Journey Through Scotland, ep. 7- The Finale

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          ‘To begin a goodbye is also to start a new hello’- is something I’ll repeatedly have to remind myself over the next couple of weeks as I say goodbye to a city, which has stolen my heart as the best placed I have ever lived. Toronto, I am sorry for being so overly critical of you over this past year, but Edinburgh is the perfect size, perfect mixed of natural beauty and human architecture, perfect cultural centre, perfect walking, and perfect weather city, I have thus far lived in. Speaking of cultural centre, I have been spending my last close-to-a-month now, catching various (well, not THAT various, as most of them have included some element of rap) shows across the city as part of Edinburgh’s historical Festival Fringe, which is the world’s largest arts festival, that runs through the whole month of August. Let me give you just a little brief on some of the highlights of  the shows I have seen:

1) Off the Top- basically a Canadian rapper freestyles as his neuroscientist wife explains what happens in the brain when someone improvises material. During the show they invite other performers around the Fringe to do improvised material and get the audience involved. And yes, to answer your question, I did a lil’ freestyling for the audience myself! Lindsay Abrams summarizes the research of the brain activity well: “The areas implicated in processes like organization and drive were marked by an increase in activity, while those parts responsible for close self-monitoring and editing were deactivated. In this context, the authors explain, “self-generated action is freed from the conventional constraints of supervisory attention and executive control,” allowing sudden insights, seemingly unbidden, to emerge.In other words, in order to turn on their creative flow, the rappers had to switch off their inner critic. And in fact, the researchers believe that when they’re freestyling, the artists are actually occupying an altered state of mind.” Needless to say, this was a extremely fun show.- The MC is Baba Brinkman, check him out.

2) The Philosorap Cabaret- basically a spoken word artist, Charlie Dupre, does a history of philosophy course, all while impersonating different philosophical figures as rap artists representing what they’re all about. One particular highlight was something, which, let’s be honest, we’ve all wanted to see for sometime now, a rap battle between God and Richard Dawkins. My personal favourite character of his was act as Friedrich Nietzsche as basically a crazy scrawny white kid with a superman hat that asked everyone if they liked Top Gun or some other apocalyptic movie. Brilliant.

3) The Rap Guide to Religion- Performed by the same Baba Brinkman that did the Off the Top show, Baba takes the audience through his rap album explaining the evolutionary history of Religion as a form of tribalism and species propagation. I was actually very impressed by his skills as a story-teller and how he was able to translate a lot of academic jargon into more simple speech. Of course, I’m not certain that I agreed with all of his arguments but I did love very much as to how gentle it was, it wasn’t aggressive or hostile to religious belief, though he himself is an atheist. If you would like a listen to the material, and possibly, being in love with it, want to support its animated album companion, check out: http://music.bababrinkman.com/album/religion-evolves AND of really awesome interest is his TedTalk on the History of Rhyme, for all of you that want to know what we’re all about :)

4) God on Trial- I originally saw in this its movie version, but as a play it was even more emotional. The basic story line is that a group of Jews during World War Two at a concentration camp have an emotionally heated but also quite substantial debate over whether the God of Israel is guilty of breaking his covenant with the Jewish people, due to the fact that their survival as a group is now severely in question. The ‘trial’ is also an excellent reflection upon the diversity of the Jewish people throughout Europe, from those who did not know they were Jewish, to the younger intellectuals, and to the older village rabbis. Most of all, what I really enjoyed about the story was how much it actually covered concerning the topic of theodicy/problem-of-evil without being overtly academic or heavy-handed. Its a really excellent script for anyone dealing with the problem-of-evil or the problem-of-suffering both in an intellectual and emotional way.

5) Hamlet- As my favourite of the Shakespeare plays, I knew I had to see a live production of this. Along with two other really good friends of mine, I saw the famous play take place in a surveillance society- the apparitions appeared on security cameras, several conversations were done over Skype, and scary techno music played the entire time. Most impressive was that the entire play was played by three actors who continually changed characters! So good.

          Aside from all the joys of the Fringe festival however, I’ve had a really great time saying goodbye to many of my classmates and people from church. ‘Everyone has a season in their life when they don’t know quite what the next step is, and now its my turn’ is what I would say to each of them in order to explain how, while I have decided to pursue the ministry, its not something they let one into very easily, and in the meantime I gotta pay some mean student debt. If I should work a retail job, I would really love a bookstore, so quite and peaceful. The smell of new book pages, helping customers find the ‘right’ next read, watching those in the coffee area attempt to write their own masterpieces- in many ways the bookstore is the university of the layman. But all and all, I just need to hustle, in the good ole’ fashion sense. I’m in the process of my second album, which, in order to get SOME revenue, I am going to have to sell, as opposed to letting people download it for free- I can’t afforded that right now (hahahaha). I’m going to try and send more of my many pieces I’ve written on this blog to various publishers, magazines, online stuff and what not, and see if I really could pursue writing or some king of journalism as a legitimate careers option- lord knows most media outlets have poor correspondents on religion. I’ll hopefully be giving some more sermons at my home congregation- I have this one three-part series in mind on the ‘two Christians’, the prophet and the custodian, and why we need both (don’t worry, it’ll sound a lot more profound once I’ve worked it all out :p ). Who knows what else I’ll pursue, but I got make the dough by almost any avenue possible over the next year to significantly decrease this over-bearing debt. Unless the revolution goes down, I gotta play the game.

          How should I end this? Well, I hope and am near certain that this will not be ‘goodbye’ forever, only the next little while. I have appreciate the generosity of many of the saints here such as David Dixon, Paul Barlow, Ray and Julia Kelly, Thom and Caroline Cunningham, Michael Reed, Tobi Oladipo, Nathan Nixon, the entire Gaspar family, Dr. Helen Bond- for being such a great supervisor- my classmates, Danny Daley, Elena Dugan, Elizabeth Corsar, Edel Ni Chorragain; my flatmates, Ryan DeMarco, Sida Wang, Leo Kitagawa, Yichirin Jin (who is honestly the weirdest person I have ever met, LOL)….and so many others! I love you all very much :D I’ll be sure to write a pt. 8 epilogue of this to let everyone know how I’ve settled in Toronto and I will put up my dissertation for everyone who wishes to read it once it is marked!



Let this song carry ya to think about Home

Kingsway Baptist Church: An Investigation into an Extraordinary Evangelical Church (EDITED)

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Authorial Note: The following paper was written during my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto [RLG-200-H1/ Prof. Thomas McIntire/ Nov. 15th, 2011]. It is only slightly edited from its original form. As having gone to this congregation for many years I thought that in appreciation of them I would publish this. Thank you for you love and guidance.



Caleb Upton as the investigator of this report choose to investigate his own religious community of Kingsway Baptist Church through the study of their literature, three interviews with diverse figures of the community, and two visits to the community itself. He will be focusing on the meaning of religion and the role of religion both in general and within the community itself. He hopes by this investigation not only to learn more about his own community but also to learn about the meaning and role of religion as defined by a community of adherents instead of academics.

The Religious Community under investigation

            The religious community under investigation is Kingsway Baptist Church, which is in the Etobicoke community of Toronto, Ontario. To be more specific as to its’ location it is at 41 Birchview Boulevard, which is on the far west end of Bloor Street. Kingsway Baptist Church is an Evangelical Christian Baptist Church that is part of the organization known as the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. Kingsway Baptist Church’s purpose/mission as stated on their website is,

“Kingsway Baptist Church exists for the glory of God. We seek to proclaim God’s kingdom and redeeming love through our faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in the various communities into which God is leading us.”[i]

Kingsway is a mid-sized (200-300 people) religious community that is evenly divided in terms of gender and has an extraordinary diverse age-range consisting of many members from infants to seniors. Kingsway’s community consists mostly of families of working people (in various areas such as teaching, law and music) either with a college education or at least a high school-level of education from the surrounding Etobicoke community, in the middle to upper class economic range. While Kingsway’s predominate cultural-identity is Anglo-Saxon, it does have some families of other cultural-identites from other countries such as Rwanda, Indonesia and India. The community of Kingsway Baptist Church is a group consisting mostly of Christians who are dedicated to active social service throughout their community in a variety of forms such as childrens’ programs, food programs, summer sports and overseas support.

The Investigator’s process

            While preparing to make this report, this investigator of it was keenly aware that as an already committed member of Kingsway there was much information to be gleaned from the visits that this investigator had already made. Two visits in particular will be the subject of this report: (1) the weekly Sunday worship service (that Kingsway performs) at 10 A.M. on Sunday Nov.6th, 2011, and (2) a weekly Sunday afternoon Bible study hosted by a group of young college men that was held after the service on Sunday Nov.6th, 2011. Along with this, another aspect of making this report was the three interviews done by this investigator of three very different members of Kingsway in order to get as wide a scope as possible, who were: (1) Dave Smith, the former youth pastor of Kingsway Baptist Church, (2) a woman who use to work in the church office that wished to remain anonymous and (3) Nathan McCoy, an active youth at Kingsway. As for the written publications and works that this investigator used in the process of making this report, three were of primary usage: (1) the bulletin given out on the Sunday service of Nov.6th, 2011, (2) The constitution of Kingsway Baptist Church as formulated in 1999 and (3) Kingsway’s Newsletter from the summer of 2010. In additional to all this, this investigator will also be using the church’s website (http://www.kingswaybaptist.ca/), a copy of the Christian Bible that this church uses and much of his own personal experience of being involved in the church’s various activities and having been an employee of the church.

The Meaning of Religion as defined by the group

            As to the meaning of religion as discussed by the people that this investigator interviewed one conclusion that can immediately be drawn is that (much like in academia) there is no clear set definition of what is meant by religion, even amongst these three people of the same religious community! The woman who wished to remain anonymous spoke of religion in her interview as a “different set of rules to tell the same story.” She also said that to her “Religion and God are not associated” because that while religion has been associated with a lot of good things (in relation to this she spoke of her work with the Anglican Church in serving and helping many first nations children) it has also been associated with a lot of destruction, over which she expressed much grief and frustration. Alongside this separation of God and religion, and of the ecumenical concept of all religions telling the same story, Nathan McCoy gives a very different meaning as to what religion is, in his interview he says of religion “It allows people to find strength and comfort in a higher power, in someone or something that will watch out and care for themselves.” Finally the former youth pastor of Kingsway, Dave Smith spoke of religion’s purpose in general in his interview as “to make sense of the world” and that religion exists “because man intuitively senses God. So religion is created to explain that sense and intuition.” As for the written materials, they really did not have much to say in terms of speaking of the meaning of religion in general/academic terms for not only is that not the terminology that is used in much of the church’s literature but their primary focus is not the topic of religion in general for (very naturally) their concern is their community, what their community is doing and what their community is interested about in terms of their Christian faith. A communal religious community such as this (for the most part) does not think about the meaning of ‘religion’ in a philosophical sense (as armchair academics do) for that is not their interest.

