Windows on Canterbury: A Bookmark

Here’s a bookmark found in a batch of used books at Crux:

Canterbury bookmarkdescription of window

It is pretty. And sort of upside down. This bookmark has the tassel dangling from the bottom instead of hanging off the top. I’m not sure how that is meant to work. Maybe the bookmark is meant for a small book so the tassel hangs below the book to mark the page? Maybe it is meant for a prayerbook. Maybe it actually me that is upside down.

Unity and Disunity: Talking with Ephraim Radner

There is something intimidating about having to climb up on a step, steady oneself against a wall, and perform impressive feats of acrobatics to buzz into an office. It may be fitting when the buzzer marks the entrance to the offices of contemporary theological giants like Chris Seitz, Terry Donaldson, and Ephraim Radner but it is not particularly encouraging. Not that I am complaining – heaven forbid – I was given the incomparable opportunity of interviewing the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner for the Crux books blog about his most recent publication: A Brutal Unity. How lucky can a girl get?

eradner_thumbnailA Brutal Unity is a smart book that isn’t an overly difficult read. It connects theology with ground level practice making it worthwhile for anyone with any connection to any church, whether they have pretensions to Academia or not. The main thrust of A Brutal Unity is a reframing of the way we look at Christian Unity. It posits that Christian Unity should be viewed not as consensus but as something else:

… oneness of mind is received through having the “mind of Christ,” which is the one who gave up the form of God for that of a slave and emptied himself into death. Paul’s words do not constitute a denial of God, but point instead to a suffering of the contradiction between obedience in unity with the world that is filled with “tribulation” and seemingly mastered by one who is not God (cf. John 16:11,33). And it gives rise to the exalted life of God’s redemption. (P. 446)

His arguments are fleshed out by case studies that ground his assertions in the practical, historical life of the church as the body of Jesus Christ. For Radner unity is not about consensus but about the giving up of self. But, enough of my summaries! Let’s see what Professor Radner himself had to say:

I suspect that the best way to start is to outline a little bit about what the book says: would you mind briefly outlining your argument?

bunityThe book itself is about decision making and what it means to come to decisions in the church. Disagreement – disunity – have historically been literally murderous and resulted in incredible offenses. This book is about exploring why the concept of consensus as unity hasn’t worked out. Firstly, it is not what Christian Unity is in the scriptures and indeed consensus as a response is wholly inadequate to deal with the problems of the church. What therefore is adequate? The whole notion of self sacrifice as that upon which unity can be founded comes down to accepting some disagreement as part of unity. This forms the ground, bound up in failures of the Christian church, of a discussion on church unity. The liberal polity and its processes of decision making are necessary and important but utterly inadequate.

I read this book as hopeful, as a fresh way of looking at the church that has the potential to heal some of the violence and incongruities between what the church is called to be and how it plays out on earth, but I have heard some other opinions on the matter. Mainly, that it is a little negative – a little brutal – they say that the church cannot help but be a witness to Christ’s Gospel even in its fragmentation because that very brokenness displays God’s love for his broken people. How would you respond to this Hosea-esque argument?

You’re quite right that some people think [A Brutal Unity] is bleak and depressing and that it misses the mark of what the church is trying to do. One way I would respond to these arguments is that the proof is in the pudding. If it is such a witness to Christ’s love for his people then how come so much of the violence in the history of the church can be traced to disunity? That sort of thinking is problematic in terms of witness. Outside of the church, I have never heard someone articulate that disunity is something to be admired. No one has ever been converted by such a vision: it is always a “despite” rather than a “because of.” Disunity is deeply destructive. Some people think, “Hey – it is 2013 in Canada. We’re not killing anybody now. We are just a nice reflection of the liberal state with its multitude of members,” but that is just a political means of avoiding what the church is claiming. But that is wrong. Division has become benign. Many of the examples I use in A Brutal Unity are from the 21st Century like Burundi or Rwanda (which was virtually in the 21st Century). BUT CANADA we claim! Is our benign acceptance of division blinding us to what we are complicit in? I understand why people would find A Brutal Unity bleak – a lot of that may come down to tone – but I meant it as hopeful, like you said. I meant it as a realistic hope that is grounded in the gospel.

You are clearly engaged with this issue beyond an academic relationship – can you walk us through some of the cumulative experiences that went into, not only the content, but the decision to write this particular book?

