In favour of substitutionary atonement, sort of (a postscript)

Q: Do you believe that Jesus died as a vicarious sacrifice for sin?

A: Yes.

Q: That’s a pretty standard belief. What’s the big deal? [Read more…]

In favour of substitutionary atonement, sort of (2/2)

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The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (but only for first century Jews).

If someone were to volunteer to die in place of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we would not think that justice, nor even mercy, had been served. Show justice — if the death penalty is your thing — by killing him. Show mercy by not killing him. But kill someone else to satisfy the demands of justice? Ridiculous.
[Read more…]

Ascension Day

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Ascension Day

Acts 1:1-11Psalm 47; D&C 88:6

The Collect: Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Saviour Jesus Christ descended below all things and ascended above all things that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to see that he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Filmed versions of the Ascension tend to be badly done. The New Testament tells us that “as [the disciples] were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1: 10-11). The literal image of Jesus ascending into the sky may well reflect what happened, but expressing this in art runs the danger of overly reifying what was essentially a mystical experience. One also runs the danger of farce: on his way to heaven, how did Jesus escape the atmosphere? Where is heaven? Is a resurrected body capable of flying? In space? How did he generate lift? Silly.

The BBC/HBO Passion sensibly avoids all this by simply having the ascending Jesus disappear into a crowd in Jerusalem. He is gone but he is also all of us.  [Read more…]

In favour of substitutionary atonement , sort of (1 of 2)

On Palm Sunday our direction turned to the Herodian temple and it is there where it must remain if we are to properly understand Jesus’ atonement. Jesus’ first act in Jerusalem was to visit the temple. With the cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the wicked tenants, and the violent cleansing of its precincts, his rejection of the temple was total and unambiguous. By driving out the money changers he was certainly making a statement about financial corruption in holy places, but more to the point was that by doing so, the rituals of the temple were disrupted. This seems to be the central purpose of Holy Week: Jesus’ acts are an apocalyptic rejection of the Jewish temple and its replacement in his own body. Here he goes beyond the Qumran community who had fled to the desert to await the new temple; Jesus does not wait for God to act, he is God. The temple is symbolically torn down. Note the tearing of the veil at his death.

[Read more…]

The Bloggers’ Tale #Canpilgrim

Day Five: Canterbury to Dover

(Peter) We made it. The first 18 miles or so of the Via Francigena have been trodden by MSSJ pilgrim feet, with we hope many more to come in the next two years. Today we saw sun and rain, a bad fall, a good lunch and the bittersweet conclusion of our short but sweet pilgrimage. Before we scattered to the winds, we met on Dover’s beach, and two of us braved the cold channel waters to finish the trip in a fitting manner.

While plans are still very preliminary, we’re thinking St. Bernard’s pass in Switzerland next year and Rome the year after. Stay tuned to BCC for further details as plans crystallize.

For now I’m off to spend the night in an airport. Safe travels, everyone; I hope to see you soon.

[Read more…]

MLP: Maundy Thursday

Mormon Lectionary Project

Maundy Thursday

Exodus 12:1-4, 11-141 Corinthians 11:23-26John 13:1-17, 31b-35Psalm 116:1, 10-17; 3 Nephi 18:1-9

The Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he died, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in this holy ordinance gives us a pledge of eternal life. Holiness to the Lord. Amen.

On Palm Sunday our direction was turned to the Herodian temple and it is there where it must remain. Jesus’ first act in Jerusalem was to visit the temple. With the cursing of the fig tree, the parable of the wicked tenants, and the violent cleansing of its precincts, his rejection of the temple was total. By driving out the money changers he was certainly making a statement about financial corruption in holy places, but more to the point was that by doing so, the rituals of the temple were disrupted. This seems to be the central purpose of Holy Week — the apocalyptic rejection of the Jewish temple and its replacement in his own body. Here he goes beyond the Qumran community who had fled to the desert to await the new temple; Jesus destroys it himself. Note the tearing of the veil at his death. [Read more…]

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday

Matthew 21:1-11Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, D&C 93:35

The Collect: Heavenly Father: In your love towards the human race you sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our flesh and to suffer death upon the cross: grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility, and also be made partakers of his atonement; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

On Palm Sunday the Messiah is finally revealed. No more preaching in the Galilean backwaters. No more Messianic Secret. On Palm Sunday, Jesus publicly enacts the prophecy of Zechariah concerning the Messiah: [Read more…]

Jesus Movies for Holy Week

Every year I teach a course on Jesus in film, focusing on the way film has depicted the Passion. We also read the Gospel accounts and find that a comparison of the accounts with the films provokes interesting discussions on religion and art, theology and historicity. These were this year’s films:

Triumphal entry / cleansing of the temple: The Last Temptation of Christ

“You think you’re special? God is not an Israelite!” spits Willem Defoe to Caiaphas after he loses his temper at the temple. This is a remarkable scene in an amazing film and does better than most to explain how Jesus came to be seen as a threat to the established order of things.


[Read more…]

A Short Sermon for Holy Week

Given in Worcester Cathedral, 25.iii.15

The Easter story is not quite what it looks like when first encountered. We have had readings about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem — which I do not think is quite as positive as it sounds — and the painful death of Jesus on the cross, which is certainly not as negative as torture and death would otherwise seem to be.

So, this is my message: Easter is more than it appears to be and I will try to explain how. [Read more…]

Lent III

There is a much arid earth between Egypt and the Promised Land and thus the complaint to Moses sounds reasonable, given the circumstances:

The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst? (Exodus 17).

Here we are a few weeks into Lent and for many of us so many of those good intentions we had back in Egypt are broken. In the wilderness, we have failed. On Ash Wednesday we thought that this Lent would be the one, the one in which spiritual discipline would whisk us all the way to Easter on a cloud of religious glory. Not so, for in our wilderness of Sin, there seems to be no water, despite our hope that things would be different this time. God is right: “This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways” (Psalm 95). Yes, but that is the way of us, Lord. Have mercy and let the water flow anew. [Read more…]

Final call for Canterbury

4262004_60958_2It’s five weeks and a day before the Canterbury pilgrimage (beginning April 7). A reminder that there are ways to participate that don’t necessarily mean participating in the whole event: join us for food at The George Inn in Southwark, for Evensong at St. Paul’s, for the fireside at BYU London, in walking from Detling to Canterbury via Ashford, or from Canterbury to Dover on the Via Francigena. Go to the event’s page for more details: https://www.facebook.com/events/1501719523403545.

Mormon Space Doctrine: A Necessary Embarrassment?

Kolob_CoverI was recently introduced to something called “the Kolob theorem.” It arose in an otherwise sensible Mormon discussion of astronomy and cosmology and was seamlessly introduced into the conversation alongside other theories such as the Big Bang and the multiverse. Its proponents are otherwise normal, well-educated Mormons who generally say sensible things. [Read more…]

Shrove Tuesday/Ash Wednesday

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project: Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:1-2,12-172 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10Matthew 6:1-6,16-21Psalm 103; 2 Nephi 4: 15-35

The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Like Advent, Lent signals new life on the horizon. Shorn of all the secular trappings of Easter, the beginning of Lent is thus, along with First Advent, perhaps holier than the holiday it precedes. It is a day worth paying attention to, but in doing so, we admit our Anglo-Catholic tendencies. We Protestants (and Mormonism, whatever its doctrinal divergences, is culturally low church Protestant) have had an uneasy relationship with Lent, the 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Henry VIII, for example, allowed the eating of dairy products, hitherto forbidden during Lent, in his new English church. The Puritans abolished Lent altogether before it was reinstated by Charles II in 1664. By Victorian times, it had almost disappeared from English custom as one Yorkshireman ruefully noted in 1865: [Read more…]

Magna Carta and Common Consent

Notes for a first Sunday priesthood meeting.

Who or what am I?

  • I dislike fish-weirs on the Medway.
  • I took the advice of Walter, bishop of Worcester.
  • I speak Latin.
  • David Cameron does not know what I mean.
  • I was sealed by the king who lays buried in Worcester cathedral.
  • I am 800 years old this year.
  • I am from Runnymede in Surrey.

[Read more…]

On rights, draw the veil of ignorance

Some thoughts about religious freedom vs. LGBTQ rights. [Read more…]

Youth fireside on the Paris attacks

I was asked to give a fireside for the youth on Sunday. Believing that the gospel provides a way for us to understand the world around us and help deal with its ills, I decided to discuss the Paris attacks. They had no doubt been discussed at home and at school that week and so I felt it important to have them discussed at church too, for “church” should not be detached from the world.