           As for the meaning of religion within their own lives the people interviewed were much more similar in their responses. Nathan McCoy gives a wonderful summary as to what his religion means to him as a Christian, that may be taken as a fair representation of what most Christians of this community would say when asked about the meaning of religion in their lives,

“When people ask if “I’m religious”, I say “yes, I’m a Christian.” When they ask what that means, I tell them it means I believe that Jesus lived, and died for me. And that he is both the Son of God, and God himself…the most important theme to me is Love. Love in a sense that you try to genuinely care for everyone you encounter. And my religion is very important to me. It’s what makes me me and defines who I am. If Christianity was not in my life, in no way would I be the same person.”

As for the woman who wished to remain anonymous she spoke of the meaning of religion in her own life saying “While Christianity is my way of life, it is the religious way that I identify with, understand, appreciate and follow, I cannot say that religion itself is what is important to me…” Once again comes up the distinction, for one member of this community, between her sincerely held beliefs, her ‘way of life’ concerning Christianity and ‘religion’ as such. However this woman also mentioned the important theme of love when she was speaking of her own religious experience she said that it was filled with “…God, Hope and Love…” As for what the church’s literature says on the matter of the meaning of religion in its’ life as the community, the Constitution of Kingsway Baptist Church (1999) says,

“We engage, therefore, by the aid of the Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church, in knowledge, holiness and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the Church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations.”[ii]

Once again the dominant theme of ‘love’ emerges as a central component as to how this community defines the meaning of religion in its’ life but (equally as important) many other themes emerge from this statement as well such as ‘the advancement of this church’, ‘doctrines’ and finally ‘the spread of the Gospel through all nations.’ In the church’s bulletin for the Sunday of Nov.6th, 2011 two other very important themes for how this church defines the meaning of religion for itself emerge from the title of the sermon given by Dave Smith “A REASON-able Faith: HOPE”, namely ‘faith’ and ‘hope.’[iii] The meaning of religion as defined by this religious community for themselves by what their literature says and what their members have to say, focused in on the three main themes of faith, hope and love as summed up very well by a passage found in the Christian Bible that this community uses, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, TNIV.)[iv]

          Now while it may be said that these are very general themes in religion, with this community and with Christianity at large these terms (faith, hope and love) are not isolated values but are rooted in wider Christian narrative and framework of belief. For this community “…a personal and growing experience of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord…[is] the heart of our faith.”[v] As for hope, Dave Smith in his sermon on the Sunday of Nov.6th spoke of hope of God’s redemption within the context of another passage found within the passage of the Christian Bible that this church uses, which says “…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:23-24, TNIV.)[vi] And while the church’s literature was surprisingly silent as to the actual content of its’ hope (as Dave Smith acknowledged) it is does clearly by its’ actions show that it hopes for a better world. And finally as for love, love for this community is defined by the figure of Jesus Christ, in fact all Christians in this community (it may be safely assumed) would define their entire religion by the figure of Jesus Christ. As Dave Smith said in his interview “My religion is based on the man Jesus Christ, who we believe was human but also God. Essentially my religion is based on his life and teachings…”

 The Role of Religion as defined by this group

         Once again as was the case with the meaning of religion in general, for discussing the role of religion in general the church’s literature was (very naturally) not at all interested in that topic for within their communal setting they are not at all interested in the question of the function of ‘religion’ but are interested in what their beliefs tell them as to how they should act in the world. However, while the church’s literature was silent on the matter, this investigator’s three interviewees had much to say. For Nathan McCoy “…Religion keeps people accountable to someone other than another human” and “…religion leads to an understanding of rules and laws that are higher than your own judgment.” Dave Smith had a similar response in his interview by saying religion’s role within life generally should be to “…provide a moral framework, as well as a life trajectory.” As for our anonymous women interviewee she had lot of to say on this topic. For her (as she said in her interview) “Religion should play a role of bringing people together of like-minded views in caring and sharing with those that are like them with those that are not like them.” Now she said that this, one would hope, would be the role that religion should play in the world, she acknowledged that quite often it was not. She said “…it has been used to do unspeakable, horrific things to people…and that’s when I get confused about religion…and whether it should even exist.” While Dave and Nathan’s answers perhaps may be seen as more focused on the role of religion in general in terms of the individual, our anonymous woman’s answers focused much more broadly in terms of what the role of religion should be within society. However one common theme that may be gathered from their answers is that religion’s role in life in general should be to provide a system of morality and of higher standards.

            Now while the Church’s own literature may have been quiet in terms of the role of religion in general, as to how they define the role of religion within the lives of their own community they are abundantly clear. From this investigator’s two visits of the church and from reading their literature it appears that the chief aspect as to how this community defines the role of their faith within their community is by the words- social action. From one look at their newsletter from the summer of 2010 one can see the many facets of their participation in community outreach from their abundant overseas work in Africa (particularly Rwanda), to their homework club and outreach to the local community of Mabelle, to their work with the organization known as Oasis that is known for their clothing banks and addiction recovery centre and finally to their other service trips to places such as the Dominican Republic and Manitoulin Island.[vii] Even at the church service that this investigator attended on the Sunday of Nov.6th, 2011 there was a review and presentation of the charitable work of the former youth pastor of Kingsway named Bryce Dymond.[viii] As for this investigator’s interviewees they all had very similar responses as to how religion’s role is defined within their own lives. For Nathan his faith “…plays the role of how I interact with others. My religion is the main key in why I care for people, why I listen and give advice to those who ask.” For Dave Smith in terms of what the role of religion was within his own life in terms of his public life he said, “Love others as yourself. Feed the hungry. Give your stuff to the poor. Spend time with and pour love on those the world rejects. And every time you do that, it will be as if you were doing that to Jesus – God himself.” Dave’s answer in particular points to a passage found within this community’s Bible that may reasonably be taken as one of the foundational passages for how this community understands the role of religion within itself,

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see  you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”(Matthew 25: 37-40, TNIV)[ix]

       Now while social action was the dominant theme for how religion’s role is perceived within the community itself, it was of course not the only one. Another important aspect of the role of religion within the life of this community was the study of the Christian Bible, as is clearly demonstrated by the no more than three separate Bible study groups that were listed and advertised within the bulletin of the Sunday of Nov.6th, 2011.[x] This investigator also attended a Bible study that was led by a group of the church’s young college men and found that these members of this community were also very eager to learn about the content of the Christian Bible. This group of young college men were in particular studying a section of the Christian Bible called the Epistle of James, in which religion is defined as following “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27, TNIV.)[xi] Dave Smith summarized very well as to perhaps why this community considered the study of the Christian Bible to be so important when he says “Obedience to God means following his commands, avoiding what he says is “sin”, and acting towards other people the way the Bible calls me to.” For this community clearly the Bible is an important guidebook (although this may be a limiting metaphor) as to how this community at Kingsway Baptist Church should live.

     Another unique aspect as to how this community defines the role of religion for itself is the particular attention it gives to children. The bulletin for the Sunday of Nov.6th, 2011 advertises not only their many Sunday school classes for children but also a Family Fun Night event that is held in particular for families with children to spend time together.[xii] Kingsway’s constitution gives special attention to children by stating “We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions; to religiously educate our children…”[xiii] In Kingsway’s newsletter for the summer of 2010 there was a small advertisement for Kingsway’s yearly summer day camp for children of the community.[xiv] Dave Smith, as a parent of two children himself says that one of his chief goals as a parent to his kids is “…to a) educate them about my religion and beliefs, and b) to give them space as they grow up to make their own decisions.” So as clearly as we can discern from our interviewees and from the church’s literature we can discern that the role of religion as defined for themselves in their lives consists predominately of social action with the guidance of the Christian Bible with a special focus on children.

What I have Learned

     One of the first things that this investigator learned from this investigation of the religious community of Kingsway Baptist Church is that often even the very language of the academics and scholars who study religion is not the terminology that the adherents of religion use to describe themselves. Terms that are often found within the study of religion such as ‘totem’, ‘institution’, and even the term ‘religion’ were used with caution by at least one member of this community (the anonymous woman.) Another profound insights that this investigator came to while doing this investigation is that this community in particular is guided by a strong textual tradition. Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam, are strong textual traditions and because they have these strong textual traditions they look to their texts as a primary authority instead of a religious experience. Kingsway Baptist Church with its’ emphasis on social action as guided by and as understood by their textual tradition shows that it takes the Christian Bible very seriously as a definer of their religious community. However while they share a common text as a guiding authority it is clear that even within a mid-size religious community such as Kingsway Baptist Church that there can be a diverse range of beliefs or at least emphases concerning the meaning and role of religion.

       For instance our anonymous woman interviewee commented and espoused a ecumenical concept that religions at their core element were all essentially the same where as someone like Dave Smith, who having said in his interview “…I have a responsibility to, over time, introduce people to Jesus” would seem to not agree with this opinion or at least not in the sense that the anonymous woman intended. These kinds of differences suggest to this investigator that one should be careful (as most academics and scholars are not) of assigning labels to people’s religious beliefs or at the very least of putting too much intellectual weight and value in these labels. Finally, Kingsway Baptist has shown this investigator that religious people often are not the stereotypes that are portrayed in the media. As our anonymous women interviewee pointed out, the media often depicts religious belief in a very bad light, as a source for only destruction and violence in the world. Well despite this stereotype this religious community by their abundant social action and love shows that these depictions in the media are nothing but cheap facades that were created scapegoats for all the world’s problems.


List of Resources


- Sunday Morning Service: Sunday Nov.6, 2011 at 10 a.m. Kingsway Baptist Church (41 Birchview Boulevard
Etobicoke, ON M8X 1H7)

- Young College Men’s Bible Study: Sunday Nov.6, 2011 at 1:30 p.m. Kingsway Baptist Church (41 Birchview Boulevard
Etobicoke, ON M8X 1H7)


- Nathan McCoy, an active young person at Kingsway Baptist Church. Monday, Nov.7th, 2011 at his home in Etobicoke, Ontario.

