Albert Nolan wrote brilliantly on how Jesus is not merely the object of our spirtuality, but was also a subject that stood in relation to God, and from whom we can learn about spirituality. The basic thesis of Jesus Today was the historical Jesus research has enough to offer that we can reconstruct the spirituallity of Jesus. Andries van Aarde built his book, Fatherless in Galilee, around the assumption that Jesus found a Father in God, since he didn’t have an earthly father, which also say something about Jesus’ spirituality.

But while this quest for finding Jesus, that prophet, the human guy, who walked around Galilee and Jerusalem roundabout 30 AD, goes on both in the academic world, and also with a growing group of Christians in pews, coffeeshops and slums, another group of Christians is opting for an extreme divinization of Jesus. As someone told me earlier today, in response to my saying that we can learn from Jesus how to live in relationship with God: “Jesus had an unfair advantage, he was divine”.

This is not a new idea, and probably we’ll find this underlying an interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) which says that the Sermon on the Mount was never meant to be followed, but to show us that we are unable to live as we should, only Jesus could follow that – it should remind us how sinfull we are so that we’ll turn to God, to Jesus. Out of fear that we’ll turn Jesus into just another moral teacher, we divinized Jesus up to the point where both the life Jesus had with God, and the way he lived, is something totally undervalued, ignored, and rather exchanged for a Jesus which is purely the object of faith.

I remember Tony Jones saying back in 2006 that our generation is the WWJD generation. Thinking back on my primary school days I could see where he was coming from. Although on the other side of the world, and definitely less extreme, Adam at Pomomusings probably did an accurate description of the WWJD culture of the time (I never wore more than one, but basically everyone in our school had one). Critique can be delivered against the idea, but in our 12-year old minds we were opposing the idea that Jesus was merely divine, that the way of Jesus couldn’t be lived, and that he’s teaching was impossible to follow.

How we’ve come to this point I don’t know. How we got the church so polarized I don’t know either, maybe it’s always been like this. But somehow I can’t seem to think that the early church ever thought other than that we were supposed to follow the example of Jesus. They talked about the son of God, and about us being children of God. They said that our minds should work in the same way as that of Jesus Christ, we should hold the same view (Phil 2:5). Trying to live life in the way of Jesus is not denying the divinity of Christ (oh how I hate having to qualify things like this, but I’ll do it since I know that some tend imply this), it is simply trying to reconnect with the thinking of the early church. I guess this is part of my attempt at a “Christology from the side“…

Words for how we view God is exceedingly complex constructs. The time where a simple division between Theism and Deism could do the trick is long over, and the list is growing as we notice more and more possible ways in which this can be understood. Theism, Atheism, Pantheism, Panentheism, Supernatural Theism (Borg). Andries van Aarde apparently now talks about Postheism, and he, similar to Albert Nolan rejects Panentheism although they don’t fit any of the words in the previous sentence. I myself struggle to get a word for how I view God, maybe we are all just Theists, but just realize more and more that this word can still lead to numerous understandings.

Marcus Borg talked about supernatural theism in his Heart of Christianity. The idea that God is not of this world, but part of the supernatural realm, and breaks into this reality from time to time, a type of wonderworker God, sometimes doing a wonder, sometimes giving a message. but this highly personalized God more and more seem to be missing when he (it’s usually a male God) isn’t breaking into the world.

Atheism in popular Western circles usually defines itself against this view. For them this god simply isn’t breaking into this world.

Somehow I’m starting to think that these two ends of the spectrum might be closer together than we at first would think. That maybe views of God is not a linear spectrum at all, but fits together more complex, with extreme closer together, and those within faith traditions sometimes further apart. Because these two perspectives both seem to work with a similar view of reality, where God is not part of reality, where everything that happens is just science, they just differ on the amount of times that God does wonders, for the atheist never, for the supernatural theist frequently, but in-between these times, what would be the difference between an atheist and a supernatural theist view of the world? Except that for the supernatural theist God has somehow breaked into the reality at some point, and he/she hopes that God will come into this world again.

Panentheism is not the only alternative, and more and more theologians (In South Africa Nolan and van Aarde) is pointing out that this might not be the best alternative. But we do need a view of God where God is part of this reality, part of everything that happen and that is. God would then at the same time become less and more. Less breaking in, but more here. Less in heaven and more on earth.

OK, so it’s not a secret that large parts of the church consider academic theology a waste of time. It’s not a secret that large parts of the church consider historical Jesus research heretical. I’m not part of this large group, but sometimes I think academics need to get some perspective.

I attended a public debate today titled: “Who is the real Jesus? Shaman, fatherless child, or more?” The speakers were:

I consider the historical Jesus quest to be of great importance. The best reason in my view remain the way in which early 20th century Germany was able to massacre the Jews, and that in the name of the church! They have lost their historical roots, and forgotten that Jesus was a Jew, something which all historical Jesus research emphasize.

Also today historical Jesus research always remain a critical reminder of the radical message of Jesus. Dominic Crossan’s story written at the end of Jesus: a Revolutionary Biography (a popular edition of his major work The Historical Jesus), of how Jesus congratulated him on The Historical Jesus, and then asked him: “Are you willing to follow me on my mission?”, remain that of many of us who get to understand something of the historical Jesus… we cannot do other but answer: “I’m not sure”. Because historical Jesus research remind us of how radical the message of Jesus really was.

And in future this will still be the case, I believe, and I will keep on reading work done on the historical Jesus. But sitting there today, I felt like I was taking a step back, looking at the broader conversation, and wondering why we were having this debate. Why do we make such a big thing about the small differances between different scholars? Within the big picture, with Christian fundamentalism on the one side, the new Atheist movement on the other, they seem pretty close together for me.

I sometimes wish academics will take some more time to point towards that which they do agree upon, and help develop tools for addressing the major questions of the church today, and less fighting about small things among each other. But maybe I’ll have a little more perspective tommorow, and understand that this is the task of academics…

My brain is cluttered with thoughts concerning the church as “alternative community” at the moment. I’m writing a mini-dissertation at record speed, and my middle chapter concerned primarily some thoughts on this concept. For the purpose of my dissertation, I moved away from this concept, but didn’t reject it. I really think Bosch was able to keep this fine balance of always keeping the alternative community as part of the tensioness whole of our approaches to understanding the relation church and world. At the end of Transforming Mission he talks about a distinct community, which I believe communicates this more nuanced understanding, not the there-is-nothing-good-in-culture approach we found in Resident Aliens, but an understanding which have the church and especially individual Christians as part of the world, but always in way that is distinctly church. I started trying to explain this here.

Come have said that Bosch was probably the greatest South African theologian, and the current growing interest in Transforming Mission might also point to that. For me, and a few of us who studied at the University of Pretoria over the last few years, Andries van Aarde would be another one of the most brilliant theological minds that South African theology has ever delivered. In some circles he isn’t popular, because of his participation in historical Jesus research (on which I’ve written here). Van Aarde has recently been showing some interest in emerging literature, wrote a brilliant article in an academic journal using Mclaren’s the church on the other side concept, and seems like he might be developing more and more thoughts on what church is looking outside the institutional and denominational boundaries. Van Aarde also uses the alternative community concept.

In a recent paper delivered at a seminar on public theology, he used the concept not to point to an alternative on society, but an alternative on institutional church. Such alternative communties Van Aarde calls the church on the other side, which might be similar to some of the non-denominational communities we see forming within the emerging conversation.

Between 1975 and 1982, when David Bosch was using the alternative community concept, he used it to talk about a church which should change society by showing it that reconciliation was possible. This was especially concerned with racial reconciliation in South Africa. Bosch wanted the church to be a united church, in order to show society that unity is possible, and in that way help society to change.

Currently Van Aarde’s alternative communities consists of those who have already reached second naiveté. Without going into his argument, I just want to note that what he is talking about is communities consisting of those who have had a change in worldview and theology, and therefore no longer find themselves comfortable within the bounds of institutional church. But if part of this change (and Van Aarde is not saying this, but I have a gutt feel he might agree) include a larger emphasise on orthopraxy, then Bosch’s alternative communities of reconciliation might also be important in this.

Within a South African church context (speaking specifically from the Dutch Reformed Church of which I am part, but this reality I believe is still very common also outside my own church) of churches and congregations devided along racial and economic lines, a combination of Van Aarde and Bosch might be appropriate. We need alternative communities which can point to an alternative to existing churches. These communities should point the way forward, showing that unity is possible. Contrary to the earlier Bosch, this is not to provide a strong alternative upon society, for that his later distinct community remain more appropriate, but to help churches in forming communities which is reconciled. To point to way forward, showing us that it is possible to be a united church.

Hopefully this can be part of the gift which emerging churches in South Africa give the church in South Africa, and also give the world…

I’m doing a mini-dissertation in public theology at the moment. And when I say “at the moment”, I mean it! I have about 5/6 weeks to finish 80 pages, and I just started writing. Now, there is many different understandings of public theology, but one aspect is taking part in the public conversation as Christians. Formulating concepts into words which can be used in the public, and not just in the church.

We had a conference on Public Theology at the University of Pretoria about 3 weeks ago. Sadly I couldn’t attend, but I’m busy reading the papers that was presented. Two of the world-class theologians who spoke mentions the link between public theology and cyberspace. Professor Will Storrar from Edinburgh is currently heading the Centre for Theology and Public Issues and said:

Whether the 21st century bloggers of cyberspace have restored some of that critical function to the virtual and global public sphere is a matter for debate.

Furthermore the South African New Testament scholar Andries van Aarde also says:

The social location of public theologians is not the university campus, but rather the university campus, but rather the public square – in other words, the modern-day agora – wherever it may be situated in the “global village” or in the cyber space.

So-called “Christian” blogs easily become just that: Christian blogs. Blogs fostering the insiders conversation. Now, I believe there is a place for this. But what Storrar is looking for is those who take part in the public conversation. And from my perspective, I would like to tell Storrar (not that he’s likely to ever read this), that I believe bloggers do just that. Maybe we are not always good at it, maybe sometimes we suck. But we take part in the public conversation. Many of us do social critique, we talk about politics, justice, ecology and other issues from the agenda of the city.

One of the things I’m becoming more and more convinced of is that your theology will determine whether it will ever be a public theology, and if, what form it will take on. And with bloggers it’s no different. Some of us work with a theology which make it impossible not to take part in the public conversation, but others prefer not to. They do this simply by blogging about issues which has relevance only for the church.

If Van Aarde is correct, then public theology doesn’t happen in the chairs of public theology, but, among other places, in cyberspace. And in this way bloggers are public theologians. Because the moment we write, we open ourselves up to the public conversation, to the google bots, to the technorati databases. What I write might be written in a form which only make is accesible to the church, but the medium I chose make it accesible to the world.

So keep it up! I believe we could be this generations public theologians.

some things just never end

January 4, 2008

Look at this list of search engine terms I just found on my dashboard. The search engine terms are temrs used in search engines which caused people to click onto your blog. Especially those in bold:

andries van aarde 2
Kobus van Wyngaard 1
more ecology 1
Beowulf the new roman god christ 1
nurturing people Jesus’ way 1
when the Dutch Reformed Church ended 1
Ferdie Mulder 1

Look like someone, or a number of people, are still trying to get info on the same things that was going on two years ago. Well, if “Kobus van Wyngaard” was intended to find me, please, do spell my name correctly in future, it’s Cobus.


Someone at School

Called you

A bastard…



Is that all?


Is that why you cry?

Come and sit

On my lap.


Now tell me

Who was the greatest Man

That ever lived?

The Saviour


The Light…

King of Kings

The Prince of Peace…

My big boy,

Tell Mommy.


What was his father’s name?

Was the carpenter

Really his father?

Stop crying

My love.

            “Pearls of Crying,” from O. P’Bitek’s Song of Malaya (1971)

I’ve been reading Fatherless in Galilee by Andries van Aarde the past few days. Prof van Aarde was one of my lecturers, but in all honesty, most of us were scared to death of the guy. I don’t really know why, but I’m pretty sure he was one of the most-feared lecturers our faculty had seen in the past few days. Nontheless, the guy was absolutely brilliant!

This book has seen a lot of critique, negative critique, supposedly because it would be denying core doctrines, also in the little war going on within the Dutch Reformed Church, together with our little DVD (see for example this or this), the name has been mentioned. But as someone I know once said, you’ll never be able to preach about Jesus in the same way as before after reading the book. This I have found to be true.

Pointing to the role of the fatherless, those who didn’t know who their father was, in ancient Jewish society, van Aarde show that Jesus, being fatherless, would have been considered an outsider, similar to the Samaritans, not been allowed in the temple for example. But whatever society might have said, Jesus considered God to be his father, in spite of the fact that this was not supposed to be “possible” for the fatherless.

Thus, the fatherless Jesus was an outsider, and sides with the outsiders. He didn’t take the role of the traditional “saviour” figure of Jewish society, that would come as a noble, as someone of high status, and bring salvation to the suffering, those of little status. He came as an equal, as an outsider himself, and brought salvation for those that were considered outsiders.

We tend to forget this baby Jesus, this man Jesus. Focusing on an exalted post-Easter, or post-resurrection, Jesus, we tend to think of Jesus as a wise man, a glorious religious leader, a king. But the earthly Jesus was the friend of the poor, an outcast, a brother to the fatherless, but a child of God.