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Lausanne 2010 – the questions to your answer.

This week saw the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization (yes folks, that’s spelled with a zee) take place in Cape Town.

I held an open posture (a “reverse pretzel”) towards the goings on, and met face to face with a few delegates. But by and large I remained fringer than the self-proclaimed “fringe”. Part of this advanced yogic manipulation involved my posting a question per day on conversation.lausanne.org.

For evangelicals, regardless of the plethora of diverse issues – globalism, truth, social action, climate- the answer is always “Jesus”. Even then, we shall have to ask again, “Which Jesus?”

So here, to summarise, are what I see as key questions to address going forward. Conversation around these on conversation.lausanne was not prolific, so let me simply repost them here:

  • Can Evangelical – Postevangelical interfaith dialog bear fruit?
  • How have liberal, postmodern and emergent values infiltrated evangelicalism?
  • Is evangelicalism inherently dualistic?
  • Is “worship” a separate idea from “evangelization”?
  • What comes first – belief, behaviour, or belonging?
  • Does the Gospel of Grace require the threat of Hell?
  • How does our salary affect our theology?
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Muzi Cindi – A postmodern nigger in the woodpile

Talking About God Thinking About GodAs epiphanies go, Muzi Cindi’s stands way out. As a preacher and churchman of some 25 years standing, God appeared to him in 2007 during a Radox moment in the shower. So far, only slightly unusual. Then, God actually spoke to him. That deserves, I suppose, a hearing, even in this day of revelation overload. But the clincher is the message, and it was this: “God does not exist”.

But instead of creating a debilitating crisis of faith for Cindi, this subversive “a-theist” anticreed has become his catharsis, motivation, and passion. The evangelical zeal which was his all along merely adjusted to a new message and is as far as one can tell, as strong as it ever has been, and certainly no less radical. The outcome of his visitation is now available as a book, “Thinking about God, Talking about God”.

Well, maybe I should say that it’s not so much a conventional book, as a documented process, largely unedited, full of spelling errors and dubious assertions, brimming with contradiction, but ultimately held together in a burning vision. Lordy Lordy Hallelujah! this is surely a testimony for the postmodern age.

As a text, and because this is a review, let it be noted that the index of howlers is unusually high, the problems ranging from simple spelling, incorrect word usage, to un-researched shortcuts, and the appropriation of whole chapters from other sources. This I am sure is due to the fact that this is an entirely self funded enterprise, and therefore wholly sidesteps normal publishing channels; but this is part of the “Thinking about God” charm. To stop at such nitpicking would be to miss the point.  

Cindi’s essential point is this: the Christianity he was brought up in, is not only unsustainable and discredited, but already defunct. “The Christian world is disintegrating, because the story on which it is based is losing its power.” He supplies abundant (though somewhat chaotic) data to support his claims. But his offering is essentially a visionary one, involving wide theological, philosophical, and scientific thought. He seeks to address the seeming incompatibility of a deep love for his evangelical tradition – and his faith in Jesus – with his philosophical embrace of the new atheists such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris.

And this embrace extends to just about everything that contributed to the end of the modern era, from Copernicus and Galileo’s pioneering cosmologies, Darwin’s evolutional insights, Einstein’s discovery of relativity, Paul Tillich’s theological atheism and Karen Armstrong’s religious demythologising.

DoNotBelieve“Don’t believe what I believe” is one of Muzi’s rallying cries, and I look forward to the T-Shirt. In case this gets interpreted as mere reactionary anarchy, he explains to us the apophatic (negative theology) traditions from where he draws his succour: Meister Eckhart, the 13th century mystic, Paul Tillich, and Don Cuppit. And he gives credit too to all reformers – Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, the evangelical fathers Wesley, Edwards, Moody, and the South Africans such as John G Lake and Nicholas Bhengu. And references are not just to Christianity: universal, ecumenical appeals to the wisdom of all the worlds’ faith traditions pepper the book.

One of the most curious questions I have about Cindi’s explosive energy its relatively sparse dealings with the question of African roots, and bringing in more post colonial thought to buttressing his extensive postmodernism. Where, for example, are the fathers of the African revolutions, where is his own South African literary tradition amongst the plethora of first world sources? I do not want to prescribe who he should be, but it is a little vexing that the vast majority of his thesis of a post-God God is found in European and American thinking. I’d be delighted to see him take on African traditions with the same zeal he has taken on his own Evangelical roots, and even further to see him unpack an authentic Ubuntu as part of the rebuilding of Christianity.

I find myself identifying with Cindi’s vision, including his passion for knowledge, his hermeneutic of suspicion, his honest confusion, and his pariah status. At the same time I share his love for the evangelical tradition, and the ancient way of Jesus. He affirms, “A redefined Jesus still stands at the centre of my God experience”. Furthermore, I broadly concur with his inclusivity and embrace of all wisdom traditions as a way forward in a post Christian age. “Thinking about God” is flawed and fabulous, a headily chaotic brew, diverse, divisive, and delicious.