- Dave Smith, Former Youth Pastor at Kingsway Baptist Church. Thursday Nov.10th, 2011, at Kingsway Baptist Church

- The Woman (anonymous), employee of Kingsway Baptist Church. Thursday, Nov.3rd, 2011, at Kingsway Baptist Church


Gill, Natalie (Office Administrator). Kingsway Baptist Church: November 6th, 2011 (Bulletin). Kingsway Baptist Church. 2011

Holy Bible: Today’s New International Version (TNIV.) Ed. Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2005

Kingsway Baptist Church: Our beliefs. Kingsway Baptist Church. 2010. Canadian Baptist of Ontario and Quebec. Thursday, Nov.10th, 2011  

< http://www.kingswaybaptist.ca/beliefs.htm>

 The Kingsway Newsletter: Summer 2010. Vol. 4.3. Ed. Carmen Hall. Kingsway Baptist Church. Tuesday, Nov.8th, 2011


Our Church Covenant (Constitution 1999). Kingsway Baptist Church. Monday, Nov.7th, 2011. 

<http://www.kingswaybaptist.ca/> (members only access)


[i] Kingsway Baptist Church: Our beliefs. Kingsway Baptist Church. 2010. Canadian Baptist of Ontario and Quebec. Thursday Nov.10th, 2011. 

< http://www.kingswaybaptist.ca/beliefs.htm>

[ii] Our Church Covenant (Constitution 1999). Kingsway Baptist Church. Monday, Nov.7th, 2011. 

<http://www.kingswaybaptist.ca/> (members only access)

[iii] Gill, Natalie (Office Administrator). Kingsway Baptist Church: November 6th, 2011 (Bulletin). Kingsway Baptist Church. 2011

[iv] Holy Bible: Today’s New International Version (TNIV.) Ed. Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2005

[v] Kingsway Baptist Church: Our beliefs. Kingsway Baptist Church. 2010. Canadian Baptist of Ontario and Quebec. Thursday Nov.10th, 2011. 

< http://www.kingswaybaptist.ca/beliefs.htm>

[vi] Holy Bible: Today’s New International Version (TNIV.) Ed. Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2005

[vii] The Kingsway Newsletter: Summer 2010. Vol. 4.3. Ed. Carmen Hall. Kingsway Baptist Church. Tuesday, Nov.8th, 2011.


[viii] Gill, Natalie (Office Administrator). Kingsway Baptist Church: November 6th, 2011 (Bulletin). Kingsway Baptist Church. 2011

[ix] Holy Bible: Today’s New International Version (TNIV.) Ed. Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2005

[x] Gill, Natalie (Office Administrator). Kingsway Baptist Church: November 6th, 2011 (Bulletin). Kingsway Baptist Church. 2011

[xi] Holy Bible: Today’s New International Version (TNIV.) Ed. Committee on Bible Translation (CBT). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan. 2005

[xii] Gill, Natalie (Office Administrator). Kingsway Baptist Church: November 6th, 2011 (Bulletin). Kingsway Baptist Church. 2011

[xiii] Our Church Covenant (Constitution 1999). Kingsway Baptist Church. Monday, Nov.7th, 2011. 

<http://www.kingswaybaptist.ca/> (members only access)

[xiv] The Kingsway Newsletter: Summer 2010. Vol. 4.3. Ed. Carmen Hall. Kingsway Baptist Church. Tuesday, Nov.8th, 2011. 


We are N, nor are We Alone- What Christian Solidarity in Martyrdom Means

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Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Heb. 13:3, NRSV)

          When many a people group are all being slaughtered indiscriminately around the world, it may appear pointless to show any partisanship with any particular group. As Jared Walker, a good friend has remarked in conversation, “Yes there are Christians dying all over the world and that is terrible but there are also many other non-Christian people that are being slaughtered and that is equally as terrible.”* While not wishing to dispute this in the least, it does seem that within the Christian theological tradition a special importance or meaning is attached to the deaths of “…the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given…” (Rev. 6:9, NRSV). The special importance laid upon the deaths of these ones is noted by their name in Greek, μάρτυς, which means ‘witness’, also known in its anglicized form as martyr. With the recent upheaval in Mosul, Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and in particular the death and expulsion of almost the entire Christian population in the region- Emil Shimoun Nona, the archbishop of the Chaldean Catholics in Mosul has estimated that from the time of the Iraq war of 2003 until now, the Christian population in Mosul has dwindled from 35, 000 to 3, 000- it may be appropriate to ask the right questions, from a Christian theological perspective, of such things as, what is the purpose of martyrdom? Why attach special importance or meaning to the deaths of Christians over others? Who qualifies as a martyr? Lastly, with what purpose do those Christians who are not persecuted strive to stand in solidarity with those who are?

          Let us take them in reverse order. We can see in the examples of twitter pictures and Facebook statuses, almost a secular version of prayer, in that people will send out messages in times of great desperation though no one may be listening with the hope that the messages will be answered “…because of their many words” (Matt. 6:7, NRSV).wearen-twitter-avitar2 The international attention to the very real and horrible persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East has produced some of the most benign but endearing forms of solidarity and protest, such as the social media campaign #WeAreN in which the ‘N’ is for Nasrani meaning ‘Nazarenes/Christians’, also the same Arabic letter tagged on the homes of Christians in Iraq (see left). When the writer of the letter to the Hebrews asks us to ‘remember’, how does the remembrance take place? Should we disparage the twitter campaigns or think of them like crosses on a necklace, an appropriate symbol? In an earlier essay, a distinction was made between protest and proclamation, in that protest is action that effectively breaks out of the matrix and means of that which one is protesting, whereas in proclamation a reminder of the larger vision of justice is given through ritual. The #WeAreN campaign is of the latter, and therefore we should recognize that it is a ritual much like prayer, but does the writer of the letter to the Hebrews have more than a ritual-like reminder in mind when he admonishes remembrance? Does he have something like stigmata in mind? Is this what Paul was talking about when he said, “I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body” (Gal. 6:17, NRSV)? Controversially, it is argued here, that the remembrance is of more than a ritual reminder, though important that is, for it is also an awareness that your life is intimately bound up with those whom you are remembering. It is not only that you should remember them in twitter and prayer as if you are bound up with them though you sit at ease, it is also the awareness that as far as you share identity with them you are or will be bound up with them in some sense. What the death of these Christians in Iraq and elsewhere testify to is not only that there have been changes in the Middle Eastern political-cultural climate but that those changes will have repercussions around the world, as takes place all throughout history to people groups who claim a different and higher alliance than the state. The martyrdom of these Christians signals that an extremely important discussion will hopefully emerge concerning a group’s relationship to a state. But perhaps that for another time. The fate of Christians in Iraq will have consequences for Christians in Africa, throughout the Middle East, Europe, North America, and unto the ends of the Earth- for if the vine bled, and other branches are now bleeding, who will say whether or not your branch will bleed as well.

          What makes one a bleeding branch however is unfortunately a question that has become much muddled in Western discourse between those Western Christians who, having now lost their political dominance cry ‘persecution’, need to be told to ‘grow up’ to those Christians who may be ‘persecuted’ or ‘mocked’ not because of their faith but for other reasons such as they actually are criminals or actually are a great annoyance. Lost in this question, furthermore, are questions concerning statistics, such as Nelson Jones at the NewStatesman, who appears to think that challenging the claim that ‘Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world’ is a worthy endeavour. He says, “It’s almost certainly not the case that Christians are the most “persecuted” religious group in proportion to their numbers.” As if the importance of Christians being persecuted around the world was secured on the fact that more of them are being killed than Muslims. As if, that if there were fewer Christians being killed than Muslims, it would be a non-issue. But nonetheless he does raise an interesting argument that, “…by and large we are dealing with group rivalries, hatred of minorities, political struggles and only rarely a persecution based in the specifics of Christian theology.”

          Dietrich Bonhoeffer in this regard is an extremely interesting example, for while he is commemorated as a martyr by many for his opposition to Nazism, Bonhoeffer himself understood that if his blood were to bleed, it would not be an innocent martyr’s death that he would receive, but rather, in speaking about himself and his comrades in the Abwehr, “…the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness.”** Bonhoeffer understood that if he were to die a convicted criminal, for the crime of attempting to assassinate a political leader, that he would not die a martyr’s death. The death of a Christian by another does not automatically  that mean in their death they had become a martyr. Likewise if a Christian in Iraq were to be killed in a crossfire, as tragic as it is, it would not mean that they were a martyr. Rather, going back to the original name, a martyr is one who is killed for being a witness. When then the ‘N’ is sprayed painted on their houses, it testifies to the fact that the homes of those being killed belonged to those who were witnesses to the crucified and risen Nazarene. They were not killed merely because they did not fit the social order, they were not killed out of some accident, they were not killed because they were grouped in with other religious minorities, they were killed precisely because they were Christians.*** For Jones to think that Christians being persecuted by secular and Islamic governments alike has nothing to do with the content of Christian theology is simply non-sense from someone who clearly cannot understand why anyone would possibly fight over doctrines or ‘beliefs’ let alone die for them.

          Now that we have established what purpose there would be in remembering the persecution of Christians in Iraq, and elsewhere, in solidarity with them, and what qualifies a martyr, we’re still left with the question- why remember or pay special regard to the deaths of Christians specifically? What makes it different than remembering any other atrocity done to any other people group? It is here where some ancient Church wisdom, so often neglected, is of such use to us. St. Bede, in his A History of the English Church and People (early 8th century), records Pope Gregory’s response to St. Augustine’s fifth question concerning incest in the late 6th century, and has Pope Gregory recount John the Baptist’s protest of such marriages against the rulers of Judea, saying of his death,

“For which thing also John the Baptist was beheaded, and obtained the crown of holy martyrdom. For, though he was not ordered to deny Christ, and it was not for confessing Christ that he was killed, yet inasmuch as the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, said, “I am the Truth,” because John was killed for the truth, he also shed his blood for Christ.” (Chapter 27)

What an astonishing mode of reasoning is employed here! Gregory wishes to anoint John the Baptist a martyr but in knowing that John was killed because of his protest against incestuous marriages within the royal family, argues that because John was killed for the truth that that equalled being killed for the sake of Christ. Dying for the sake of truth, justice, peace, and love are not separated categories from dying for the cause of Christ, as if being a Christian and dying a martyr’s death was a matter of dying for metaphysical beliefs about the afterlife. The death of a Christian imitates the death of Christ in exactly as it exposes the depths of human sinfulness in how we create entire systems that are dependent upon the death of victims, as it exposes that the human desire to become gods inevitably becomes evil in craving to kill even the most innocent.+

          In that sense, to give special recognition to those who die in the name of Christ in the Christian tradition is not to privilege the deaths of them over others, or to say that their deaths were of some value, or that they were more valuable than other people, or even that we need to save Christians from their persecution at the expense or in precedence of saving other groups from their persecution but rather that the death of a Christian testifies to the death of Christ, and the death of Christ was the event that saved all of humanity from these systems of oppression, death, sin, and destruction. Christ, in the Christian tradition, died for many reasons but one of which was to expose empire and make a mockery of their whole system of killing enemies by holding charges of guilt over peoples heads, for “…erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15, NRSV).

          To end here then, we should honour and remember the life of the Professor of law at the University of Mosul Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, who stood up against the ISIS’s persecution of Christians, believing that it went against what God had commanded in the Islamic faith. While he did not die in the name of Christ, in the Christian tradition we cannot but recognize that he, like John the Baptist before him, died for the truth, and in dying for the truth he also shed his blood for Christ.


* Slight paraphrase from a personal conversation.

** Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Fortress Press, 2000), 795

*** On a personal note, I find it somewhat disgusting the attempts by some Evangelicals to disassociate themselves from the title of ‘Christian’ because of some negative connotations the word has accumulated throughout our culture. At a time when myriads are being killed for being identified as such, some in the Evangelical community cowardly step away from the same title because it makes them uncomfortable at parties. Grow-Up, and consider yourselves lucky that you are merely being mocked and stereotyped. 

Richard Bauckham makes a most excellent point in this regard (though my dissertation would substitute ‘Rome’ for ‘Jerusalem’, the issue is still the same), in commenting on Revelation 18:24, when he says, “Rome is indicted not only for the martyrdom of Christians, but also for the slaughter of all the innocent victims of its murderous policies. The verse expresses a sense of solidarity between the Christian martyrs and all whose lives were the price of Rome’s acquisition and maintenance of power.” – Bauckham, Richard. The Climax of Prophecy: Studies on the Book of Revelation. 1st Edition. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark, 1993., 349.

A Personal Note on the Theological and Political Importance of my Dissertation pt. 2

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Authorial Note: Due to the goals and aims of the academy such as at the University of Edinburgh, even in the School of Divinity, if one touches upon anything that implies a personal investment and importance in one’s subject matter, it is frowned upon. One is suppose to assume deistic god-like stance toward one’s subject matter, while of course ironically laughing to one’s colleagues and friends about the absurdity of objectivity. As I am myself completing my Masters of Theology (MTh) degree in Biblical Studies, I find my theologically and politically minded impulses reflecting upon my academic work and yet am continually frustrated that I cannot express such reflections in the dissertation itself. Below are some controversial implications for the Church in worship and mission, if my academic conclusions are correct. Because the following is somewhat personal and informal, there will inevitably be large generalizations made, and important matters overlooked, for which I hope to be forgiven. This part will deal with with the implications for women and men with regard to the imagery of the whore, feminism, and reading practices. Part one of this personal exploration may be found here: A Personal Note on the Theological and Political Importance of my Dissertation pt. 1

          Having chosen to do my dissertation on a text like Revelation 17-18, with Rev. 17:16 being described by some of the scholars that I am reading as the most blatantly misogynistic passage in the New Testament, I found that while I had well been schooled by many of my close friends in what feminism is, what patriarchy is, and in particular the disturbing rise of ‘rape culture’, that I was, nevertheless, underprepared. When it comes to gender theory, feminism, queer theory, womanist studies, gender sensitivity, and what not- while I deplore political correctness due to my upbringing- I consider myself to be somewhat literate, as it is a mode of discourse our culture is becoming increasingly submerged in, that has both redeeming and not so redeeming qualities about it. But despite all that, I can clearly remember two personal stories in which my overlooking of my language and what it insinuated were detrimental to the perception of my character when it comes to women and gender relations.

          When I was working as a student intern at the Multi-Faith Centre at the University of Toronto, during the organization of a particular event I had used the phrase, ‘man the table’. I was gentle admonished by my employer subsequently that in such an environment, gender neutral language was preferable. In this case, I quite admit, that I initially attributed it to the over-scrupulous nature of the work place when it came to political correctness- the ‘grammar nazi’, if you will.* However, as I latter came to see, what that particular language would imply is that the male sex was the universal human being and that the female sex was an aberration from the universal standard of ‘MAN’ as opposed to both ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as the halves of a gender neutral or androgynous HUMAN. In theoretical language this is called androcentrism, but to the person not familiar with such terminology it simply means that at a very basic level, the way you understand the world, as expressed through your language is oriented to the male sex at the exclusion of the female sex. Thankfully, my employer did not make much of the incident nor did it affect my relationships with my co-workers who were all female.** In going forward however, I have found that I still dislike political correctness very much because it not only reminds me of the immense amount of hypocritical self-righteousness one can have (e.g. ‘I don’t use sexist biased language like men do’) but it can create an immense amount of anxiety as to what one says and not say. The constant monitoring of one’s thoughts, words, and actions can bring guilt and embarrassment, rather I think it is helpful (or at least what I am humbly trying in the hopes of being helpful) is not to monitor and ‘check myself’ but rather develop a character that does not exclude women, and then hopefully proceeding from that the language itself will conform to the disposition of the person.

          The second personal story however is much more disheartening. During a conversation with some of my flatmates here in Edinburgh, we came upon the topic of Christmas and I shared with them the parody of Rudolph the red-nose reindeer, called ‘Randolph the Red-Gunned Cowboy,’ or as I knew it, ‘Ruldoph the Rhinestone cowboy’. One of my flatmates laughed with me, the other was quite offended as the song contained a line that seemed to make light of shooting a woman- ‘Ruldoph with your gun so bright, won’t you shoot my wife tonight!’ Thankfully we’re now on good terms, but at the time she found it terrible offensive, and as I tried to justify it in my mind as ‘the joke is not about killing a woman, but at the sheriff’s annoyance with his wife’, the more I came to see such ‘explanations’ as empty. Its a joke about killing a woman, and it was this very blind sightedness, in this case to the obscenity that I regret telling, that I knew I could and would no longer have when it came to the biblical text.

          When I first presented my dissertation topic to a group of professors, I was surprised to learn afterwards that I had personally offended a professor or two with the artistic depictions of the Whore of Babylon that I presented in my powerpoint presentation.  harlot-being-attacked-51In particular, the image to the left, of the woman terrified at being eaten and attacked by the beast, may have shocked. My images were not anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, pornographic, or particularly bloody- they were in fact quite tame to what many see in Rev. 17:16 as a collage of immense militaristic destruction of peasant land and the the violent gang rape and cannibalism of a woman. But what I found was that if the professor was offended at the image, then they had not read the text in the same way- and neither had I. Now, most importantly, it appears to be agreed by all scholars (namely because the text says so), that the book intends the woman to be a symbolic depiction, an image, of a city- most scholars think Rome, in my dissertation I’m arguing that she is Jerusalem. Regardless however, the image is stark, and to those of us who have become immune to the Apocalyptic imagery of the book of Revelation through constant reading, cartoons, or through laughter at the ridiculousness of those who often interpret it, we need to be reminded continually- the apocalypse is no mundane matter.

          What to do then with such an image? Most attempts at trying to make the image less appalling seem to fall flat, as Tina Pippin, in her work Apocalyptic Bodies (Routledge: 1999), points out,

“…what if a male prostitute was the symbol in the Apocalypse, and this male was raped and murdered? The symbolism matters, and the symbolism of a woman’s body that is attacked is important. Would this symbol then be acceptable if the violence were imposed on a male? I think the gang rape and murder of a male would be totally unacceptable to biblical scholars and the “symbolism” of the evil empire would break down at this point.” (94)

Symbolism does matter, and what we furthermore need to ask then is: what is the function of the female sex of this particular symbol? Well, speaking quite frankly, it does seem that the passage is most certainly not prescriptive in the least (e.g. ‘you have to kill other prostitutes, because this particular city in a highly symbolic vision was eaten by a seven headed monster’). If not prescriptive then, as best as I can discern, because the reader, whether male or female, is clearly not to be identified with the woman, then the passage should be seen as a cathartic and excellent way of expressing one’s opposition to systems of injustice. The fact that she is a woman seem in my estimation to be no more than a conventional metaphor (yes, one incredibly misogynistic) used throughout antiquity of a piece of land as a women, and to express the notion found throughout the Hebrew Bible of ‘harlotry=idolatry’- it does not seem that the author of the work intends in any manner to make a statement about women as such, no matter what his working androcentrism reveals. I would propose that a feminist reading of the symbol, that would be outraged at the blatant and unjustifiable misogyny of the passage, would need to be supplement with a post-colonial reading of the passage, to see the passage from the perspective of one who has come under some form of oppression or colonialism- of which the woman (along with the beast) represents.  In fact, this is the way many women readers have faithfully been able to read this passage.  Anne Wentworth, in the late 17th century, expressed her outrage and her feeling of being oppressed, by none other than her abusive husband, using the image of the slain Babylon!***

Mercy and Judgment they did meet,

And with a holy Kiss each other greet:

Justice and Equity took Mercies part,

And Mercy stabbed Babylon to the heart:

That Babylon did bleed unto death;

Then the Lord put his Sword in his sheath.

When this monstrous Whore is dead and gone,

That would not leave a Saint not one;

Makes her self drunk with the Saints Blood,

This great Whore did never do any good;

But doth all the mischief, that she can;

And the people makes a God of proud Man.


It only occurred to my mind while writing this, that someone of a deeply political correct nature would most certainly point out that the phrase ‘grammar nazi’ would imply that the person who would correcting your grammar was exterminating your grammatical mistakes, which would in the analogy effectively be the ‘Jewish’ tendencies of language. Nazis would be conceived of as extremely thorough and discriminating, which they were not, and the symbol of ‘the Jew’ would be inscribed only in mistaken language, as if they were mistaken human beings. It is no exaggeration to say that any of the popular deconstructionist thinkers, like Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault or the like would have made this point.

** Aside: If we wish to avoid androcentric language when speaking about humanity as a whole, then I would suggest that we also wish to avoid gynocentric (woman-centred) language when speaking of the liberation and emancipation of  both men and women from patriarchy and its effects. In popular discourse feminism is quite often defined in line with something like the notion commonly attributed to Bell Hooks’ that “Feminism is not simply a struggle to end male chauvinism or a movement to ensure that women will have equal rights with men; it is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates the Western culture on various levels-sex, race, class to name a few-and a commitment to reorganizing society…so that self-development of people can take a precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desire.” If such is feminism, then I will make the declaration that I too am a feminist, however I think a term I would much rather use would be ‘liberationist’ because such language encompasses all of humanity, instead of focusing gynocentrically on the emancipation of women as the emancipation of all humanity, thus excluding men.

*** Cited and discussed in:  Kovacs, Judith, and Christopher Rowland. Revelation: The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ. 1st Edition. UK: Wiley, 2004. 189

A Personal Note on the Theological and Political Importance of my Dissertation pt. 1

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Authorial Note: Due to the goals and aims of the academy such as at the University of Edinburgh, even in the School of Divinity, if one touches upon anything that implies a personal investment and importance in one’s subject matter, it is frowned upon. One is suppose to assume deistic god-like stance toward one’s subject matter, while of course ironically laughing to one’s colleagues and friends about the absurdity of objectivity. As I am myself completing my Masters of Theology (MTh) degree in Biblical Studies, I find my theologically and politically minded impulses reflecting upon my academic work and yet am continually frustrated that I cannot express such reflections in the dissertation itself. Below are some controversial implications for the Church in worship and mission, if my academic conclusions are correct. Because the following is somewhat personal and informal, there will inevitably be large generalizations made, and important matters overlooked, for which I hope to be forgiven. This first part will deal with the issue of the Christian Church’s relation to the State of Israel, the second projected piece will deal with the implications for women and men with regard to the imagery of the whore.

          What the State of Israel is currently becoming is what Jesus of Nazareth warned the people of Israel against becoming in his call to repentance. Elsewhere, I have written on the theological difficulties of Christian Zionism, but it is, most especially here, important to point out at the start, that to be anti-Zionist is not to be anti-Semitic.A-Whore-Of-Babylon As I hope to show in my academic work, there is in a sense, even amongst largely Jewish minorities within the 1st century C.E., a strong strain of anti-Zionism, mostly in the condemnation of the Jerusalem Temple establishment. The Masters of Theology dissertation, which I’m currently working on, will hope to show that in a postcolonial feminist reading of the symbol of the Whore of Babylon in Revelation 17-18 she can clearly been seen, from the perspective of the new Christian minority throughout the Roman Empire, as, contrary to expectation, not the city of Rome, but the city of Jerusalem- the ‘little devil’ of the ‘big devil’ of the Roman Empire, if you like.

          It may be difficult for anyone reading the New Testament who is slightly familiar with the history of 1st century Palestine to think that Jerusalem could ever be conceived of as any enemy as evil as the Whore of Babylon. Sure the Temple elite conspired with the Romans to crucify Jesus, but can it honestly be contended that anyone living in 1st century Palestine could have seen Jerusalem as the demonic, violent, exploitative, oppressive, bloodthirsty Whore of Babylon? It is difficult to look at this period of history in such a way because of the subsequent oppression of the Jewish people, the destruction of their Temple, and so forth. However, as Martin Goodman has rightfully pointed out:

“…the Jewish world in which Jesus lived was under Roman rule but was not, and did not feel, oppressed by Rome…Roman peace had been good for Jerusalem. The Jews prayed for the well-being of the emperor as they had prayed for other royal benefactors in earlier times…It is hard to appreciate the felicity of Judaea in those days only because later events have cast a pall of gloom over memory…The magnificent Temple would be reduced to rubble. But at the time no one knew this. Herod had built a city to last. Jerusalem could hope to stand eternally alongside Rome…Such tolerance came under stress when revolt broke out in Jerusalem in 66 CE, sparked not by Jewish revulsion against Roman imperialism as a whole but in reaction to maladministration by an individual low-grade governor.” (Rome and Jerusalem: the clash of civilizations579-580)

Jerusalem’s assimilation and accommodation to Roman power is almost entirely forgotten, Herod’s joyfully acceptance of Hellenistic culture is wiped from memory, and the experienced suffering of several Jewish minority groups like the Qumran community, the zealots, and others is ignored. Most New Testament historians and theologians are even reluctant to accept the every possibility that Jerusalem was seen as an oppressive power by a Jewish minority, especially the Christian minority, because such a conclusion is perceived to be far too close to anti-Semitism to possibly be acceptable- as if our moral sensitivities are what determine historical conclusions.

        Now why is such a conclusion important for thinking about the development of the early Church and Christian theology at large? If the Church was to be the bride of Christ, they had to remember that God was a divorcé. The remembrance of the corruption and harlotry of Israel was not the focus of the majority of Christian history toward the Jewish people, for if it were it would have been more cautious of its own claims to ‘chosenness’- as St. Paul remarks, “For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” (Rom. 11:21, ESV). Subsequent Christian history was, on the contrary, fuelled by the idea not only that Israel was no longer chosen, but that she was accursed.* If the Church had remembered Jerusalem as the whore of Babylon, it is tentatively suggested that it would have remembered in its own stance as bride the kind of sins that would break God’s marriage contract- which the Christian Church had committed in subsequent centuries- such as violence, murder, economic exploitation, persecution, sorcery, and blasphemy.  However, once the Apocalypse of John had reached largely non-Jewish audiences the whore of Babylon was interpreted as the city of Rome and the Church had forever in mind- whores are always whores, and brides are always brides. Whereas, if the whore of Babylon were read as Jerusalem, then the city that was once declared the bride of God had become the whore, as it had many times in its history, and that the status of ‘bride’ could be shaken by unfaithfulness. For Christian theology at large, then, I would submit, rather paradoxically, that the more the early Christian prophetic imagination of Jerusalem as the oppressor and ‘little devil’ of the Roman empire, the more humility it would had encouraged in its own status as ‘bride’, and perhaps in that humility would have been less arrogant in its stance toward the non-Christian Jewish community.

        What could these following insights from an ancient text possibly mean for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East? Admittedly, I was raised with a very Dispensationalist view of Biblical prophetic texts, and thus understood the current State of Israel as the miracle of God in the 20th century and an oppressed minority in the world. Now, the standard narrative would be ‘but then I was introduced to social justice groups and saw otherwise!’, but my narrative is not so. No, first and foremost I had begun to take Jesus’ imminent call to repentance for the nation of Israel within the Gospels much more seriously than I had before. The way I describe it to my friends is: The destruction of the second Temple in 70 C.E. is the most important Biblical event not described in the Bible. The more that I had begun to disassociate the Biblical Israel, which was condemned and destroyed, from the current State of Israel in the Middle East, the more receptive I was in having a fuller view of the present conflict. The paradigm shifting of Biblical understanding lead to an interest in digging deeper into  the political landscape, rather than the horrifying truth of the political landscape prompting a more compatible Biblical understanding. Now, most controversially I have found, my thorough introduction to the conflict was the work of none other than Normal Finkelstein. However, I have found this man to be an intellectual and moral hero of mine, for his willingness to put his reputation and career on the line continually in the cause of justice.**

       However, one of the issues rarely if ever discussed by Finkelstein is the involvement of the Christian Zionist lobby in the perpetuation of the conflict. Having learned much more about the conflict in the region, and watching the violence continue day by day, the Christian Church’s stance towards this conflict cannot be to privilege the State of Israel, as the Church had privileged itself throughout the course of history. Furthermore, it should remember that even if the State of Israel was an excellent idea for the protection of the Jewish people due to the overwhelming hostility toward them throughout Europe in the 20th century, that her status as the bride of the refuge could easily become the status of the European-colonial whore of hostility toward ethnic minorities. More especially alarming for the Christian Church should be that it could, in its Zionist zealotry, by which it feels it will pay for its crimes toward the Jewish people throughout history, be the accomplice in the persecution of, arguably, one of the most abandoned minorities in the entire world- that of Palestinian Christians, who are rejected by Israel, by Islam, by the United States, and by their own brothers and sisters who see them as an obstacle. As any person who was raised in the Protestant tradition could easily tell you, one of the Christian’s primary enemies could quite easily be the Church. For the Christians in Palestine, I fear that the whore that is hunting them are the Churches in support of Christian Zionism. “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev. 18:4, ESV).

On this topic, one helpful history among many would be: Lindemann, Albert S., and Richard S. Levy. Antisemitism: A History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2010.

** A good summary of the conflict by Finkelstein can be found at: 

The Cosmology of Authority: The Ascension Narrative of the Acts of the Apostles (Edited)

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Authorial Note: After hearing a sermon in which Jesus was an astronaut because he ascended into heaven, I finally decided to tackle in an academic way, the best that I could, the ascension narrative of the Acts of Apostles. For one such as myself, it is this narrative, and not the resurrection and other miracles even, that is the moment of apparent embarrassment when it comes to the ‘primitive’ views of ancient peoples found in the New Testament. Were we really expected to believe that a man flew in the sky past the clouds?ADD It be firmly honest, I still have not reconciled this narrative in its entirety to my own reason, but the following is an attempt to understand the function of the narrative better, though the historical puzzle will perhaps never leave my side. 

        The Lukan narrative of the ascension of Jesus at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-11) posed a challenge of alternative authority within the setting of the Graeco-Roman world of 1st century C.E. to the wider dominion of the Roman Empire. Often questions surrounding such a narrative inevitably get bound up with questions concerning cosmology, the place and location of heaven, and how exactly the story of the ascension of Jesus functioned not only within the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles but how it may have been heard by hearers within both Graeco-Roman and Jewish milieux. We may lament, along with Mikeal Carl Parsons that, “Too often the question ‘How did the event happen?’ grinds discussion to a halt, so that the larger question ‘How does the narrative function?’ remains untouched…” (Parsons 1987, 14–15; likewise Sleeman 2009, 37). But, while addressing how the narrative functioned, we will find that the question of ancient cosmology cannot so easily be evaded. Douglas B. Farrow, rightly reflecting upon our present inquiry, says, “From Homer to Stephen Hawking the word ‘god’ is liberally sprinkled on the pages of human reflection about the universe, indicating that the ancient bond between theology and cosmology is not easily snapped…” (Farrow 1999, 165).

        It is with sensitivity both to the narrative function of the ascension story and to its cosmological background that we will compare the narrative of Jesus’ ascension with four similar narrative-traditions within the same period; two from the Jewish milieu, those of Enoch (Gen. 5:24; 1 Enoch 12; 2 Enoch 67:1-3;Jub. 4:16-26) and Moses (Philo, Life of Moses, 2.288-292; Ezekiel the Tragedian, Exagoge, 67-89), and two from the Graeco-Roman milieu, those of Apollonius of Tyana (Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 8:29-30) and Romulus (Plutarch, Romulus, 27.4-28.3; Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1.16). As part of our comparison we will be looking at how these four narrative-traditions functioned with respect to their central figure and how the assumed cosmology of such narratives reflects the function of the narrative itself. In addition, while it will be important to keep in mind the form-critical distinction made by G. Lohfink between ascension stories of a heavenly journey of the soul (Himmelsreise der Seele), and ascension stories involving a full rapture of body and soul (Entrückung) (with the Lukan narrative being categorized in the latter; Zwiep 1997, 21-22), this distinction will not be invested in too heavily, for in fact it will be argued that heaven (οὐρανος) cannot be a sphere/realm/place too easily separated from earth in our narratives. The cosmologies of the narratives will be shown to have immediate implications for the function of such narratives, and it will be argued that the Lukan ascension story is much closer both in cosmological assumptions and in function to the stories of political figures such as Romulus and Moses, than to the stories of holy-sagacious men like Enoch and Apollonius.

      The Lukan narrative of the ascension of Jesus has a number of interesting features, all of which are appropriate in considering when analyzing its cosmological assumptions and functional role. Contrary to much of popular belief about ancient cosmology within the Graeco-Roman period, the assumed cosmology of many was not as simple as a three-tiered universe structure. As J.B. Davies elaborates,

…it has to be admitted that the Hebrew regarded the universe as a three-storeyed construction of which heaven was the first and earth the ground floor with Sheol as the basement. Yet it would be a mistake to regard this as in any sense a systematized conception. Heaven itself had been created by God, but the Hebrew never asked where God was before this act of creation took place. Again, it was recognized that “the heaven of heavens cannot contain” Him, and so God could not be said to be confined in space, although one might also affirm that heaven was His throne. (Davies 1958, 57)

In fact, it was noted by E. Haenchen that, in comparison to apocryphal narratives of the ascension story, such as found in the Gospel of Peter, the Lukan narrative “…ist unsentimental und von fast befremdender Nüchternheit’…” (quoted in; Zwiep 1997, 13) for the story does not divulge into long descriptions about what heaven looks like or how many layers it has such as later Enochic traditions do. Rather, heaven appears to function in the Lukan narrative not as another place that could be described, but instead as a realm or “significant setting” in the narrative that serves to “critique these other spatial perspectives” (Sleeman 2009, 146:9, 75). Contrary to Bishop John Spong and Richard Holloway’s assertion that a local transition narrative like a ascension would presume a mythological cosmos, the Lukan narrative does not present a cosmology where Jesus’ ascension is akin to a “space voyage” (Dawson 2004, 31; 39; 34), but rather presumes a relational notion of space. Thomas F. Torrance most adequately differentiated between a receptacle notion of space and a relational notion of space when he spoke of a relational notion as defining space “…in accordance with the nature of the force that gives… [it its]… field of determination”, so that earth would be humanity’s space because of the activity of human beings and in the same way heaven would be God’s space because of the activity of God (Torrance 1976, 130–131). We will find in our further comparison that receptacle notions of space and relational notions of space are found throughout our other four narrative-traditions .

          In addition to the presumed relational cosmology of the Lukan narrative, we also find that the role of the narrative is neither for preservation of a body for a further eschatological role (contra Zwiep 1997, 78–79) nor is it simply ascension terminology being used for the ascent of the soul to heaven, for then the resurrection narrative would be left purposeless (noting the unique structure of the Jesus narrative; Farrow 2011, 2). The purpose of the Lukan narrative is made quite clear by the speech reported of Peter in Acts 2:22-36, in which, by quoting from Psalms 16:1-8 and 110:1, he points out that for many early Christian communities the ascension narrative served to show that where other Davidic kings had died, Jesus fulfilled the role as the proper Messianic king of the Jewish people. Furthermore, this kingly/political role of the narrative is further accentuated by the fact that, as Matthew Sleeman as pointed out in relation to the geographical conceptual framework provided by Ed Soja, ‘heaven’ in the Lukan narrative serves as a ‘thirdspace’ whose “…impact on earthly spaces within Acts challenges and reshapes both (firstspace) material locations and (secondspace) ideational projections, crafting constructions of places incorporating and exceeding conventional binary oppositions” (Sleeman 2009, 146:46). One can see this immediately in the preceding words of the Lukan Jesus before his ascension in Acts 1:7-8, where Jesus begins to dismantle not only the disciples’ presumptions about the temporal aspects of the eschaton but also their spatial presumptions found in 1:6. As Sleeman notes, by introducing the three firstspace locations of Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria in order firstly to reconceptualise their notions of what firstspace Israel is, he then separates Israel as a whole from their secondspace conceptual framework for the eschaton, by introducing his secondspace of the ‘ends of the earth’, thus effectively “…Jesus does far more than predict the witnesses’ future schedule: he (re)defines their space, and with them, that of the wider world” (Sleeman 2009, 146:72). As we will see, this redefining of firstspaces and secondspaces, by the thirdspace of heaven as the place of the ‘right hand’ of God, is a function of politically shaped ascension narratives focused on relational notions of space, as opposed to ascension narratives shaped by the role of holy/sagacious men and receptacle notions of space.

            Beginning with looking at the narrative traditions of the ascensions of Enoch and Apollonius of Tyana, we will look at both their cosmological assumptions and their functional role for their narratives main figures. The narrative tradition of the ascension of Enoch begins quite humbly with a vague reference in Gen. 5:24 of God ‘taking’ (לקח) Enoch, presumably from the LXX translation for his piety (εὐηρέστησεν τῷ θεῷ). From here however his position is elevated to having a role as a eschatological prophet as witnessed by his being referenced even in early Christian literature (Jude 14-15). Much of the Enochic tradition as witnessed by 1 Enoch 12 is concerned with Enoch’s role in having a separate space to be “hidden” (1 Enoch 12:2), which is defined as the space of the Watchers, so that he may record the misdeeds of these fallen angels. What we clearly see in 1 Enoch 12 is a receptacle notion of space, with heaven (presumably) as a separate space to put Enoch alongside of the Watchers, for while even the space is functionally a place for Enoch’s activity, it is not defined by Enoch’s activity. It is also clear what Enoch’s role is, for Enoch’s ascension into heaven does not redefine any geography nor is it to assume any authoritative role, it is so that he may perform his role as a “scribe of righteousness” (1 Enoch 12:4). We do later however see a remarkable mutation of Enoch’s ascension story in 2 Enoch 67:1-3, where we see a remarkable resemble to the Lukan narrative of the ascension of Jesus. The common elements between them are: the conversational setting, the ascension actually being described, the role of eyewitnesses, the attempt at an explanation for such a ascension, the worship of God as a response, and the return of the eyewitnesses to their original starting point (all noted in Zwiep 1997, 50). However, even in this case we must remember Arie W. Zwiep’s own caution that, “Similarities of language and form do not necessarily imply ideological correspondence…” (Zwiep 1997, 39–40). It is with this caution that we must ironically disagree with Zwiep’s own conclusion that the ascension of Enoch in 2 Enoch 67:1-3 exemplifies the basic formulaic structure for the Lukan narrative and that therefore they have the same function, that (in Zwiep’s estimation) of the preservation of a figure for an eschatological role.

          It is quite clear that later in the narrative of 2 Enoch the function of the narrative of Enoch’s ascension is precisely to confer authority upon someone else, namely Mefusalom, as Enoch’s son to be priest over the people (2 Enoch 69:1-7). In addition to the function of the narrative as conferring authority upon someone else, because now Enoch serves in a priestly role before God, the cosmological assumption of the narrative is still a receptacle notion of heaven, with no hint as to the relational aspects of how heaven interacts with earth or any other space. Lastly in our consideration then of the Enochic narrative-tradition of Enoch’s ascension we will look at the account in the Book of Jubilees. Here we find the most interesting mutation of the narrative, for here the ascension of Enoch, while transferring him to another location, precisely does not take him to heaven but instead to the Garden of Eden, so that he may perform both the priestly role assigned to him in 2 Enoch and the scribal role assigned to him in 1 Enoch (Jub. 4:23-26). It is interesting that here, while obviously there is a receptacle view of space in this cosmos, the receptacle is not heaven but Eden, for God in this narrative has four special places on earth:  the Garden of Eden, the Mount of the East, Mount Sinai, and Mount Zion (Jub 4:26). So while we do get a quasi-redefinition of secondspace notions about God’s residing place, this is not caused by a thirdspace to which Enoch is brought, but simply by the recognition of a larger secondspace than first imagined of where God’s residing place is on earth, the firstspace. On the whole, then, the Enochic narrative-tradition neither has the same cosmological assumptions, nor does it have the same role as the Lukan narrative of Jesus’ ascension.[1]

            From our example of a Jewish holy/sagacious figure who is raptured, we move on to analyze the smaller and yet still popular Graeco-Roman narrative-tradition of the ascension of Apollonius of Tyana.[2] Philostratus in his narrative notes that the Damis memoir he has been using does not include a death story and that there were a variety of traditions concerning Apollonius’ death and/or ascension. The ascension tradition we have of Apollonius is small but significant, for in the account of his death in Lindus he simply disappears within the temple of Athene, but in the account of his ascension in Crete it is said that he escaped from his imprisonment and was welcomed by a choir of angels to be brought up to heaven (Life of Apollonius, 8:29-30). In comparing the cosmological assumptions of this narrative with those of the Lukan narrative, at first their mutual lack of description of heaven might lend itself to think that Philostratus’ narrative has a relational notion of space, but as is quite clear from the story, heaven is a receptacle space of refuge to receive the fleeing Apollonius. Now while it is important to note that the gateway to heaven is found within the temple of Dictynna, suggesting that Dictynna is thought of as an important secondspace construction, it is nevertheless not expounded upon exactly how or in what manner the space of heaven defines either the firstspace of Crete nor the secondspace of the temple of Dictynna. As for the function of the narrative, this appears to be two-fold. The first is the aforementioned explanation of Apollonius’ escape from the guards. The second function of the narrative, however, appears to be so that in his immortal state he can continue to visit his disciples to teach them about the immortality of the soul (Life of Apollonius, 8:31). Of note here, then, is how both Apollonius and Enoch are still serving very much sage-like roles even after their ascension, answering inquiries and delivering messages concerning the heavens and the deep mysteries. It is of interest to point out this explicit function of the ascension stories of Enoch and Apollonius because it is precisely not what we find throughout much of the New Testament and, most pertinent to our study, especially not the Acts of the Apostles. After the ascension story the apostles are left on their own to cast lots for the new disciple (Acts 1:26), they are given the Holy Spirit for communication and as a sign of the ‘Day of the Lord’ (Acts 2:1-20), and in the dispute concerning the gentiles they must rely on the judgment of James (Acts 15). In fact the only thing the post-ascension Jesus appears to do in the narrative of the Acts of the Apostles is commission Paul (Acts 9:1-19). Present in the narrative-traditions of both Apollonius and Enoch then, are the cosmological assumptions of a receptacle view of space and the functional role of their ascensions to be for the deliverance of holy/sagacious men to a place safe from danger so that they may give their post-ascension wisdom/revelations/instructions. It may be safe to argue that neither of their narrative-traditions is well suited to understand the Jesus ascension narrative.

