Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Fountain of the Magdalene

This is another chapter of the book Discovering the Keystone, Solving the Riddle of The Red Serpent after 40 years by Guillaume Brouillard (Griffel Media, Cape Town, 2009). The seventh stanza of the poem Le serpent rouge is discussed. The focus is on Mary Magdalene, who is especially revered by the Prieuré de Sion. It is argued that for these initiates Isis lived on in Mary Magdalene, Osiris in Jesus and the alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is merely a new version of the marriage between Osiris and Isis. It is recommended that the BackgroundThe Manuscripts (chapter 1) and Pierre Plantard (chapter 2) be read before this chapter. Chapters 3-6 are not published on this blog.

De celle que je désirais libérer, montaient vers moi les effluves du parfum qui imprégnèrent le sépulcre. Jadis les uns l'avaient nommée: ISIS, reine des sources bienfaisantes, VENEZ A MOI VOUS TOUT QUI SOUFFREZ ET QUI ETES ACCABLES ET JE VOUS SOULAGERAI, d'autres: MADELEINE, au célèbre vase plein d'un baume guérisseur. Les initiés savent son nom véritable: NOTRE DAME DES CROSS.

From the one that I wanted to free, rose towards me the emanations of perfume which impregnated the sepulchre. Formerly some called her: ISIS, queen of benevolent springs, COME TO ME ALL OF YOU WHO SUFFER AND WHO ARE OVERWHELMED AND I WILL COMFORT YOU; others: MAGDALENE, with the famous vial full of healing balm. The initiates know her true name: OUR LADY OF THE CROSSES.

This is the middle stanza of the poem. There are six stanzas before and six after this one. The fact that the poet dedicates this entire stanza to the female figure therefore makes perfect sense: In occult tradition, the female figure is the one in whom the anti-poles come together. She is therefore the ultimate embodiment of the balancing of the poles, which is one of the golden keys to solving the mystery.

7.1 The sleeping beauty under different names

The first time the poet refers to the female figure is in the third stanza, where he calls her the ‘sleeping BEAUTY’. He compares his journey to that of the knight who has to fight his way through bush and thorns to reach her. In the sixth stanza, he again refers to this fairytale. He calls her the ‘sleeping one’ in her residence on the hill. In this stanza, he refers to her as ‘the one that I wanted to free’. The fairytale is therefore clearly one of the themes in the poem.

The poet also refers to her in several other stanzas, but under different names. In the third stanza, he states that certain poets saw in her the queen of a vanished kingdom. This female figure not only relates to two queens actually associated with the area, namely one from the north and one from the south, both called Blanche of Castille, but also to the ‘white lady’, which alludes to both the goddess and the ‘fairy of folktales’.

Another form in which she makes her appearance, is that of the ‘BEAUTY of black wood’. While one has to stretch the symbolism of the queen in order to equal that of the goddess, the female figure is much more traceable in the form of this beauty, as this reference clearly alludes to the black virgins in whom the goddess perpetuates. In the white queen and the black virgin one once again finds striking anti-poles.

Hence, the female figure is a virgin, a queen and a goddess. She is, however, above all, the one in whom the anti-poles – white and black – merge.

After referring to her five times in the previous stanzas, the poet now gives her three more names: Isis, the Magdalene and ‘our lady of the crosses’. Of these, the one that clearly stands out due to it being so blatantly ‘pagan’, is Isis. This unveils something of great consequence: The sleeping beauty is also symbolic of this great Egyptian goddess. The three names in this stanza most probably allude to the threefold character of the goddess.

7.2 Isis and the enigma of Rennes-le-Château

In accordance with the poet’s association of the sleeping beauty with Isis, one discovers that this goddess indeed plays a prominent role in the history concerned. As was mentioned earlier, the notes in the document Le serpent rouge state that the subsequent church of St. Germain-des-Prés was built on the spot where a temple of Isis had earlier stood. The daughter church of the former, St. Sulpice, again is associated with the Compagnie du Saint-Sacrement, or possibly the Prieuré de Sion, seemingly also called ‘the ship of Isis’.

There are several signs of this goddess’s presence in the Razès area. A white marble statue of her was allegedly unearthed in Rennes-les-Bains and immediately reburied in the yard of the former hotel where it is said to have been found. The author of Au pays de la reine blanche refers to the Mémoire (1709) of a previous parish priest of the town, abbé Delmas, which also mentions the ruins of an enormous pagan temple of about 15 metres high that earlier stood just behind the church, on the other side of the cemetery, wherein this statue in all probability resided. Just like St. Germain-des-Prés in Paris, the church of Rennes-les-Bains therefore also seems to be connected with such a temple.

In the booklet Rennes-le-Château: A visitor’s guide [46], Tatiana Kletzky-Pradère states that Sigebert’s sons allegedly built the church of this town on top of an earlier temple of Isis following Charlemagne’s ascension to the throne in 771. It is also said that an ancient parchment found in a Jerusalem Bible refers to this temple of Isis: ‘There was erected in a place called Rhedae [Rennes-le-Château] a temple dedicated to Isis, which took, in the reign of Titus, in the year 70 A.D., the name ‘Magdala’.’

Figure 19. Tympanum of the Rennes-le-Château church

Most interesting, though, is the depiction on the tympanum of the Rennes-le-Château church, in which Mary Magdalene is the central figure. The creases in her dress closely resemble a serpent rearing its head, as Jean Markale justly remarks in Rennes-le-Château et l’énigme de l’or maudit. Part of the depiction on her pedestal resembles the prow of a ship and her head is adorned by a crown. This depiction is distinctly reminiscent of Manly P. Hall’s description of Isis: ‘Isis holds in her right hand a small sailing ship with the spindle of a spinning wheel for its mast. From the top of the mast projects a water jug, its handle shaped like a serpent swelled with venom. This indicates that Isis steers the bark of life, full of troubles and mysteries, on the stormy ocean of Time. The spindle symbolizes the fact that she spins and cuts the thread of life’ [47]. There are clearly striking resemblances between the depiction on the tympanum of the Rennes-le-Château church and this description of Isis. This clearly connects Isis with Mary Magdalene as well (Figure 19).

What is striking is that all four of the churches concerned, namely the two in Paris and those in the two Rennes (Rennes-le-Château and Rennes-les-Bains), are somehow connected with Isis. Not only do we find stories of Isis temples of old but also indications that the Isis cult had been alive and well in the circles associated with these churches. One cannot help but wonder whether this is not an underground tradition that has continued to exist throughout the centuries and even infiltrated the priesthood!

7.3 Mary Magdalene

After the rise of Christianity, many of the older gods that seemingly disappeared have in actual fact lived on in the form of certain Christian saints. The cults therefore merely continued to exist under new names and in christianised form as cults of certain saints. According to the poet, the worship of Isis too has lived on under the banner of Mary Magdalene. She who had earlier been called Isis, is now called the Magdalene! It is striking how highly Mary Magdalene was regarded in Rennes-le-Château. The church had been named after her and Saunière too had named two buildings, namely the Tower of Magdala and Villa Bethania, with her in mind.

That the above-mentioned claim of the poet is not unfounded is obvious from the depiction of Mary Magdalene on the tympanum of the church, which in all probability had been derived from Isis iconography. It contains symbols that are unmistakably associated with Isis. As Isis steers the heavenly ship, so Mary Magdalene features in a legend pertaining to a ship. In the manuscript Legenda aurea (ca. 1267) (‘The Golden Legend’), Jacobus de Voragine relates her travelling by ship from Palestine to the south of France. According to this story (which dates from after about 1000 A.D.) she went ashore at the modern town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where she and the Black Sarah of Egypt are still worshipped. This is not far from Marseille, where the Black Madonna is worshipped (and the goddess Artemis/Diana long before). It is therefore likely that this whole tradition involves nothing less than a christianised version of symbols that are in fact much older than Christianity.

According to the poet, however, the most important aspect of Isis which was transferred to Mary Magdalene, is her association with healing springs, something which lived on in the healing balm. While Isis is described as the ‘queen of benevolent springs’, Mary Magdalene is described as the one with ‘the famous vial full of healing balm’. One also finds depictions of Isis (or her priestesses) with a vial in her hand, exactly like the one associated with Mary Magdalene. This can be clearly seen in the statue of Isis (or one of her priestesses) in the Hall of the Dying Galatian in one of the Capitoline Museums in Rome. While Isis is associated with water, Mary Magdalene is, as a result of her association with Mary of Bethany, connected with balm.

7.4 The fountains of Rennes-le-Château

The reason why this aspect of Isis is emphasised in the poem, is unquestionably due to the fact that the area of Rennes-les-Bains is associated with healing springs. The earlier inhabitants worshipped at these springs, and statues of Isis most probably figured somewhere in these rituals. According to Abbé Henri Boudet, the early Christian missionaries had initially placed crosses at these springs and later on statues of the Holy Virgin. As examples he mentions the Black Virgin of Marseille and the Virgin of Caunes. The latter was also called ‘Notre-Dame du Cros’ (‘Our Lady of the Cross’). Such statues of the Virgin associated with springs were generally called ‘Notre Dame des Cross’, exactly as the poet also refers to the goddess in this stanza. ‘Cros’ is not a French word, but according to Boudet, it does indeed mean ‘cross’.

Boudet furthermore relates that the early Christians prayed to these statues for ‘healing or the relief of their physical suffering’ [48]. It is clearly because of this statement that the poet at this point alludes to Matthew 11:28: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ It was at the goddess’s feet, and later at those of the Holy Virgin, where healing was believed to be found. Mary Magdalene had even been in the position to anoint the body of the Messiah, which not only refers to the time when she anointed His feet with His burial in mind (John 12: 7) but also when His body was prepared for the grave.

7.5 The Fountain of the Magdalene

The reason why the poet explicitly links Mary Magdalene to ‘benevolent springs’ is that there is indeed a fountain in the area called Fountain of the Magdalene. This is also the next landmark on the route.

To get to this fountain, one has to walk further south from the Holy-water Stoup, along the tarred road next to the Blanque River. The fountain is close by at the foot of the hill, straight across the river. The water of this fountain is rich in sulphur and shiny as if covered by a layer of oil. The fact that the poet is now nearing this fountain is certainly also his reason for saying: ‘From the one that I wanted to free, rose towards me the emanations of perfume.’ He can smell Mary Magdalene’s perfume, as it were, which represents yet another aspect of the sleeping beauty.

According to Boudet, in ancient times, this fountain had been called Goad, just like the hill behind it. Although he relates this name with ‘to needle, incite, urge on’ [49], after the English meaning, it strikes one that it quite resembles the French word ‘godet’, which is also a container used for oil – this once again links up with Mary Magdalene’s vial. In the local Occitan language, the word ‘gode’, or ‘gote’, indeed means ‘cup’. There are therefore quite a few reasons why Mary Magdalene is associated with this fountain.

7.6 The Way of the Cross

Back to the church in order to determine which of the Stations of the Cross bears reference to this landmark. The object in the Rennes-le-Château church that is connected with the last known point on the route, is the confessional, which probably pertains to the church of Rennes-les-Bains.

The poet’s allusion to Matthew 11:28 in this stanza may very well serve as a clue. As this text is also to be found written under the enormous fresco of the Sermon on the Mount above the confessional at the back of the church, it could well be that that which one is looking for, is at the back of the church.

One soon discovers that the eight Station of the Cross, which is to the left underneath the fresco, is indeed applicable. In accordance with the emphasis on the female figure in this stanza, there are three women to be seen in this Station. It depicts the daughters of Jerusalem whom Jesus told not to cry for Him, but rather for themselves and their children because of the sorrows that awaited them – referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. The mentioned text about comfort and rest to those who suffer therefore applies to them.

Since the end of the Way of the Cross, namely the grave of Christ, is still quite some way off, it is significant that the poet already draws one’s attention to it at this stage. The reason is certainly that the principle figure in this stanza, Mary Magdalene, is so closely connected to the grave. The oil associated with her could also be smelled at the grave, as she had been the one who anointed His body. According to the poet, Jesus’s grave was permeated with the smell of her ointment: ‘… the emanations of perfume … impregnated the sepulchre.’

7.7 For the initiates

Besides all the obvious symbols to help one find the correct landmark on the route, there also seems to be symbolism hidden in the stanza itself. The following words bear testimony to that: ‘the initiates know …’ The implication is that there are certain things only the initiates would understand. According to the poet, particularly ‘Our Lady of the Crosses’ denotes something else.

Although ‘Our Lady’ (‘Notre Dame’) usually refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, the poet is now clearly alluding to Mary Magdalene, as she is the one associated with the cross (or crosses). This calls to mind the secret belief that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a very close relationship. This is perhaps precisely what the poet is implying – that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. He could also be alluding to her alleged coming to the south of France as, according to some, she had arrived with her and Jesus’s child(ren). She would therefore not only be the one who had anointed Jesus but supposedly also the woman He was married to.

The poet’s allusion to the supposed marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene obviously relates to the alleged claim that the Plantards are descended from them. In several places in the poem, the poet indeed subtly associates his friend with Jesus as if he is a descendant of Him, or a christlike- or godly figure. For instance, the poet states that his friend’s name is a ‘mystery’, which is typically said of God. His friend is also – in the second stanza – standing on the white rock staring to the south past the black rock, exactly as Jesus, dressed in white, is depicted standing in front of Pontius Pilate and staring past the black man in the first Station. The Cap de l’Homme is also regarded as both a sculptured head of Dagobert II, the alleged ancestor of the Plantards, and a depiction of Jesus. It is even possible that the entire route through the area relates to Pierre Plantard’s alleged pseudonym in the time of De Gaulle, literally translated meaning ‘Captain Way’, which could be an allusion to Jesus as the ‘Way’ (John 14:6).

7.8 Isis and Osiris

In view of the fact that the poet so neatly highlights the transition of the old to the new, of the pagan to the Christian, the question arising is whether the association of Mary Magdalene with Jesus is also not just a christianised variation of a much older theme. Given the poet’s mentioning of Isis, the symbolism in this stanza in all probability rather pertains to her and her partner, Osiris, in Egyptian mythology. This would imply that, just as Isis lived on in Mary Magdalene, Osiris did in Jesus. The alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene would therefore merely be a new version of the marriage between Osiris and Isis. Some of the poet’s earlier descriptions, like that of his friend as the pilot of a ship and a pillar on the white rock, refer back to Osiris mythology. According to Plutarch’s Isis and Osiris, Osiris was the ‘pilot’ of the Argo, and in addition, the pillar is one of his most famous symbols.

It may seem far-fetched that the Merovingians of Germanic descent could be connected with Egyptian mythology; the latter is, after all, a tad removed from the original Germanic traditions. However, this connection has much to do with later developments in the occult tradition, in which Isis and Osiris replaced the earlier gods. Isis, for instance, became the exemplar of the mother goddess, who had earlier been worshipped under different names.

It may very well be that the poet’s association of his friend with a godlike figure relates to the Merovingians’ alleged supernatural descent from the so-called Quinotaur. This beast was undoubtedly just a Christian renaming of the pagan god Odin. Since the earliest times, the Merovingians had indeed in a certain sense been regarded as ‘sons of gods’ as the historian Godfrey Kurth puts it.

7.9 Magdala, the wife of Sigebert

The association of the Plantards with Jesus and Mary Magdalene does, however, not only involves Isis and Osiris. It, in all probability, also dates back to an event closer to modern times. It is said that the wife of Sigebert, who had allegedly been brought to Rhedae, was called Magdala. It stands to reason that ‘Magdala’ is the name that ‘Magdalene’ is derived from. The author of Le cercle d’Ulysse even states that the church of Rennes-le-Château had in actual fact been named after this Magdala!

That the christlike figure, Sigebert, was allegedly married to Magdala, could therefore have been the origin of the myth that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. That would imply that neither Jesus nor Mary Magdalene are in any way under discussion and that these Biblical figures had merely been woven into the whole Plantard story for reasons one could only speculate on. The ‘Magdala’ of the Prieuré de Sion and of Plantard tradition is therefore much more commonplace than is generally assumed.

But then again, who would truly doubt that behind the supernal figures of some of the gods, mere ordinary people are to be found?

[46] Kletzky-Pradère, T. 1990. Guide du visiteur. Quillan. Author translation: Brook, C & Dowe, N. 1997.
[47] Hall, M. P. 1977. An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, p. XLVII.
[48] Boudet, H. 1886. La vraie langue celtique et le cromleck de Rennes-les-Bains. Carcassonne. Reissue: 1984. Belisane: Nice, p. 279.
[49] Ibid, p. 274.

Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com



Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Towards a dialogistic approach

In this essay I present proposals for a new missional approach to compliment apologetics. Insofar as the church wants to reach out to atheists, agnostics and non-religious people, I suggest that a dialogistic approach be developed.

Over the past five years I wrote various essays regarding the challenge of reaching the people of our day and age with the gospel – especially the growing number who describe themselves as atheistic, agnostic or non-religious [1-7]. I have not only discussed the severity of the situation in the Western world [7], but have also developed proposals as to what the church should do. In this essay I present the outlines for a new approach that I believe would be much more successful than the traditional ones. I call it the "dialogistic" approach.

I previously discussed the current approaches to reaching non-believers with the gospel [7]. Although all such approaches may be called "missional" in the widest sense of the word, they vary insofar as they are directed at different groups of people. One may distinguish 1) the traditional missionary approaches in which the gospel is taken to people who live in communities beyond the so-called "Christian world", 2) the traditional evangelistic approaches in which the gospel is presented to people who share a Christian worldview, but who do not have a personal relation with Christ, 3) missional approaches in which the gospel is taken to the fast-growing number of people who belongs to a culturally distinct, post-modern society. Each of these approaches use different tools that are applicable to their particular challenges.

What about the growing group of atheists, agnostics and non-religious people? Although they might belong to the mentioned post-modern society, they form a distinct group for which the other kinds of tools do not seem to work. They are well-informed and have developed a particularly anti-Christian mindset. Although there are many people on the marketplace of ideas who at this stage reserve judgment, it seems that many are joining their ranks since they find their narrative more convincing than the Christian one.

Historically the church has used "apologetic tools" in this context but these are developed for defending the gospel, not reaching people with it. In fact, in our time the traditional "proofs" of God's existence have lost its power since they have been effectively challenged [8]. We know today that our world is much more complex than originally thought and even in science the idea of "proof" is generally discarded insofar as questions regarding "reality" are concerned [8]. In the place of "proofs" we have conflicting narratives – and the only way that these people can be swayed (from a human perspective) is if they can be convinced that the Christian narrative (including its worldview) is credible. This requires not only a repackaging of the Christian narrative using good Biblical hermeneutics, but also the skill to engage in dialogue with such people.

Towards a dialogistic approach

Although the traditional apologetic approaches may have their value, in my view the church needs a fresh approach if she wants to effectively reach these people. The best place to start in our search for an effective approach is in the example set by the apostle Paul, who was not only sent to the heathen in general, but who also engaged with the non-Christian intellectual community of his day.

We read about the approach that St. Paul used in Athens in Acts 17:17: "Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him". The apostle conversed not only in the synagogues, but also on the marketplace. When we want to rework his approach in contemporary terms, one may suggest that synagogues be replaced by churches and all kinds of outreaches that take place within that context. The marketplace finds its contemporary equivalent in the marketplace of ideas, which include both physical conversations in public areas as well as discussions on social media. In my view, the internet has become the most important forum for dialogue in this regard.

What did St. Paul do on the marketplace? He is said to have “disputed’ daily with those that he met there. Now, the Greek word used here is "dialogomai". At heart this word involves conversation, which corresponds with our word “dialogue”. St. Paul was able to present the gospel in a relevant way in the context of the kind of discussions that people have on such marketplaces. We gain some insight from what he said during his marketplace conversations when we consider his address to the philosophers on the Areopagus.

St. Paul did not preach the gospel in the traditional way! No, he engaged with their religious and philosophical views on various levels. In making an intellectual argument for the Creator God who sent Jesus Christ as messiah, he took their religious practice as point of departure, mentioning an altar that he saw in Athens that was dedicated to the unknown god. He also referred to one of their poets, whom he quoted. St. Paul’s approach was all but traditional: he packaged the gospel in a relevant way and he engaged with conversation, both on the marketplace and when given the opportunity to speak to a gathering of philosophers.

Of special interest is his engagement with their way of thinking. St. Paul did not participate in a debate in which each side stands as opposites to each other. He engaged in dialogue – which means that both sides meet each other in conversation. As such he really tried to understand their perspective and seems to have had a good knowledge of their way of thinking. If we are not really interested in people, in their views and carefully listen to them, it is difficult to see why they should listen to us. “Meeting” on the marketplace is at the same time a meeting of minds – similar to the Platonic dialogues. In fact, St. Paul’s approach is much more in the Greek tradition of dialogue than in the later Christian tradition of preaching!

My suggestion is that we take this Pauline approach as basis to develop a missional field called “dialogics”. The person who engage in such an approach would be a “dialoguer” or “dialoger” - the equivalent of other similar names such as theologian or apologist. In Afrikaans one may call such a person a “dialogikus” from the Greek "dialogikos" or Latyn “dialogicus”. Such persons would follow a dialogistic approach to reaching people. I will now give a broad outline of what I have in mind.


Image result for market place ancient
Ancient marketplace
A dialoger

Traditionally the church had not been good with dialogue. Although this is a primary requirement for the kind of discussion that is necessary in our times, the church has not effectively trained ministers in this skill nor educated them in the disciplines necessary for successful dialogue. Although ministerial training is focused on Biblical studies, for the most part it does not involve sufficient education in those philosophical (hermeneutical) tools that enable sophisticated readings of the text nor the development of sophisticated Christian narratives and arguments. 

Ministers have traditionally been trained in oratorical skills in line with ancient Stoic norms, not in dialogical skills. They are usually dogmatic and not very interested in the opinions of those outside their particular Christian community. Insofar as they are educated in a Biblical Criticism context, they often live under the illusion that their field should be operated as a “science", whereas it can never be more than a hermeneutical discipline [9]. Traditionally in science scholars tried to formulate "truths" about reality (although this ideal has been shipwrecked in the context of quantum physics [8]), whereas in hermeneutics one engage with texts (and even life itself) in dialogic terms. The outcome is not good: I do not know of many churches where open discussion and dialogue are allowed during services!

Again, we may take St. Paul as example. Insofar as St.Paul’s education is concerned, he was well-trained to converse within the context of the Greek culture which dominated within the Roman world. His studies with Gamaliel seem to have included philosophy since he quotes such a poet not only in his speech on the Areopagus, but also elsewhere (Titus 1:12). When St. Paul became an apostle, he did not cast his education behind him; rather, this was what made him such a remarkable apostle. Both his dedication to the Lord and his training contributed to him being able to break through the Jewish-heathen barrier of his time. We can learn from him insofar as we are confronted with a similar barrier.

What is necessary to be a dialoger who is able to effectively engage with atheistic, agnostic and non-religious persons? I would suggest three things: 1) a practical walk with the Lord, 2) a broad-based education within a dialogical framework and 3) creating “spaces” where such dialogue can take place. Insofar as the first is concerned, I believe that we are in need of people who are not merely serving the Lord, but who are fully surrendered to Him [4]. Where are the Christian leaders who do not run for their own spiritual house (denomination, church) and always consider what they might gain, but for whom the House of the Lord (the church in general) is a central concern (Hag. 1:4, 9)? A dialoger’s ministry should be widely accepted within the Christian community – even though some traditional Christians would obviously not easily accept change.