I talk about some of them in the book. The African stuff is a clear example of not looking at a distance but being engaged. It was an eye opener for me when Rwanda was happening and Burundi came directly after. That was in 1994. I was in Connecticut. It was an interesting perspective to see these concerns vis a vis the church. I wrote to people: my own denominational leaders, the Vatican, etc. Everyone just kind of looked on. When the extent of the horrors of Rwanda dawned on people – not Burundi’s civil war, mind, but the Rwandan genocide – the world turned and all of a sudden it became the main issue on the world stage. Every one rushed in. It got all this political attention, which was good. Don’t get me wrong it was good it got attention. But, this was not a surprise. The world acted like it came out of nowhere but Burundi in ’72. Look at Rwanda in the ‘50s! it was obviously not to the same extent at that point but what happened in Rwanda was not a surprise. The churches – and this is my point – the churches have nothing to say about it. While it was happening, the Pope was meeting with African Bishops, it came up in passing in their meeting. They mentioned it and then just kind of moved on… So there’s that.
But you are asking me, personally? Within the Anglican Communion thing began to fall apart; the Episcopal church, the happenings in the late 90’s, Gene Robinson as Bishop, etc. all these things are happening and meanwhile they’re still fighting away in Burundi. All these things, all these divisions in the communion, were not separate things. They are not separate things. They are related… and not in a genetic way. The council meeting in 2007? It was a charade. All that happened there is consistent with other things that were happening. Anyway – it all fit.

In typical Radner fashion, he indicated that he had answered the question as fully as possible by throwing his hands up in a gesture of humble admission: “that is just the way it is.”

This book doesn’t stand on its own – there have been a lot of comparisons to your earlier book, The End of the Church – have your views changed between the two books?

My views have changed. Particularly around the theology of division and how we understand a good God, who is indeed good, in relation to Christ’s body, the church, as it is. It is about looking at reality and trying to understand what it means. You have to look at theology in history. Actually having to live a certain way through time. It is about what people do instead of why they do it. The first book was about the peculiar reality of the Reformation at least for the Western Church. I still think its key but the issues of unity are more deeply embedded than that. The current book – A Brutal Unity – deals with Jews, heresies, councils of the church, and things that are problematic to understanding unity and have always been so. They are temporally perduring [lasting through time – I had to ask what it meant] because unity is given not in a moment but in Christ’s self giving to the church in every moment witnessed to only in moments. Appearing to us in structured entities not because that is the way it has to be but because that is the way it is.

And finally, what comes next? Do you have a project you’re working on already?

I am working on some things. I’m working on a book about the character of scripture in terms of ontological character of its words. Another – a bigger thing – that I am working on is a book about what it means to be a creature created by God. The second one will engage the content of A Brutal Unity. There a lot of claims on what it means to be a created thing especially around learning – mainly implications from a Christian perspective and I want to explore that a little bit.

And I’m sure – if you are anything like me that you can’t wait to see where that exploration leads.

Picking a Bible Translation

Andrew posted advice for choosing a Bible translation over on his blog. This post is meant to help our customers figure out which translation and edition of the Bible they need at the moment. Lots of people come into Crux and say “I need a Bible,” expecting that to be enough information. Little do they realize that we have a whole wall filled with Bibles. You think that sometimes there are too many decisions to make in a restaurant after you’ve decided what to order? This is worse. Andrew’s post tries to simplify things so people won’t be confused. This post adds a little detail and (hopefully) gives you enough information to make good decisions, or at least to ask further questions.

Important Information Before Starting: Remember that the Bible is an ancient document originally written in Hebrew and Greek. No English Bible is “original.” Also, modern languages other than English do not necessarily have versions that correspond to an English version you might know about. Example: there is no Spanish King James Version. Also, there is no “standard” English translation that everyone commonly uses. We have a wealth of English translations and most people have their particular favourites. Got it? Ok, now lets move on to actually choosing a Bible for you.

If a customer comes in and announces to a staff member that they need help choosing a Bible, a common first question is: What do you need the Bible for? If the Bible is for personal reading, then following Andrew’s advice (read a passage or two that you are familiar with in several translations; choose the one that feels comfortable for you) works well. If you are a lay leader at a church, you may wish to match the translation you use with the translation commonly used from the pulpit in your church. If you need a Bible for class, then your professor has probably made a recommendation that narrows the selection down. Many professors recommend the New Revised Standard Version.