        The Lukan narrative presumes both a relational notion of space, where heaven is a thirdspace, and the functional role of the ascension as the enthronement of their main figure for political authority. It is with this in mind then that we’ll explore the narrative-traditions of two political figures with ascension, namely Moses, and Romulus. The narrative-tradition of Moses’ ascension and all its components is too immense to cover fully, but what can be gleaned from both Philo’s account and Ezekiel the Tragedian’s record of a dream confirm quite well that kingship/royalty/politics was a key factor in understanding Moses’ ascension to heaven. Beginning with Deuteronomy 34:4-8, it would seem quite odd, given this clear description of his death and burial that there should be a ascension tradition about Moses, and yet it appears that because of the unknown location of the burial (v.6), speculation grew. The tradition appeared, as evidenced by 2 Baruch 59:9-11 and Jub. 1:1-4, 26, firstly to unfold from the notion that Moses’ ascent up Sinai to receive the law in Exodus 24, was not merely an ascent up a mountain but into heaven itself. In fact, the furthest expansion upon this idea appears in Ezekiel the Tragedian’s Exagoge, in which Moses has a dream of ascending Sinai and finding a heavenly throne. The one seated upon the throne, who in this case we can only presume to be God, remarkably gets up from his throne and gives all the royal accessories to Moses. Jethro, Moses’ father in-law interprets the dream as a sign that Moses shall lead a great people and shall raise up a “mighty throne” (Exagoge, 67-89). As John J. Collins, has rightly pointed out, is that “What is implied in the vision, then, is the virtual apotheosis of Moses” (J. J. Collins 1995, 51). Moses, like Enoch, in this dream is allowed to see all times and place, even with the stars underneath his feet (Exagoge, 77-89). However, as rightly pointed out by Zwiep, this scene and the traditions before it, do not quite represent an entire full-body rapture as the conclusion of the figure’s life (Zwiep 1997, 65–66; so also Collins 1995, 51).

          From this point, however, we have both the accounts of Philo and of Josephus that appear to narrate or imply a rapture story. In Philo’s Life of Moses we get a similar tradition to 2 Baruch and the Book of Jubilees, where Moses is given the world as his possession in sharing God’s own possession, allowed to see the inner mysteries of the heavens, and is declared both “god and king of the whole nation” (Life of Moses, 1.155-159). While the source of Moses being called ‘god’ may be made clear by Exodus 7:1, the tradition of Moses being a ‘king’ comes from Rabbinic Midrash from R. Tanhuma, who in interpreting Numbers 10:1-2 brings together Moses being declared ‘god’ with the implication that Moses shared in God’s kingship (Meeks 1968, 355–357). However, at the end of the account of the Life of Moses, we get an account- which while arguably, alongside of the Assumption of Moses and the ‘duplex Moses tradition’, describes the ascent of the soul to heaven (Life of Moses, 2.288-292)- is grouped with both Enoch and Elijah and uses vivid ascension terminology  (Zwiep 1997, 66n2). Lastly with regard to the narrative tradition of Moses’ ascension, we have the account from Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, IV 8.48), in which Moses is said to have “gone back to the divinity” (πρὸς τὸ θεῖον ἀναχωρῆσαι).[3] The phrase “gone back to the divinity” is a technical phrase used in Josephus, otherwise only used with reference to Enoch, and furthermore much else of the terminology in the narrative such as verb ἀφανίζομαι is used with reference to both Elijah and Enoch (Zwiep 1997, 67; so too Tabor 1989, 227). In fact, the account of Moses’ ascension in Josephus is so vivid that James D. Tabor is forced to argue that Josephus wanted to both describe the ascension of Moses as like the ascension of Philo’s Moses or Dionysius’ Aeneas and Romulus, and yet have it not so (Tabor 1989, 237–238)! In agreement with Zwiep however, we must find Tabor’s argument unpersuasive, for it appears that Josephus intends to record that “…Moses, knowing in advance of his coming rapture (like Elijah!), apparently wanted to avoid any notion of merit on his own part” and thus wrote his own burial account (Zwiep 1997, 69). Furthermore, this was not done on Josephus’ part as “…a conscious resistance…” to such traditions about other figures (as in Tabor 1989, 237) but rather to explain the discrepancy of why there were both accounts of Moses’ ascension to heaven and of his burial. What we have then in the narrative-tradition of the ascension of Moses as a whole, while not necessarily a full bodily rapture such as our Lukan narrative, is both the cosmological presumption of a relational view of space and the function of the narratives to confer political authority on their main figure.

        The heaven of this narrative-tradition, while serving quite secondarily as a receptacle space to explain the disappearance of the body of Moses, is also clearly a thirdspace that defines the secondspace of Moses’ ruler-ship as the whole world. The function of the narrative-tradition appears solely to be that of conferring political authority upon a national figure, and not upon any existing institution such as the Hasmonean kings (Meeks 1968, 366). Having looked at one national figure, we shall move to our last narrative-tradition for comparison, that of Romulus. In Plutarch’s account of Romulus’ ascension we have, first, the oddity of the disappearance of the body, then the conjecture that the senators had indeed murdered him in the temple of Vulcan, then finally the story that a dark cloud had descended upon Romulus in a public assembly meeting, taking up him to heaven to be not merely a god but a king. At first many accused the senators of themselves fabricating the story to trick the people, but then upon the testimony of Julius Proculus having seen a heavenly vision of Romulus, the people began to worship Romulus as the god Quirinus (Romulus, 27.4-28.3). Livy’s account of this apotheosis is quite similar to Plutarch’s in that it too has the disappearance of the body, the rumour that the senators themselves had killed Romulus, the public assembly setting for the thick cloud that hid Romulus from the sight of the public to take him up to heaven, and the worship of Romulus by the people as a god (Ab urbe condita, 1.16).[4] In addition, however, Livy’s account of Proculus Julius’ account of his heavenly visitation of Romulus gives not only a clearer indication of a relational view of space, but also of the specific function for the post-ascension Romulus. Plutarch’s account does indicate the pre-existence of the deity of Romulus and instructions for the Roman people so that they may be at the height of humanity (Romulus, 28.2), but Livy’s account contains a fuller account of the function of Romulus’ ascension.

         In Livy’s account we have the post-ascension Romulus declaring it to be “…the will of heaven that my Rome shall be the capital of the world; so let them cherish the art of war, and let them know and teach their children that no human strength can resist Roman arms” (Ab urbe condita, 1.16.7). Quite clearly, then, we can see the relational notion of space in view here, for heaven acts as a thirdspace in order to redefine the secondspace of the capital city of the firstspace, the world. It is true that the receptacle notion of space is also in view, so that heaven is the space where the mysterious disappearance of the body of Romulus is explained, but beyond this it is clear that the establishment of Rome is achieved by Romulus’ having authority in heaven, the thirdspace. Furthermore, this scene, as Adela Yarbro Collins rightly points out, is very similar to the commissioning scenes in the Gospels of Luke and John, and most especially, the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20 (A. Y. Collins 2009, 30). In this light we may see Acts 1:8 as a commissioning scene in and of itself, where the disciples, like the Roman people, receive their power from ‘on high’ and are commanded to go out to be witnesses to the power of the post-ascension figure.

      As we have seen then, the Lukan ascension story is much closer both in cosmological assumptions and in function to the stories of political figures such as Moses and Romulus, than to the stories of holy-sagacious men like Enoch and Apollonius. With Enoch and Apollonius, it was clear that in their narrative-traditions the emphasis was upon a receptacle view of space, for whom ‘heaven’ was a receptacle in which to receive their body but in no way had any relational aspect with earth. We also found with both of these figures that the function of their narratives was both for the escape of the figure and for their post-ascension instruction of their disciples, but it was not connected in any way to political authority. The_Ascension_of_ChristIn contrast to them, we have found that while the narrative traditions of both Moses and Romulus do have a receptacle notion of space, so that heaven is a space for which to put their mysteriously missing bodies, this notion was strongly overshadowed by their relational notion of space. For these narrative-traditions, ‘heaven’ served as a thirdspace, much like it did in the Lukan narrative, which, after the entrance of their main figure redefined secondspace conceptions. In addition, we saw how with Moses and Romulus, their ascension narrative-traditions served to confer upon them a distinct unique political authority, much like our Lukan narrative as we saw from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2:22-36. Aside from characteristic features and specific terminology of our narrative traditions,[5] we have seen how in both cosmological assumption concerning space and in the function of their narratives, the Lukan ascension narrative concerning Jesus is much closer in resemblance to the political figures of Moses and Romulus, than to the sagacious figures of Enoch and Apollonius. Lastly, we may even see this political dimension in the response of the angels in the Lukan ascension narrative to the disciples (Acts 1:10-11), in which it appears that “…Idly gazing into heaven is an inappropriate reaction to Jesus’ ascension…Implicit in the angels’ words, of course, is that the disciples ought to busy themselves in light of and because of Jesus’ absence” (Parsons 1987, 182).

Works Cited List

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Klijn, A.F.J. 1983. “2 (Syriac Apocalypse of) BARUCH (early Second Century A.D.)- A New Translation and Introduction.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Apocalyptic Literature & Testaments, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 1:615–652. USA: DoubleDay & Company, Inc.

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Robertson, R.G. 1985. “Ezekiel the Tragedian (Second Century B.C.)- A New Translation and Introduction.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 2:803–819. USA: DoubleDay & Company, Inc.

Wintermute, O.S. 1985. “Jubilees (Second Century B.C.)- A New Translation and Introduction.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 2:35–142. USA: DoubleDay & Company, Inc. 

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Dawson, Gerrit. 2004. Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. Great Britain: Continuum.

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———. 2011. Ascension Theology. India: Continuum.

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[1] For our purposes we will not be considering the identification of Enoch as the Son of Man in 1 Enoch 70-71, for not only its notorious textual problems but also because the dating of that narrative is quite the matter of dispute (Zwiep 1997, 51–58).

[2] Admittedly the sample of stories upon which we are drawing from the Graeco-Roman world and Jewish milieu is quite small in comparison with the vast literary tradition of such figures that include Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18), Baruch (2 Baruch 76:1-5), Phinehas (Ps-Philo, Liber Antiquitatum, 48:1), and Heracles (Apollodorus, Bibliotheca II 7, 7; DiodS, Hist IV 38, 5; Euripides, Heraclidae 910; Lysias  2, 11; Lucian, Cynicus 13; Hermotimus 7; Cicero, Tusculanae I 14, 32), and many more besides, but for sake of brevity we must. (All these examples are discussed in; Zwiep 1997, 38; 58–63; 71–76)

[3] The translation for this passage come from: Tabor, 1989

[4] It does seem clear however that neither Plutarch or Livy actually believe this account to be true, but the importance of their reporting of a narrative-tradition is no less important for that.

[5] On which, “The ascension of Jesus in Acts more closely resembles the Greco-Roman literature in terms of characteristic features- clouds, angels, and mountains seem to play a more significant role in the pagan texts than in the Jewish literature. The Lukan terminology, on the other hand, is much closer to the Jewish literature, particularly the Elijah texts” (Parsons 1987, 40). In addition however, the argument here gets beyond the impasse of Graeco-Roman vs. Jewish influence debate, for the argument does not emphasize the Jewish nature of the story as in contrast with the Graeco-Roman nature of it or vice-versa.

From Union to Family: What kind of a Community is a Church?

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Authorial Note: Most of the following proposal comes from my own personal experience of having arrived in Edinburgh and deciding that I would stick to the first church that I attended, Carrubbers Christian Centre. During this experience I learned much about the formation of human community, and the perversion of the notion of Church community within our capitalist and market based society. For more about my own personal experience see: Journey Through Scotland, ep. 4.

            To live and commune with a people whom you like, on a voluntary or involuntary basis, is easy. To live and commune with a people whom you don’t like, on an involuntary basis, is difficult but one could learn the art of toleration and peaceful co-existence. To live and commune with a people whom you don’t like, on a voluntary basis, seems irrational and an experience filled with such agitation it could only make one wonder, ‘Why don’t they just stop living and communing with them? If they dislike it so much, why continue to be a part of that community?’ It is the motive of the last of these situations that needs to be outlined to explain why being part of a Church community is important, for any other basis is not extraordinary enough to merit the attention of the disciple of Christ. The idiom quite common amongst people who settle into a new area, looking for a Church community to be a part of, is ‘Church shopping’. The disgusting assumption built into this idiom is that communities are commodities, from whom we get certain things like ‘spiritual experiences’ or ‘good music’ or ‘inspiring sermons’ in exchange for our tithes, and more often than not, just our very attention span. The community as a place of market exchange is the implicit assumption found throughout various voluntary associations, clubs, sport teams etc… of a capitalist and market-based society. One joins a bowling league because one wants to bowl with people and in exchange you pay some money for a shirt. One goes clubbing because one wishes to ‘hook-up’ and this will probably be in exchange for your money, your phone number, and more often than not your dignity. If one treats various Church communities in and around one’s area in this manner, one has mistaken a family for a union.

            One can see this mistaken form of Church community even in the example of Atheists churches, or ‘godless congregations’. Lee Moore, founder of the Godless Revival, decided to break off from the original Sunday Assembly,mlyn1447l because he feared that the Sunday Assembly was essentially watering down its atheistic overtones in favour of a more “humanistic cult”.* What’s even more interesting is what Sanderson Jones said in response to this split, which was “We are only one flavor of ice cream, and one day we hope there’ll be congregations for every godless palate.” Anyone familiar with protestant church settings especially, knows that the language both Moore and Jones are speaking in is essentially church marketing, something which evangelical have long been masters at. What is disturbing though is that it is clear that the notion of ‘community’ found within these types of settings, is essentially community as a product for individuals, and when the product no longer serves the consumer needs, the consumer can leave. Communities are ice cream to be devoured. The entire centre of community formation is based around the self-interest of individuals, in other words, a union.

            We can see well the contrast between understanding one’s community as a union verses one’s community as a family for instance, in the example of the debate held on Premier Christian Radio’s Program Unbelievable, (May 31st, 2014) between the famous Catholic theologian Hans Küng and a lesser known more conservative Catholic, Peter D. Williams of Catholic Voices.** It is here where, in response to a question concerning why Prof. Küng is not a protestant, that he effectively exhibits what a familial notion of community looks like by effectively arguing that he has been a priest in good standing with the Roman Catholic Church for decades and has no intention of leaving it. Implicitly he argued that one’s membership in the Roman Catholic Church does not depend on one’s particular beliefs, of which millions of Catholics share his, but upon one’s commitment to the community. Prof. Küng, while being a ‘liberal’ Catholic is actually much more orthodox than Williams, who argued that he was part of the Roman Catholic Church because he thought it was the truth. From Williams’ stand-point, one’s commitment to a community depends on whether that community caters to your sense of truth and beliefs, which (while he himself does not acknowledge this) can change and when they do change you separate yourself from such community because it no longer serves your interests. Whereas, from Prof. Küng’s standpoint, while one may disagree with many of the teachings and beliefs of one’s community, to even the point of being asked why one still is committed to the community, one is nevertheless based in the community by love and commitment to the community itself. The entire centre of community formation is based around the self-sacrifice of individuals, in other words, a family.

            In addition to the different centres of community formation, i.e. self-interest vs. self-sacrifice, there are many other differences between communities that are unions and communities that are families. Another of these is membership. In unions, one gets to choose one’s members but in families, one does not get to choose one’s family members. Speaking from a Christian theologically standpoint, what this insight means then is that if the church is to be a community based upon self-sacrifice and not the useless-narcissistic basis of self-interest, if the church is to be a family and not a union, is that while ‘liberal’ Christians can proudly proclaim Martin Luther King Jr. as a brother, they must also except Pat Robertson as one as well.  Likewise, for ‘conservative’ Christians this would mean proclaiming Martin Luther as a brother, but also excepting Brian D. McLaren as one. Let us be clear: this does not mean that we have to agree with all such figures, for our community is not based on shared beliefs and interests, rather it means that we do not get to decide who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’ for ourselves. We do not get to decide who is worthy of our time, attention, and love. Drawing back to the beginning of this essay then, this means that if the familial notion of community means that we do not get to pick our family members, it may often be the case that our particular family members will be people we don’t like or agree with. Most troubling, it means that we might voluntarily be parts of communities whose people we don’t like, or whose beliefs we may not always agree with, because, paradoxically, while from our perspective joining a Church community may appear to be voluntary, we must act and commitment as if we did not actually choose the Church, if the Church is a family whose centre is self-sacrifice and whose membership is not up to our preferences.

            The last aspect of a familial understanding of Church community then, in addition to its centre being self-sacrifice and its membership not open to our choosing, is that the way one then chooses which family members to spend time with, cannot be out of belief agreement or general ‘warm-fuzzies’ with the people you spend time with, rather the way ones chooses which Church community to join oneself too, is by asking, ‘Who needs me most?’ It is for this exact reason that if one believes that a particular Church community has a distorted theology, one has all the more reason to stay with them, for clearly (at least in one’s own thinking) they need some better teachers. It is for this exact reason that someone like Prof. Küng is much more likely to reform the Roman Catholic Church than any of its critics who refuse to be associated with it.  Is it not true that often the effective critics of a tradition are those who are identified with it? Or, to take the situation from a different angle, if the particular Church community is somewhat of a loveless environment, then one should take up the line in the Franciscan prayer that reads, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love”, and even furthermore, “Grant that I may not seek so much as to…be loved as to love.”

            The Christian Church then is not a community of spiritual commodity to be shopped for, rather it is the family whom we are called to love, to whom we have been given, not one that we have chosen, whose centre is self-sacrifical love. At this concluding point we would be remise to not reflect on a passage from the New Testament which shows most exemplary all of that which has been discussed. In the first Epistle of Peter, the author argues, that the Christian Church is “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people…” (1 Peter 2:9, NRSV), now while much can be said let us reflect on one of some the most interesting implications of this familial understanding of the Church community. Some of the ‘practical’ implications for what has been discussed then, taken in reverse order, are: (1) when an individual or biological family is looking for a Church community to join in the midst of their area, they should imitate Christ in self-sacrifical love by joining the community, not that best suits their ‘needs’ but rather who needs them most. (2) When one is considering the beliefs of the community, one should not fear the accusation and guilt to be accumulated by association with, for the community is not based on mutual agreement of belief, but love and commitment. Truly if one is to join the family of love, one is called to love even the crazy uncle whom those outside the family hate. (3) If a Church community is seeking to build up its own community, it should not bother with marketing or trying to be better entertainment than sunday night football, for by doing so it has already appealed to people’s self-interests, and not to the people of the self-sacrifical love of Christ. Rather, a Church community should seek not even to build its own interests and numbers, but rather be the one community in the world who intentionally breaks open its body and pours out its blood in love and sacrifice in imitation of its central ritual the Eucharist.

            ‘But what of the implication of the Epistle?’- it is later argued in the Epistle that one should “Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17, NRSV). Most readers only notice the last clause, ‘honor the emperor’, as if to see that in here were the seedbeds of the later corruption of the Church embodied in Roman Catholicism, without reading the first clause, ‘honour everyone’. What has been done here is nothing less than the categorizing of the emperor with everyone else. It is here where we leave to leave with a central question of community formation that could not be written about here in its entirety: Is the Christian Church suppose to love its members before it must love those outside of the community? Or would the privileging of the Church communities over other communities, quench its very spirit? The dualism of ‘Us-vs.-Them’ may be entirely unescapable,*** but now that we have argued that the posture within Us should be self-sacrifical, what the community as a whole’s posture should be toward Them, is another question entirely.

“Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” Remember this saying. And as for you…go out beyond these walls, but in the world you will abide as a monk.”

- Elder Zosima, The Brother Karamazov


Engelhart, Katie. “After a schism, a question: Can atheist churches last?” CNN Belief Blog. CNN Belief Blog, January 4, 2014. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/04/after-a-schism-a-question-can-atheist-churches-last/

** To be accessed here: http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable

*** Often one hears that a society of tolerance should not tolerate the intolerant, and one has the sneaky suspicion that nothing profound is being utter but only the same rule almost all communities hold- ‘We like us, but we cannot like those who are not us’. 

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