Insofar as education is concerned, I would suggest that in our contemporary circumstances a dialoger needs to be able to excel in two dimensions, namely in presenting a sophisticated Christian narrative and to engage in constructive dialogue. Both these skills are of cardinal importance. If the Christian narrative that we present are not well-informed and consistent with good hermeneutical principles as well as science, informed people would not take it serious. If we are not able to present our narrative to others within the framework of successful dialogue that may take place in a wide spectrum of creative spaces, we will not be able to bring such people to Christ.

What is necessary to develop well-informed narratives? I my view a broad based education in especially four fields of study is needed, namely Biblical studies, philosophy, science (empirical sciences) and ancient Middle eastern studies. As such, students would engage not only with the Biblical text, but also with the basic tools of good hermeneutics and dialogue, with current scientific thinking and with the world from which the Bible originated (on a much more substantial level than is the case in current Biblical studies). I cannot see how one can formulate a well-informed and sophisticated Christian narrative if you do not have a good knowledge of all these fields. This is one important reason why we are unsuccessful – our traditional narratives are for the most part not convincing enough! The problem is not with with the Biblical text, but with our packaging of the Biblical story.

Establishing a dialogistic school

In fact, I believe we need some kind of dialogistic school where Christians are formally trained in all these disciplines (not another version of the typical Christian university). Such an education should not only include a basic education in these fields, but also inter-disciplinary coursework allowing such students to develop a wider perspective on life (so often academic education is extremely one-dimensional!). As such Christians would be able to argue for the reliability of the Biblical text (and worldview) within a multi-disciplinary context and would not be stuck with unconvincing literary tools such as "metaphor" to overcome contemporary challenges (a typical tool used by those trained within a Biblical Criticism context).

A dialogistic school should focus on the challenges of the time. As such it should challenge students to think creatively within a safe thinking environment (and not merely to accept the traditional Christian narratives, some of which are not based on good hermeneutics!). Insofar as such a school creates the space for the fusion of bright Christian minds, various challenges should be attended to. One is to develop new approaches to church life itself – most people who are brought up in post-modern society find it extremely difficult to adapt to traditional church life. Closely related to this issue, is the effective usage of the internet and all social media to create spaces for effective dialogue.

Another challenge is to explore good hermeneutical philosophy – the challenge is to develop a-modernist approaches between the usual modernist and post-modernist ones. Such a well-balanced philosophical framework should guide all academic studies in all disciplines at such a school. Also important is the development of sophisticated Christian narratives (and formulations of the Christian worldview) that are consistent with both good hermeneutical practice and science. God’s revelation in his Word would not be in conflict with his revelation in nature! I have previously given some guidelines regarding some of these issues [6,7].

There is much to be said for educating Christian students in all disciplines in the framework of such an approach. This would enable them to make sense of their own Christian views within the challenges of our time; it would also enable them to engage more effectively in dialogue on the marketplace of ideas. Not everybody needs to become a dialoger – but all may acquire the basic sets of skills for good dialogue.

Such a school should educate students to the highest possible level. Students who proceed with study would be able to do doctorate and masters degrees in various fields. The true requirement for a dialoger is to be a master of various field of study, especially the four fields mentioned. This does not mean that such a person should be formally educated in all these fields to the highest levels (maybe in two or more), but that they should have an exceptional knowledge in all those fields.

Although the calling of a dialoger is primarily directed to reaching atheists, agnostics and non-religious people within contemporary society, it is immediately clear that such an education would provide students with a wide variety of skills which does not necessarily involve such a ministry. In fact, these are the basic skills that would enable Christians to effectively engage with others in any particular discipline in which they may become qualified.

One might hope that professionals with such an education would be able to play an important role in society to promote a Christian way of life. Alumnae may form a network of Christians who do not only support each other insofar as inter-disciplinary work is concerned, but even to deepen the level of networking with the church herself. If would be a wonderful day when non-pastoral ministries would become fully integrated in church life within the context of a wider Christian community.

In the final instance, being a dialoger is not to have a particular academic qualification. Rather, I would suggest that dialogers be appointed by another dialoger who has established himself or herself as such. Here I think along the lines of the ancient schools where philosophers and rabbi’s were so appointed. One may also remember the appointment of the apostles by Jesus – although the apostles did not appoint other apostles (except in Acts 1). The best contemporary example is probably that of appointing life coaches.

Conclusion

In this short essay I propose that a new missional field called dialogics be developed which is directed to reaching atheists, agnostics and non-religious people with the gospel. In my view the field of apologetics is not suitable for this task. Although traditional apologetics has its place in the wider spectrum of Christian engagement with non-believers, it has severe limits and is not effectively equipped to reach non-believers in this post-modernist age. The "proofs" with which apologists concern themselves had been successfully challenged by philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Frederick Nietzsche. It is nowadays not a matter of "proofs" but of good, sensible arguments and narratives - narratives that are both consistent with experienced reality and have rational, emotional and spiritual appeal (we are not merely spiritual beings). Although some apologists have tried to incorporate some of these aspects into their approach, I believe that a totally new specialized field is asked for.

I believe there is an enormous under-developed space in our missional approach, namely one which is centered on dialogue. Such a field would take its clues from the apostle Paul's engagement with the people of Athens. In my view (leaders in) the Christian community should be retrained (!) to move from the modernist mindset that many still cling to and become sophisticated participants in the conversations of our time. For this we need sophisticated Christian narratives (and convincing presentations of our worldview) as well as dialogistic skills. Establishing dialogistic schools may make such an ideal become reality. 


Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)
The author is a scientist-philosopher (PhD in Physics, MA in Philosophy). He writes on issues of religion, philosophy and science. He also wrote a book on the Sumerian roots of early Biblical tradition - Abraham en sy God (Griffel, 2012).




Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Something or Someone is missing?

Do you long for real revival in your heart, community and our land? Today we are facing a period of moral and spiritual decline that is perhaps more widespread than ever in our history. In spite of all our efforts, programs and methods we seem to be drifting farther and father away and the darkness getting darker and darker.  As a nation we desperately need revival - a touch from heaven, a fresh encounter from God that will change our lives, behaviors, ethics, norms and even the structures of our society. God has an answer for us.  He has revealed Himself and worked in the past in times of darkness. He can do it again. In fact, He is ready to help but He is waiting on a people that will return with their whole hearts to His agenda and purposes. It is time for us to stop, reflect and re-connect with the One that can change it all. Will you be such a person? (Essay by Dr. Francois Carr).  

I am profoundly convinced that the greatest need in the world today is revival in the Church of God.” – Dr. D.M. Lloyd-Jones [1]

Is God gone too? I began to seek God, but couldn’t find him.” Jim Bakker spoke these words as he pondered about the time he had spent in prison. Jim and his wife, Tammy Faye started the Praise The Lord Club in 1967. It became one of the most televised ministries of its time. They added Heritage USA, a Christian theme park. They saw prosperity as a gift from God. Everything around them seemed to be blessed, until a series of scandals surfaced in 1987. Jim was caught funneling money and paying a $265,000 bribe to his church secretary to cover up their adulterous relationship. Newspaper reporters began to investigate them and discover financial wrongdoings. They discovered that more than $158 million of the ministry's funds were spent on themselves. Jim admitted to spending money on luxury cars and six mansions. He had forty-seven bank accounts in his name. They have wasted money on all kinds of luxuries, this even included $60,000 in gold-plated bathroom fixtures.

He was convicted of fraud and sentenced to forty-five years in prison and given a $500,000 fine. He served almost five years before he had been paroled for good behavior. God used that time to draw Jim back to Himself because He meant it for his good. Looking back on his time in prison, Jim Bakker said:

The first months of prison were devastating. After being in public ministry for every day of your life and then finding yourself with everything gone – not only the material things, but friends and reputation – facing forty-years, you wonder, Is God gone too? I began to seek God, but I couldn’t find him.” [2]

Where is God?

The words of Jim Bakker reminded me of a question which was asked by Gideon, one of Israel’s Judges, in the Old Testament when Israel faced many trails, transitions and persecutions? He asked, “O my Lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles, which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hand of the Midianites.”

The children of Israel`s way of living was evil in the sight of the Lord (Judges 6:1-10). So God delivered them in the hands of Midian and the Amalekites and the children of the East who bordered Israel. He allowed the Midianites to raid Israel for seven years. The annual raid took place around harvest time, destroying their crops, stealing the livestock and ravaging the land, leaving people living in fear, caves and in deep poverty. If you can imagine and picture the scenario, you’ll have some idea about the uncertainty and suffering Israel experienced. They were gravely impoverished. The crops and harvest were gone. Their desperately needed provisions were gone. They too might have wondered if God was gone? Being weary of hiding and struggling they cried out to their God.

An unexpected visit brings insight

Gideon did not doubt the existence of God. Maybe his family read the Law of Moses or talked about the miracles of God by the hands of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4-5) or days gone by? Maybe he was thinking about the message of the prophet (Judges 6:8) sent by God? However, he struggled with the fact that God had worked mightily on behalf of Israel in the past but not at that time in history. Seven years of suffering had gone past and it seems not to be ending.

God met with Gideon around about the eighth Midianite invasion. At the time he was a farmer and descended from the tribe of Manasseh. The Angel of the Lord came and sat under the terebinth tree which was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son was busy threshing wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”

When we first met him, he was hiding – attempting to covertly thresh wheat in a winepress (Judges 6:11). The process of beating out grain and separating it from the chaff normally took place out in the open, on a hilltop where the breeze would blow the chaff away. He took cover in the shelter of a winepress. This was not the ideal place for winnowing wheat and maybe he thought it would go undetected. No doubt Gideon was startled by the fact that his hiding place was discovered. But we can sympathize with him. He was afraid.

Gideon struggled with faith and was a bit of a coward. However, he is a great encouragement for people that have a hard time believing that God can make anything out of them or do anything with them or change their current circumstances. The Lord can and wants to show himself strong (2 Chronicles 16:9). He is just waiting for someone to really believe in Him, trust Him enough to adjust their lives and follow Him.

He encountered a truth

Gideon was reminded about God’s power and presence in days gone by when He led the people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He reasoned about their circumstances and what was happening and the problems and hardships they face and experienced, wondering where the power and presence of God had gone. This caused within him a crisis of faith, struggling with doubt and fear as he was trying to understand and making sense of it all.

I can imagine the questions that must have crossed his mind: Does God really cares? Does God know what He’s doing? Will God take care of us? Will God keep His promises? Why are we living in poverty, fear and hiding in caves? If God is with us, where is He? Is He gone? Does He even exist?

One would think that God would give him a well-thought-out plan of action, some war strategies, resources and lots of encouragement when He answered him. That did not happen. He simply said to Gideon: “Surely I will be with you, and you will defeat the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16, NKJV)

When the Lord spoke, he addressed the real issue affecting Gideon’s faith and that of the nation. God was still at work but Gideon could not see or hear Him speak or understand His message, and experience His care and provision.

God still speaks

Firstly, God was speaking through the Midianites, Amalekites and people from the East (Judges 6: 3). God allowed the trials and hardships to take place because of their sin and disobedience. He wanted to get their attention and lead them to repentance and have them return to Him. His desire was to restore them. He wanted to be their God and live among them and bless them.

God is still present

Secondly, God was still with him and with the nation. The Angel of the Lord confirmed this when He said: “The Lord is with you” and ‘surely I will be with you’. He could not see or experience the fact of God`s presence and closeness. His view and outlook on life was blurred by his circumstances and that which was happening around him. It is a reality that also affects us today, that God is present amidst the hardships and uses that to draw us to Himself.

God still cares

Thirdly, the people of Israel cried out to God. God still cares and His desire was to help them. He wanted to bring them back to Himself and reveal His glory to the nations. God appeared and revealed Himself to Gideon and invited him to join Him on His mission. God`s desire was to work in and through him, but he had to believe, adjust his life and accept His invitation (Judges 6:11-14).

Some similarities today

We can draw some conclusions from Gideon`s conduct and experience which are applicable even today as there are some clear similarities with the people of Israel and life as we now it today. In reality the times we live in are some of the most demanding and challenging we’ve ever known. People worldwide are facing difficult trials, conflicts, persecution and transitions which are affecting all aspects of their lives. Countries and nations war against each other, groups of people raid towns and villages, killing one another for more power, land and money. Riots, unrest, widespread violence and conflicts are reported daily on the news media. We see millions of refugees relocating to other countries searching and looking for safety and a better life and future. People of all cultures and backgrounds are living in poverty, uncertainty and in fear. The political and economic crisis worldwide continues to affect all of us as governments and leaders have no solution to bring about peace, stability, growth and prosperity.

Businesses are closing down, while debt and unemployment continues to escalate. Life has become a daily struggle for many. Survival, paying the bills and put food on the table are part of this daily struggle. It was clearly visible on my recent trip to the Middle East, noticing the number of hotels closing down and unemployment and poverty increasing due to a drop of eighty percent of tourism. Ron Blue in his book, Surviving Financial Meltdown explains that the rising cost of living, the economic turn down, job insecurities, growing debt, losing of homes while many have no savings for when they grow old is the cause of fear in the hearts of many [3]. We are truly living in uncertain, unsettling and difficult times leaving many of us with the same burning questions as Jim Bakker and Gideon.

Where is God? Does He still exist? Why is this happening? Will it ever stop?
Does He really cares? Is there any hope?

The lesson is clear. When we stop seeking God and His heart the lit comes off and the blessing stops until we stop and pay attention to what we experience (Haggai 1).

The Dilemma in the World

We continue to see a great moral, ethical, and spiritual decline that permeates our nations, culture and communities. Political and corporate scandals and corruption are common at all levels of society and leadership. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortions, outbreak of diseases, crime, violence and global terrorism plague the nations and world.

As a result, the world plunges deeper and deeper into darkness. We see thousands of people, aimlessly drifting and debasing themselves and human dignity in public and in private. A spirit of lawlessness and spiritual apathy hangs like a fog over our land and the world. People are doing what seems to be right in their own eyes (Judges 2). Richard Dortch, senior vice-president of PTL who was also convicted and sent to prison with Jim Bakker later said: “Pride, arrogance, and secrets led to the scandal.” He also said they did not plan the scandal; instead it was the natural result of living for oneself rather than for God [4].

We are beginning to see the disintegration of foundational social institutions, culture and history. Unless something positive happens, which will transform our lives and redirect our course of life, civilization, as we know it, is sure to change even further for the negative. Dr. Henry Blackaby, author of Fresh Encounter, wrote:

We seem to be drifting farther and farther away from God and His standards. The darkness around us seems to be getting darker and darker, but the problem is not with the darkness because the nature of darkness is evil. The problem is the lack of light, because when light shines it dispels the darkness” [5].

The Dilemma of the Church

Many communities and cultures are not Christian or even religious anymore and in many instances even hostile towards anything spiritual. The sacredness of marriage, family, home and Church is forgotten. Great numbers of people start to doubt God and His existence, and coldness towards God and the Church are clearly growing. There seems to be a new way of thinking and a drifting away from God. People have become more critical towards religion. New schools of thought and a new kind of spirituality have developed. According to John Dickerson in his book, The Great Evangelical Recession only 1 out of 10 people is Christian and in the next thirty years it will be 1 out of every 25 people [6]. We are on a downward spiral and this tendency is just continuing getting worse and out of control.

The Dilemma in the Church

Church membership is declining in the Western world. Most churches are shrinking and pastors are leaving the pastorate. Churches close their doors weekly. Instead of seeing Churches growing, establishing and equipping believers and evangelizing the lost they have become a weak minority. The Church has become powerless with little or no impact.

Many of them have fallen into the lure of novelties, marketing and teaching a doctrine without power, while others pursue the one church health program to the next. Calendars and schedules are filled with events and programs, the latest fads and quick fixes, chasing the ABC’s (Attendance, budgets and cash) of a successful church. Instead of finding change, transformation and reality they find themselves going through the motions of religious activities with little of no impact in our communities and cultures.

Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle says:
Nothing can defeat the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit.” But, a powerful storm is surging against the Church, threatening its health. Yet most is asleep or unaware of the problems within itself that is warning signs. He said we are not as big as we think we are, Biblical literacy is declining and personal transformation has become rare [7].

The Dilemma of Christians

People have become stress out, tired, overcommitted and overloaded. There seems to be no time or energy left for God and Church. Many have become mere spiritual spectators and losing interest. I believe the reason for that is because we are not well rooted in our faith and in Jesus Christ.

First, instead of cultivating an intimate personal relationship with God we replace Him with programs, and exercising religious activities. According to Dr Andrew Murray, all believers run a risk in their devotional life and walk with God "of substituting prayer and Bible reading for living fellowship with God, the living interchange of giving Him your love, your heart, and your life and receiving from Him His love, His life and His Spirit" [9].

Furthermore, the lost sense of God’s presence and power in a believer’s life, church life, meetings, and in the general, a loss of the manifest awareness of God`s presence in our communion with Him is also a major factor and reason why many are struggling with unbelief, unconfessed sin, careless living and worldliness in their action or attitudes. Too often sin makes us complacent, dulling our spiritual sensitivity and blocking the channel of God’s blessing. Tom Elliff, explains this fact in his book, The Pathway to God’s Presence. He said: “a believer’s life, without the presence of God, is destined to flounder because we are not immune to the pressures and strains of life” [10]. It is a sobering thought that the loss of a definite sense of His presence might be the reason for our failure and low-level impact.

The lack of intimacy and God’s presence can rob us of God’s best, but we find ourselves hesitant to discuss it or even acknowledge or be willing to address this issue. It seems to be easier to just launch a new program and project, instead of becoming quiet, sit at His feet and allow Him to speak to us. However, exhausted by the added responsibilities, pressures and demands of the day, we find ourselves drifting away from our commitment to the Lord, lacking spiritual power and energy, resulting in failure, discouragement, more frustration and no lasting impact on our community.

Is there any Hope?

It is easy to despair. Robert Coleman, in his book The Coming World Revival states that it is easy to be pessimistic when problems seem overwhelming. Everything seems to be dark and one may feel that a better future seems to be impossible. However, we must remember that it is usually in these periods of great darkness and crises that revivals and transformations were born. This can happen today as well. Coleman says that our sense of helplessness can make us more sensitive to the need for supernatural grace. [11]

Billy Graham, well-known evangelist once asked a university professor what he thought was the greatest need of our hour. He responded:

I could give you a variety of answers all the way from tax relief to disarmament. I may surprise you, because I am not a religious man, but I believe that the greatest need that we have at this hour is a spiritual awakening which will restore individual and collective morals and integrity throughout the nation.” [12]

First century Christians and churches had their problems but they were able to change and transform the world. Today we have all the resources and technology but we struggle with changing the world. Could it be that we have been looking for answers in all the wrong places? Just like the people of Israel and Gideon could it be that God is allowing us to drift away from Him because we have stopped seeking Him and replaced Him and His agenda with our own agenda and way of thinking?

I believe that there is hope and that God is presently at work. God still speaks. He is still present and He still cares. The question is: Can we see Him, hear Him speak in and for the times we live in? As I travel throughout the nation, I see some encouraging signs:
  • There are a growing number of people that is longing for more. They cry out for more reality in their walk with God and for a deeper knowledge of God. They know God is alive and are not satisfied with the current status and their experience.
  • They also want to see and experience God today like in the ways God’s people have experienced His mighty power and presence, in Scripture and in history.
  • There is a willingness to return to God’s standards and His agenda, wanting to Glorify Him.

Where to start?

The heart`s cry of many is for a genuine revival – revival that comes from God and not from man. History gives testimony that whenever God had sent revival or there was a touch of His people, lives had been changed. Christians and Churches also have experienced new power and fervor to do His work and glorify Him. But, many are saying, “We don’t know what do? Where do we start?

God’s Word provides the answer. He has spoken clearly about His expectations and standards. He has revealed some principles and examples. He has created all mankind for His glory (Isaiah 43:7). So, how do we glorify Him? By doing and finishing His work and agenda (John 17:4). I believe that if we give special attention to what is on His heart, He will reveal and manifest Himself once again (John 14:21-23). What is on His heart?
  • His eternal and personal purpose and plan (Romans 8:29)
  • His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)
  • His compassion for the harvest and our response (Matthew 9: 35-38)
Firstly, we need to realize that Revival and Spiritual Awakening starts with God’s people and understand how that connects with His purposes and great commission. What is Revival? When does God send Revival? Why does He send Revival? What should we be doing right now? Do you long for real revival and fresh encounter with God?

Image result for revival spiritual

Secondly, Christians and Churches need to become transformational in impacting their surrounding communities and cultures if we want to see lasting change. It will only happen if we understand our call and character and how that affects our community and culture. We also need to become ‘TransforMissional’ in our outlook and approach for the future, as we Re-discover the biblical model for lasting transformation.

God is ready to bless us (Hebrews 11:6) and pour out times of refreshing. He is waiting for us to return to His heart and His original intention, adjust our lives, schedules and agendas and respond in obedience to Him.

Will you be such a person? Will you stop, reflect and pay attention to what you, your church or country experience? God is not dead and gone. He is still to be found. He cares and still speaks. He is waiting for us to return to His heart and experience His power and presence. Don’t settle for less.

Author: Dr. Francois Carr

Notes:
1. Stephen Olford, Heart Cry for Revival (Ross-shire, Scotland, Christian Focus, 1962), p 15
2. Dave Early, Living in His Presence (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 2005), p 77-78)
3. Ron Blue, Surviving Financial Meltdown (Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois, 2009), page 3
4. Dave Early, Living in His Presence (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 2005), p 78)
5. Henry Blackaby, Fresh Encounter (Nashville, Tennesee, LifeWay, 2006), Backpage
6. John Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession
7. Jim Cymabla, Storm (Grand Rapis, Zondervan, 2014), p 10-13 and backpage
8. Bruce Bennie, Andrew Murray Theologian by Heart (South Australia, 2004) p 17-18
9. Bruce Bennie, Andrew Murray Theologian by Heart (South Australia, 2004) p 19
10. Tom Elliff, The Pathway to God’s Presence (Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, CLC Publications, 2014), p. 39
11. Robert Coleman, The Coming World Revival (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989), Introduction
12. Lewis Drummond, Eight Keys to Biblical Revival (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 1994), p 7)

Francois Carr, BTH, MCC, D. Min, NDPM, is the Executive Director of Heart Cry in South Africa.  He is well known for his burden for revival and a popular speaker in Africa, North America, Europe, United Kingdom and New Zealand.  He authored several books and articles on prayer, holiness and revival. Francois’s ministry, Encountering God and Heart Cry  exist to glorify God by helping Christians and churches to experience God more intimately and mentor them on the way to Revival and Spiritual Awakening. He co-sponsors the Heart Cry for Revival Conference that takes place at the Billy Graham Training centre in Asheville, NC.  He is married to Dorothea, have one child and currently resides in Pretoria, South Africa.