Just so you know, the three translations of the Bible that we sell most often are the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), and the English Standard Version (ESV). The bewildering list of other available English translations includes: the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New American Bible (NAB) (these two similarly named translations are not at all related to one another) the Contemporary English Version (CEV), the Good News Bible, the New Living Translation (NLT), and the Message.

The translations listed above each have different philosophies and goals. Some are more word for word, or literal, translations (NASB and ESV), others are phrase by phrase translations (NIV, NLT, the Message). Some translations use modern language but aim to sound traditional (New King James Version, NRSV), and others try to use a limited vocabulary for ease of understanding (Good News, CEV). Some are tied to a denomination (for example, the NAB is Roman Catholic), many are translated by an interdenominational group of people (NRSV, NIV).

Once you pick a translation, your decision is not finished. You still have to think about print size, binding, study notes and aids, the Apocrypha, and price point. That will take up another post!

Crux Capers: The Case of the Missing Sign

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind cracked against the stones of Leonard Hall and rattled the windows in their frames. The rain fell in sheets and threatened to wash us all away. It was the kind of night when bad things happen. The kind of night teenagers prowl and 1920s gangsters make shady deals in a Speakeasy. It was the kind of night that makes you long for the morning.

I walked into the store at the usual time a little shaken from my lack of sleep, a little pale from my lack of breakfast, but mostly relieved that the sun had returned and the storm had retreated to the heavens to threaten us from the clouds.

That’s when I saw her. I could tell right away that something was wrong. Her usually luminous face held a twinge of concern.

“Pam, what’s wrong?” I asked, hanging up my hat and coat.

“It’s our sign.” Choking back tears she added “it’s gone!” I hated to see her like that, tears glistening at the corners of her eyes.

“It can’t be! Who would do such a thing?” I cried “Trinity? Some Frat? George Sumner? Some of the rowdier Wycliffe students?” Accusations abounded. It was clear that we were going to have to get to the bottom of this and fast. The boss would be coming in any minute.

I took action.

Missing SignMy first stop was the scene of the crime – the sign itself – and much to my disappointment there was no evidence of it. A quick check of the perimeter quickly revealed that the damage from the storm would surely have washed away any fingerprints. Things were looking bleak. I set my superior intellect on it and I immediately thought of motives. Who would want to take our sign? Did we have any grudges? Was it jealousy? I stopped thinking and looked around some more. That’s when I saw them. They caught my eye like a red dress at a rodeo. A tiny pile of rusted nails. They were our nails. They were the Crux Books sign nails and they were piled neatly in a corner. What fiend would do such a thing. What cruel mastermind would taunt us with the certainty that our beloved sign was not merely blown down in the storm but STOLEN!

IMG_3158I snapped a quick pic and headed back in.

“I don’t know what to tell you Pam – it doesn’t look good”

“What doesn’t look good?” It wasn’t Pam who answered. It was Cindy. Our much loved, highly regarded, boss had arrived.

“It’s our sign. It’s missing” The look on her face was heart breaking. Those signs don’t come cheap and that one had been with us at Crux Books since before the Spice Girls split up.

“I will figure this out. It is too early to panic.” Always level headed she headed to her office to get to the bottom of this catastrophic caper. It was too late for me. I was lost in the panic and the intrigue of it all.

“Come in here for a minute” she called. I couldn’t tell if there was amusement in her voice or despair. “I found our sign.”

“Where was it? Who did it? I will see that they pay for this injustice! We will persecute them to the full extent of the law! This is a matter beyond campus police this is a matter of national security! This is a matter for someone with a badge and an impressive title! This is a matter for…”

“When Dave came in this morning he found it hanging from one nail so he took it down. He was worried it might hurt someone.”

“A likely story! Where is the sign now?”

“In his office. He doesn’t have keys to the store and he didn’t want it to get stolen.”

“Oh. That was very nice of him. Are we getting a new sign?”

“We will have to but it is not our first priority. Our first priority is making sure we give excellent customer service and offering theological books at discount prices to our loyal customers”

And that is why Crux Books doesn’t have a sign at the moment.IMG_3160