Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Narnia as atonement theology beyond the stone table

The stone table cracks. Aslan, who has given his life for Edmund, returns from the dead. This was my childhood understanding of the Lion, Witch and Wardrobe. In doing so, I was trading on traditional atonement theories; Jesus/Aslan as substitute, giving his life for someone else. So I was pleasantly surprised in watching the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, to find a number of layers added to traditional understandings of the atonement.

A brief overview of atonement through the ages: Throughout the centuries; 3 main ways of understanding atonement – how Christ made at-one-ment for humanity – have starred.

Victor – Christ is the victor. Pushed to extremes, Jesus becomes the bait, which the devil swallows hook, line and sinker. In doing so, the devil is tricked. This is one of interpreting the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Aslan tricks the witch because he knows a deeper magic.

Inspiration – Christ is the greatest example of love. The manner of his life and death are a triumph of love. This in turn, motivates us in our Christian lives. And so the Witch whispers in Aslan’s ear of his foolishness, thinking that love could triumph.

Substitution – Christ offers himself in our place. The problem of sin demands a legal payment. Christ becomes this payment.

Contemporary concerns: Handled poorly, these understandings present serious problems for Christians. Do we want to follow a God who tricks people (Victor)? What should be the place of sacrificial love in Christian behaviour, particularly when relationships become abusive (Inspiration)? How vengeful does this make God? What sort of Father would sacrifice his son (Substitution)? These concerns warn us that traditional atonement theories need to be handled with care.

I found it fascinating that in the movie, the motives for Aslan’s death all come from the mouth of the witch. She urges adherence to the code of violence. She questions Aslan’s sacrificial love. This suggests we need to handle with care. Aslan suggests this is her “interpretation” (very postmodern word). In doing so, we are allowed a moment of hermeneutical suspicion. How much should we believe the White Witch? How much might her chilling icy darkness be distorting her “reading”? Alongside this call for care, the movie brought some more metaphors to the surface.

Relational redemption: In recent years I have pondered 1 Peter 2:9, 10, where once those who were no people are now the distinctive people of God. This suggest a relational and communal understanding of at-one-ment, in which the significance of Christ births a distinct community.

In the movie, Aslan initiates the return of Edmund well before the stone table. He lets the wolf go and so Edmund is saved and the family is re-united. He encourages practices of forgiveness and the children move beyond distrust. Finally, they tumble out of the closet, back into the real world, as allies in shared adventure. Once no people, now the Pevenses children are a distinctive family. Such at-one-ment is secured by Aslan well before the stone table and suggests quite a fresh understanding of the atonement.

Integrator of Creation – In Colossians 1, the at-one-ment of Christ offers integration to every atom and molecule. Christ’s death is cosmic in significance and tree hugging a normative Christian practice.

In the movie, the mice eat away Aslan’s ropes. The trees talk. The breath of life redeems stone creatures. The movie offers a vision of at-one-ment which is environmental in its scope and global in its concern. The death and life of Aslan are integrally linked to the whole planet. We are offered and environmental angle on at-one-ment.

Conclusion: The Bible describes the atonement in many ways (Jesus as victor, as sufferer, as martyr, as sacrifice, as redeemer, as reconciler, as justifier, as adopter, as pioneer, as merciful). The Biblical data is like a diamond, reflecting the beauty of at-one-ment in many different facets. It is sad when we get locked into one part of the diamond and limit Jesus death to one narrow interpretation.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe suggests we adopt a hermeneutic of suspicion toward traditional atonement theories. We are forced to ponder how much we should trust the words and motives of the White Witch. The movie then turns the at-one-ment diamond, hinting at a relational redemption achieved through Jesus life as well as death. It suggests a cosmic view of the at-one-ment of creation.

Further reading:
I have a chapter on contemporary atonement images being published in Proclaiming the Atonement, edited by Mark Baker (forthcoming from Baker Books)
For Narnia quiz go here.
For Narnia church service go here.
For my reflection on atonement in another contemporary movie, go to Open Letter to Mel Gibson.

Posted by steve at 09:52 AM

Saturday, December 24, 2005

emerging church postcard update

The emerging church postcard series is still open. So far I have had postcards from New Zealand, Australia, UK, Scandanavia, and enthusiastic conversation with Canada and South America. I will be blogging the postcards I have got from 1 January, and will run them until I run out (or the end of January), whichever is sooner. So if you’re non-US and emerging then read on …



Posted by steve at 11:34 AM

Friday, December 23, 2005

advent art set


4 advent art pieces: 4 advent art reflections

Posted by steve at 11:03 PM

Turn around churches?

Jordon Cooper wrote: Can you name me some mature churches that made big mid-course corrections? Ginghamsburg Church lead by Michael Slaughter comes to mind as does my old employer, Lakeview Church but after that, the list gets quite short.



Posted by steve at 10:18 AM

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas blame

Emergentkiwi is boarding a bus in town today, following a morning off with family. As a crowd surge toward Bus no. 28, the following conversation occurs;

Bus stranger: It’s organised chaos.

Emergentkiwi: So is most of Christmas.

Bus stranger: I blame Santa.

Emergentkiwi: I blame the baby Jesus.

Bus stranger: I blame the father not using a condom.

The crowd moves on, leaving emergentkiwi pondering how prevalent this rather crude notion of sexuality and the human/divine connection is among Kiwis this Christmas.

Posted by steve at 02:39 PM

how secular is new zealand?

2005stampbaby.jpgHat tip to New Zealand Post. These are the 2005 Christmas stamps. New Zealand post have very nicely sent us the orginals as computer files. We wanted to use the stamps as contextual, everyday visual images for our Christmas services, and their images on the web were too small. A few phone calls later and many MegaBytes later and we are ready to roll with some great powerpoint to rear project on white sheets around the auditorium.

Looking at these images yesterday caused me to wonder;
how secular is New Zealand when our national stamps still carry a Christian message?
how diverse are New Zealand spiritualities when our national stamps carry the Christian story?


Posted by steve at 10:01 AM

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

alternative blue christmas service

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Christmas is not good news for everyone. People die. People grieve. People consider children absent or unborn. Tonite at Opawa Baptist I’m running an alternative blue christmas service, as part of Side Door. It’s a time to play the Christmas blues in the presence of Jesus.

I’ve mixed this icon, and a story from the Moot community, with the U2 album Passengers (Your Blue Room and A different kind of Blue), borrowed from this Anglican Advent candle lighting cermony (scroll down until the heading “Blue Christmas liturgy for individuals”) and woven in a number of tactile responses (holding blue stones and blue boxes).

(I ran a blue christmas service last year, basing it around a nativity art piece in which a shepherd and an angel have the appearance of Down’s Syndrome.) Here’s the order of service for this year (if you’re coming tonight, you might not want to look).


Posted by steve at 02:30 PM

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

journey of the magi church service

Some ideas from Sunday’s service on the theme of Magi:

1. Question on large screen for people to consider as they arrive: Ponder this … To get to church today, did you travel from the North or South, East or West.

2. Sing O Come O Come emmanuel and use different languages for the first line of each verse. We used English, Korean, Tagalog and Maori. Make a verbal link to the Magi story, people who no doubt spoke a different language in their “coming” to Jesus.

3. Make stars in four different colours. Display again the opening question (Ponder this … To get to church today, did you travel from the North or South, East or West). Get the kids to give out the stars, a different colour for each direction. It takes a bit of time, but the kids love it.


4. Invite people to write on the stars something that might distract them from their journey toward Jesus this Christmas.

5. Place four Christmas trees at the compass points around the church. Have an appropriate coloured star on each one to help people’s direction finder. Invite people to place their stars on the tree in the direction of which they are heading home after church. Sing some carols while people do this. This allows space for lots of people to mingle and move. (175 people on Sunday.)

6. For the benediction, invite people to face “their” tree as they are blessed into their week of journeying toward Christmas.

All of this can be easily laced through singing, lighting of Advent candles, preaching, Scripture reading. All allow multiple ways to participate and response. Connections are made to people’s coming and going, with diverse cultures, with people’s hands and feet.

Posted by steve at 03:15 PM

Saturday, December 17, 2005

ground hog day in typepad blog world?

Quite a number of typepad blogs I visited this morning have lost posts. It’s like Groundhog day, reading stuff you’ve read before and thinking, I’m sure this blog has posted more since then. Nada. Gone. Typepad life has all bounced back to around 12 December. It’s quite hilariously funny, although probably not for those hosted by typepad.

More: Here’s the typepad media release; here’s the admission of a mistake and here’s the promise of regular updates here.

Posted by steve at 11:06 AM

Friday, December 16, 2005

emerging church postcards05


This Christmas I am collecting a series of postcards from the edge. To qualify just send me at steve at emergentkiwi dot org dot nz;
a) 1 photo of your emerging community this year;
plus a paragraph answer to these 4 questions;
b) how were you as an emerging community birthed?;
c) what do you as an emerging community value?;
d) what music track sums up your year;
e) what was your best mission moment in 05?

During January I will be post your image and responses as a series of postcards05 on my blog. Feel free to use the image and spread the word.

Oh, I nearly forgot. You need to be an emerging church outside the US. Sorry but I’m tired of the UScentrism of the emerging church blog world. Postcards05 is not for Americans. It’s a blog-stake in the ground; a visual reminder that God is active outside the bounds of America.

Why postcards05? Darren interviewed me last week in relation to my out of bounds church? book. (He reviewed the book in May here). My book is based on a series of 8 postcards, posted from around the Western world. I write “postcards” from emerging churches around the Western world, and then seek in the chapter following the “postcard” to explore the challenges and opportunities faced by the emerging church.

The last chapter of the book, completed in May 04, postcard 9, invited people to write their own “emerging church” postcards. So during Darren’s interview he asked me where I would like to be writing postcards from today. I replied from here; here and here. Darren then asked me where I would like to receive emerging church postcards from. I said France, because I’d love to see the emerging church turn back the tide of secularity in Europe, and a mixed ethnic church plant in Serbia, because I’d love to see the emerging church embrace mission in a country riven by religious and racial tensions, like Serbia.

This morning I thought, wow, maybe it could actually happen. Hence postcards05.

Posted by steve at 05:35 PM

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Serenity film review

Here’s my latest film review: of the science fiction movie Serenity in which I explore the movie, the ethics of fundamentalism and the place of spirituality in science fiction.
Buckle in for a wild ride. The movie Serenity is a fast-paced science fiction thriller that weaves the viewer through the complex debris of space junk and intriguing moral choices …for more


This review is another of the monthly reviews I do for Touchstone magazine and ie reprinted here with their permission. Other reviews include;
The World’s Fastest Indian here;
Sedition, a New Zealand film about the fate of conscientious objectors in World War 2, here;
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, here

Further Serenity resources:
The official movie site is here; and the Serenity movie trailer is here.

Further film resources:
Film as a point of gospel engagement (PDF).
Film and spirituality web resources.
Why gospel and film?

Posted by steve at 02:56 PM

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

spirituality and aotearoa new zealand

Just been phone interviewed by the NZ Herald on the general topic of spirituality in New Zealand;
are we more or less spiritual as a society? is going to a Crusaders rugby game a “spiritual moment”? is modern spirituality just pampering? what does this mean for churches
The article is due out New Years Eve, so it might be worth keeping an eye out for.

Posted by steve at 03:09 PM

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

narnia church service

Sunday morning was a Take a Kid to Faith Church service (interactive, all ages learning together). We did a Lion, Witch, Wardrobe Church Service and also prepared a Movie Resource guide.

Here’s the environment: complete with real life wardrobe, fir tree, cradle and Advent candles. Note the use of rear projection to enhance the forest feel.

TKF behind the scenes.jpg
How to make a “forest”? Cut our bits of paper to look like trees and rear project using a Par 38 green light. Very simple. Works well.

We showed some movie clips from the BBC 1988 film. We had a Narnia quiz. We reflected on this Advent art piece, with the kids colouring in a photocopy of the art piece while the adults listened to this advent reflection.

We had placed blue and yellow ribbons on the seeds. By way of response, people were invited to welcome the Christ child by bringing their ribbon forward to lay a cloth for the cradle. We finished by offering a movie resource pack, to help families in their movie watching.

I love Take a Kid to faith services and that sense of doing alt.worship for all-ages and learning together. I loved this service and the sense that we are resourcing people in making connections between the film and their Christian faith. To see the whole congregation, from kids to those using walking sticks, laying their blue and gold cloths on the cradle was quite moving.

Posted by steve at 03:48 PM

Monday, December 12, 2005

B-day offerings

Posted by steve at 09:38 PM