I had an agenda but did not want to force it. I mostly wanted the youth to think about and discuss various issues. I showed them the following pictures and asked them questions in order to prompt the discussion.

[Read more…]

Religious violence in Paris, 1988 edition

On October 22, 1988, Christian fundamentalists associated with the French National Front launched a Molotov cocktail attack inside the Saint Michel theatre in Paris. In the subsequent fire, thirteen people were injured, four with serious burns.

The attack was the result of the theatre’s screening of the film The Last Temptation of Christ. The Archbishop of Paris condemned the attack but also condemned the film saying, “One doesn’t have the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother.”

The Minister of Culture at the time said, “Freedom of speech is threatened, and we must not be intimidated by such acts.”

Similar attacks in France in protest of the film included graffiti, the use of tear-gas and stink bombs, and assault.

Why Oxfam?

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Great Malvern Oxfam shop

On Mondays during the school holidays, my son joins his grandfather as a volunteer at our local Oxfam shop. His reasons for doing so are several: he’s a good boy who likes doing good things (when not killing grunts on the Xbox), he likes spending time with his grandpa, it’s his first experience of a “job,” and it counts towards a community service programme in which he is active.

[Read more…]

Holy Innocents

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Holy Innocents

Jeremiah 31:15-17Revelation 21:1-7Matthew 2:13-18Psalm 124, Moses 7:28

The Collect: We remember today, Heavenly Father, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Let us not deceive ourselves: The collect is wholly at odds with the narrative in Matthew 2:13-18. We pray, of course, that “innocent victims” be received into God’s eternal love, but we sadly wonder why God’s “great might” does not actually seem to turn very often to the “designs of evil tyrants” despite our prayers. As I write this I am thinking of the recent slaughter of the innocents in a school in Pakistan. No doubt if the Christ child had been born in Peshawar, an angel would have warned his parents to flee before the bullets started to fly. No matter that the murder of so many children in Bethlehem by Herod is historically questionable; the fact remains that innocents do die “among wailing and loud lamentation” every single day. Could not God have saved all of the children of Bethlehem, helped them all “escape . . . the snare of the fowler” (Psalm 124)? [Read more…]

Christmas and Sacred Time

Every year the same thing happens. Once Christmas week arrives, the profane calendar stops. No more Wednesday or Thursday, just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yesterday was Sunday but didn’t feel like it, just Christmas + 3. The effect lasts until about New Year before we return again to the rhythms of the sun and the times and seasons bequeathed to us by the Romans. This is why marking sacred time is so important, not because we are fundamentalists who despise the secular calendar but because we are Christians who need to find some way to extricate ourselves from its utter dominance. Christmastime offers a glimpse of how this works. [Read more…]

The Mormon Lectionary Project: Fourth Advent

Mormon Lectionary Project: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 7:10-16Romans 1:1-7Matthew 1:18-25Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Nephi 11:16-22

The Collect: Heavenly Father, purify us through the Spirit, that thy Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; and if not a mansion, then a manger, for there is room for him with us.

[Read more…]

God (by RJH)

I was asked a lot of questions on John’s Trinity post and will answer some of them here. Let me state from the outset that I do not claim certainties in matters of theology, and would have no authority to proclaim them anyway. I think my beliefs are genuinely Mormon but perhaps expressed in unusual ways; we can certainly disagree and remain fellows. Systematic theologies are impossible to fully attain, especially in Mormonism. Thankfully, we are not judged by what we know but by what we do.

Q: Are you a monotheist? [Read more…]

Bible Videos

downloadDear readers,

Let me wholeheartedly recommend The Lumo Project, “a ground breaking, multi-language biblical film resource” (their words, but true). They have made four feature-length films, one for each Gospel account. The Gospel of John is now available on Netflix.

I first came upon the project while watching the BBC’s The Story of Jesus documentary, which uses visuals from the films alongside scholarly commentary, including from BYU’s Andrew Skinner.

Why I like it: [Read more…]

Why the church should practise financial transparency

Two initial points lest this post evoke all manner of silliness:

1. There is absolutely no evidence that the Mormon Church’s reluctance to disclose details about its finances are the result of any corruption. All evidence points to an honest stewardship.

2. It is absolutely fine for a religious institution to invest money to make money.

Having established those principles, I would like to suggest that the church be open about its finances as a way of modelling wise and ethical stewardship for the benefit of its members. [Read more…]

The Markan Nativity

On my first New Testament quiz of the year I always set the same question: “Outline Mark’s version of the Nativity story.” Without fail one or two students fall for it and quickly learn that their assumptions about the gospels will not always withstand the scrutiny of actually reading them. The absence of the traditional birth narrative in Mark then becomes a running joke in class in the run up to Christmas, with hilarious gags such as

“Who will win the Turner (modern art) Prize this year? The empty space entitled ‘Christmas according to St. Mark!'”

doing the rounds.

All of this, of course, does not do justice to the Markan account, whose account of the nativity of Christ is rather profound. True, there is no star, no shepherds, no Christmas card scene, but the theology of Jesus’ (re-)birth is no less interesting for all that. In Mark 1, Jesus is born in four ways:
[Read more…]

Canterbury 2015

CanterburyCathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote.

Herewith find yourself invited to the Mormon Society of St. James’s 2015 pilgrimage to Canterbury.

As you will see below, this will be a slightly different pilgrimage from recent years (Santiago 2013, Trondheim 2014), mostly because of the difficulty in finding reliable accommodation for what, we hope, will be a relatively large party of pilgrims.

The most important thing at this stage is for you to take note of the accommodation options and book them early. Even if you’re not certain you can come, there won’t be any harm booking hotels now and cancelling later. [Read more…]

Christ triumphant at the end of the year

Genesis 1 is probably a liturgical text from the ancient temple that celebrated God’s enthronement as lord of the heavens and the earth. On the seventh day he comes to rest, his work done, his Person triumphant. This is the king of kings, lord of lords. Such a notion — God’s royal prerogative — is not on the face of it particularly difficult for Christians, but we ought still give attention to two issues, one theological and one practical: how is it that it is Christ who is the King, and what difference ought that belief make in our lives?

[Read more…]

Sunday thought: Family history

2nd Sunday before Advent

In five days I have gone from little interest in family history (or better put, feeling I had no time to prioritise it) to burning the midnight oil trawling through old censuses and BMD records. Tolkien once said that all cosmic music — even the bad — will eventually bend to God’s harmony; in the case of the evils of the Great War it seems that one small positive is a renewed interest in family history in Britain. This was my conversion: I went to a talk on Remembrance Day about the battle of Gheluvelt fought in 1914 by my local regiment (the Worcestershires). My interest piqued — and being a Worcestershire man — I typed some family names into Family Search and became aware of the service of a number of g-grand uncles.  One was badly injured at Ypres in 1917 and reading his medical records was a grim experience. My aunt remembers he had a dent in his skull; now we know why. It’s compelling stuff.

Why do we do family history? [Read more…]

Sunday thought: Remembrance and reconciliation

3rd Sunday before Advent; Remembrance Sunday

Amos 5:18-24

Today marks Remembrance Sunday across the Commonwealth, the Sunday before Armistice Day. The focal point of the commemoration is London’s Whitehall, where the Queen and other senior royal, political, and military figures laid wreaths at the Cenotaph. For the first time since 1946, the Republic of Ireland has played an official role, with the Irish ambassador laying a wreath in memory of the 30,000 Irish who died in the Great War. [Read more…]

Your Friday Firestorm: Is a Fetus a Person?

In England there is something called the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). If I am injured as a result of a criminal act I can claim for compensation from CICA. This is possible because I am classified as a “person” according to the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861.

A girl is currently seeking compensation from CICA because of what her lawyers believe were criminal injuries inflicted on her by her mother . . . when she was a foetus. Her mother drank half a bottle of vodka and eight cans of strong lager a day during pregnancy. The girl’s injuries are on the spectrum of foetal alcohol disorder.

The High Court is currently having to decide whether:

A. A fetus is a person; and

B. Whether drinking excessive alcohol in pregnancy constitutes a criminal act.

The ramifications for the legal status of a foetus (and its implications for abortion law) and the potential criminalisation of pregnant woman who abuse alcohol or drugs are potentially very interesting. How would you rule?

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