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Weekly News In Review

March 20 - 26, 2006

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The following articles were posted at this past week:

Bill Berkowitz: Rick Warren And The New Evangelism
Why I Am a Christian (Sort Of): I don't believe in God.
Row as ancient Arab university honours Prince Charles
Creationists 'harm religion'
Bleeding Dallas communion wafer deemed 'miracle'
Just What Is This Thing Called 'The Emerging Church'?
Bishop says bleeding Host not miracle, but fungi
Dialogue With Islam Seen as "Obligation"
Pope Benedict: Virgin Mary Saved Pope John Paul's Life In St. Peter's
Eilat Mazar: Uncovering King David's Palace

Article: Social Gospel

March 20, 2006 - Bill Berkowitz: Rick Warren And The New Evangelism

In Key West, Florida in May 2005, Warren spoke to "some of the nation's leading journalists" at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life's biannual Faith Angle conference on religion, politics and public life, and appraised them "of four or five trends or stories I think you need to be aware of that have come in on the scene."

...Then the other story that I (Warren) would encourage you to look at is this evolving alliance between evangelical Protestants and Catholics, particularly in the evangelical wing of Catholicism.

(UTT Note: This article also outlines Rick Warren's PEACE plan to bring peace to the world. For more details click on "Entire Article")

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Article: Apostasy

March 10, 2006 - Why I Am a Christian (Sort Of): I don't believe in God.

I don't believe in God.

I don't believe Jesus Christ was the son of a God that I don't believe in, nor do I believe Jesus rose from the dead to ascend to a heaven that I don't believe exists.

Given these positions, this year I did the only thing that seemed sensible: I formally joined a Christian church.

Standing before the congregation of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, I affirmed that I (1) endorsed the core principles in Christ's teaching; (2) intended to work to deepen my understanding and practice of the universal love at the heart of those principles; and (3) pledged to be a responsible member of the church and the larger community.

So, I'm a Christian, sort of. A secular Christian. A Christian atheist, perhaps. But, in a deep sense, I would argue, a real Christian.

...The pastor and most of the congregation at St. Andrew's understand my reasons for joining, realizing that I didn't convert in a theological sense but joined a moral and political community. There's nothing special about me in this regard -- many St. Andrew's members I've talked to are seeking community and a place for spiritual, moral and political engagement. The church is expansive in defining faith; the degree to which members of the congregation believe in God and Christ in traditional terms varies widely. Many do, some don't, and a whole lot of folks seem to be searching. St. Andrew's offers a safe space and an exciting atmosphere for that search, in collaboration with others.
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Article: Ecumenical Movement - Misc.

March 21, 2006 - Row as ancient Arab university honours Prince Charles

The Prince of Wales flew to Egypt and into controversy yesterday as Cairo's ancient and celebrated Al-Azhar mosque and university, one of the Arab world's most venerated Islamic institutions, prepared to honour him for his promotion of inter-faith tolerance.

...The honour is to mark the prince's conciliatory messages about Islam, especially after September 11 and the world-wide demonstrations caused by the cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper.

...However, Abdel Sabur Shahin, another university director, said the prince had adopted "positions close to Islam and Muslims, something no one else of his importance has done".

The honorary doctorate was supposed to "encourage him to befriend Muslims in Great Britain and to support Islam against the obstacles it faces in Europe", he added.

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Article: Creation / Evolution - Debate

March 16, 2002 - Creationists 'harm religion' - Bishop attacks school's 'extraordinary' approach

The Bishop of Oxford yesterday fuelled the row over creationism in state funded schools by accusing teachers who promote anti-evolutionary theories of bringing Christianity into disrepute.

In an unusually outspoken statement for a senior Church of England clergyman, the Rt Rev Richard Harries said he was saddened that Christians should oppose evolution, which "far from undermining faith, deepens it".

The Anglican and Catholic hierarchies accept evolution, with the Pope describing it as "more than just a theory". But creationists believe life on earth is only a few thousand years old, instead of several billion, as most scientists say.
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Article: Signs and Wonders

March 23, 2006 - Bleeding Dallas communion wafer deemed 'miracle'

Some are calling it a miracle - a communion host found bleeding in a Dallas church.

There's actually a term for it: Eucharistic miracle.

While it is way too soon to know what the Vatican will call it, some of the faithful already have all the proof they need.

A believer needs no explanation.

"He says he gives us life through the host through the body," says Ode Sifuentes.

And it is within a communion host found bleeding in a glass at St. James Catholic Church on Sunday that many believe they have also found a miracle.

...Wanda Estrada was so moved by the e-mailed images, she came just to visit the church, where she believes a miracle occurred.

"It almost brought tears to your eyes," she said.

"We have to believe in something with everything going on out there in the world - we have to believe in something."

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Article: Bridge to Rome

March 26, 2006 - Just What Is This Thing Called 'The Emerging Church'?

Churches which identify themselves as emerging are diverse. Some have distanced themselves from both the mindset of traditional denominations and contemporary "seeker" models of church, while others identify with ancient traditions.

Any attempt to pin down a definition of "emerging church", therefore, is daunting. One of the acknowledged worldwide leaders, Brian McLaren, agrees it presents a problem.

Mr. McLaren prefers to use the term "emergent conversation", because he says that for those involved it is a theological conversation about Gospel and culture - "about our understanding of the gospel related to mission, some fresh and exciting engagement with scripture".

"Many of us feel we're in a transition period where the world in general is emerging from modernity, from the Enlightenment, from colonialism, from the industrial era. People don't know what to call this emerging culture, so they use words like 'post-colonial', 'post-Enlightenment', some would say 'post-Christendom'.

Some of the experimentation has included what looks rather like a New Age form of spirituality, crudely identified as involving more candles than theology. But Mr. McLaren says very firmly that the Gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God must remain the dominant theology.

"It's true there has been a lot of criticism. And, of course, when a group like this is raising very deep questions, such as do we have the Gospel right? - and you don't get much deeper than that - people who feel we do have it right already have to criticise what we're doing.

"And we have to listen, because maybe they're right.

Mr. McLaren acknowledges that there is a huge danger that the movement will appeal mainly to those who have been hurt or turned off by churches.

"This is one of the reasons I don't like the term 'emerging church'. That feeds into the idea that it's an imported programme. The idea of a conversation that New Zealanders play an active role in, but a conversation that takes place increasingly globally, which is easier to do because of travel and the internet, is a much more hopeful way to see it."

From inquiries made by Challenge Weekly, it would appear that the questions and ideas promoted by those in the emerging church network are meeting with less suspicion in New Zealand.

"But I was greatly impressed at McLaren, at his self-deprecating approach as an American, and at the bigness of his vision. I had a good talk with him and my impression is that most of the opposition to him in the US comes because he is not a right-wing, Republican-voting, fundy.

"A lot of churches are stridently right-wing, or believe that their way of doing things is the only way. These churches find it hard to accommodate different ideas.

Tim Cooper - a lecturer in church history at Otago University - also sees churches in this country well on the way that McLaren points to. As a former church director of LifeSwitch Church in the Hutt Valley, he was responsible for facilitating changes to meet the 21st century. He says the fact that it has developed spontaneously here shows it is an important movement.

But Mr. Cooper warns that churches need to beware that while finding ways to relate to postmodern culture, they don't become too enculturated. He is unhappy with one of the early books written by McLaren, A New Kind of Christian, which appeared to rely more on post-modern thinking than the Bible to resolve problems.

"If churches abandon the Bible as the basis for what they doing, that's tricky. The weakness of postmodernism is: what do you pin it on? What basis is there? Once you take out the idea of objective truth, what is left?
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Article: Signs and Wonders

March 24, 2006 - Bishop says bleeding Host not miracle, but fungi

A consecrated Host did not bleed, but instead grew bacteria and fungus after being left in a jar of water for four weeks, effectively quashing speculation of a supernatural occurrence, according to the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.

As has been reported extensively in the press, around one month ago a young boy received communion, and then got sick, and spit out the Host, which was placed in a jar of water to dissolve -and it would appear was forgotten about until March 19. At that time, the Host appeared as if it were coagulating.

Bishop Grahmann said the conclusion was "that the object is a combination of fungal mycelia and bacterial colonies that have been incubated within the aquatic environment of the glass during the four-week period in which it was stored in the open air."

Bishop Grahmann was explicit in that no miracle was involved.

"The phenomenon was of the natural order and contains nothing of a supernatural nature. Thus, you need to remove yourself from any further activity surrounding this matter and its exaggerated claims," the bishop wrote.

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Article: Ecumenical Movement - Other Religions Uniting with Roman Catholics

March 24, 2006 - