material circumstances of their production and instead to foster a confidence in the continuing intellectual generativity of the Christian faith in a world full of competing and contested ideas. Theological ideas actually matter and are one means the church has as its disposal for truth-telling.

The unit will be running 2-5 pm on Thursday afternoons during semester. Check www.pilgrim.edu.au for semester dates and further details. First lecture is on Thursday March 1st.

Below is the twitter thread I recently tweeted about the course.

*Jesus: an unexpected messiah.* 1/2 The emergence the movement called Christianity rested on the proclamation of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth as Israel’s messiah. A crucified messiah was a pretty big idea. No such proclamation, no Christianity.

*Jesus: an unexpected messiah.* 2/2 This link of crucifixion with messiahship was unconventional and controversial, but it also generated other big ideas from within the Christian community, many of them sadly obscured in later Christianity.

*God is love.* Too easily taken to be a self-evident theological truth. Not so in the ancient world. Jews certainly believed that God showed constant love. And Christians developed this conviction on the basis of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. One of Christianity’s biggest ideas.

*Incarnation & Trinity: God is not aloof.*1/2  These doctrines aren’t simply Greek exaggerations of early claims about Jesus. Nor are they simply about Jesus’ status.

*Incarnation & Trinity: God is not aloof.*2/2  They are also statements of Xn understanding of God/World relationship. God becomes human without any loss of divinity. God relates to the world in this way because God is relation. These were very big ideas in the ancient world

*Salvation: cosmic in scope.* Much Christian discourse about salvation is trapped in piety and individualism – and in combinations thereof. Based on the resurrection of Jesus, some strands of the New Testament point to salvation as a cosmic restoration. It would be hard to get a bigger idea.

*Salvation: redemption not escape.* Early Christian thinking about salvation built on Jewish beliefs  about a renewal of this world, not an escape from it or a destruction of it. Belief in Jesus' resurrection fine-tuned this conviction for Christians.

*The Spirit: a materialist spirituality.* Biblical language of spirit, soul, body, flesh can all be confusing. The Spirit and matter not opposites. The Spirit’s work is to be seen in such concrete realities as the church, lives of service and communities of reconciliation, truth-telling, and justice-making.

*The church: God’s new politics.* 1/2 Early Christian communities were not spiritual enclaves for contemplation or satisfying 'spiritual' needs. They were unconventional communities working out discipleship in the context of tensions about money, food, sex and power.

*The church: God’s new politics.* 2/2 They were a particular form of social organisation. Mainline churches are still trying to get their heads around this big idea, so essential for the post-Christendom context.

*Scripture: 2-volume, uneven anthology.* 1/2 NT scholar Gerd Theissen warned re downplaying the radicalness and theological significance of adding Christian literature to the Hebrew canon. Accepting a two-volume scripture was itself a big idea.

*Scripture: 2-volume, uneven anthology.* 2/2 The odd collection thus produced invites deep theol reflection on what it is & why we read it, not just how to read it. Read the Bible as an anthology that deals with a big story rather than as a collection of ‘sacred’ ‘texts’.

*Sacraments: Initiating and sustaining mission.* Concept of ‘sacrament’ is fruitful if problematic. It sometimes obscured links b/w baptism, eucharist, discipleship & mission of the church. This big idea was easily lost in Christendom and needs to be renewed in post-Christendom.

*Hope.* Early Christians shifted from expectation of Jesus’ early return to a longer-term hope of God’s ultimate consummation of what was begun in Jesus. This itself was a pretty big shift in ideas. Accordingly, Christian hope is not waiting passively but actively living into God’s future.

*Theology: nurturing the Christian imagination* Weave these big ideas together and you get a Christian vision which, like a work of art, engages the imagination, intellect and heart. As such it serves the church and its worship, witness and service.