Muzi Cindi is a self confessed heretic, and draws strength from making peace with heterodoxy. The book is prefaced with an unattributed quote, “For every orthodoxy was once a heresy, and every heresy is fated to be orthodoxy. All countries were founded by traitors. All our churches were founded by heretics. The patriotism of today glories in the treasons of yesterday.” But to accuse him of lack of accountability would be short-sighted indeed; in addition to his relational ties to his mentors, the book is remarkable for its sheer range of references.

MusiHis vision is no idiosyncratic delusion, but rather an extension of a variety of well acknowledged intellectual and spiritual traditions. And we need his energy and his attempt to reconcile the old and new views of God and the cosmos. Despite his rambling style, I do not believe that this is a “mish-mash” of thought, so much as an emerging, integral vision.

Overcoming the taboo associated with thinking outside of our boxes, especially our religious ones, is a foundational shift which requires great courage; as Seal sings, “We’re never gonna survive, unless we get a little crazy”. Cindi is not shy of being regarded as a holy fool, and having recovered from the fear of asking questions, the potential for “error” appears to have no limit. And yet, all progress, and all evolutionary shifts, require these chaotic conditions. With startling audacity, Cindi has created them.

His life’s work, I intuit, will be to ensure that this chaos does indeed lead to a sustainable spirituality. Perhaps chief amongst the questions will be the one “Where, now, is our authority?” which emergent thinkers like Phyllis Tickle have been addressing.

If the world is to remember Muzi Cindi the author, he will have to employ a good editor. And if it is to celebrate his personal legacy, he will have to help those still ensnared in modernistic thinking, to emerge. He will need to fully develop his empathy, creating sound bridges for others to cross. And he will have to gain the trust of those who not so long ago, would have gloried in his immolation at the heretic’s stake.

Muzi’s Website.

Four views on Hell (Zondervan, 1996)

John Walvoord (Literal), William Crockett (Metaphorical), Clark Pinnock (Annihilist/Conditional Immortality), Zachary Hayes (Purgatorial)

Reading this book was a fascinating, even refreshing exercise. It is an all out debate between various views on the afterlife, in such a way that each view gets critiqued by all others.

I found it entertaining: Besides its fetching sulphurous red design, it was like watching a round robin boxing match, with one fighter per corner. The patterns and dynamics, tactics and overlaps were fascinating, but Continue reading “Four views on Hell (Zondervan, 1996)”

Eternal Punishment in Augustine’s The City of God

In many ways, Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was the most influential post-Pauline theologian in Christendom. Even today he is widely quoted and revered, but more importantly, his theological approach has been deeply internalised so as to be seen as normal. Any disagreement with his writings is tantamount to heresy, and this applies equally to Catholic and Protestant traditions

Many major themes of Christian thought can be traced to Augustine. These include the Just War theory, the Trinity, and Original Sin. But what I want to focus on here is his profound influence on the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment.

Continue reading “Eternal Punishment in Augustine’s The City of God”

The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott

Published in 1999, Thomas Talbott’s thesis has just come swashbuckling over my horizon. In it he attempts to present a Universalist reading of the Bible, and especially Paul, an ambition that for most evangelicals at least, would appear doomed from the outset. Continue reading “The Inescapable Love of God by Thomas Talbott”

from alpha to omega : an adventure

I have written an article for emergentvilliage, called “From Alpha to Omega: an adventure.”

A Chernobyl Meditation

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I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’,
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest,
… Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters,
… Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden,
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,
Where black is the color, where none is the number,
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it,
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it,
… And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard,
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.
 [Bob Dylan : A Hard Rains a’gonna fall]

The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. [Revelations 8:10, 11]

We cannot say how the wind blows. From whence, towards where, how strongly, how varied, bearing good or ill omen. The wind remains, even in this proud scientific age, a profound mystery.

And so it is that the fateful events of April 1986 have been blown into my ambit. I have been reminded of something that is part of the wallpaper of the 20th century, something I saw from afar, the implications of which I clearly did not grasp at the time. I am in the grip of this tale of horror, and feel compelled to make some sense of it. Continue reading “A Chernobyl Meditation”

Lazarus and Inclusion

It’s been almost a year, Father, since my last rant about Inclusion.

This is not an official synchroblog, but there is nonetheless a certain synchronicity at play. I refer to these other blog posts of the last few days:

I was once a proponent of the doctrine of hell. And then, in embarrassment, confusion or laziness, a hell agnostic. I just swept the question under the carpet. But in the last 2 years or so, with a lot of excavation and deconstruction, I have come to see myself as an active hell refuter. Continue reading “Lazarus and Inclusion”

soundandsilence stocktake

I’ve been blogging for 15 months now, and thought it time to review. As I approach 30,000 hits, a few memes are a’buzzin.

Firstly, I really want to thank each and everyone who has contributed and made this a meaningful conversation.

I remember struggling to come up with a title for the proposed blog. I chose “soundandsilence” initially because it related to music and to contemplation. But as things went, I wrote less about sound and more about light and imagemaking, not to mention much theological musing. I guess it might have been named lightanddarkness just as easily.

Anyway, here is a summary of what has gone on with some things I have learned.

My top 5 postings: Continue reading “soundandsilence stocktake”

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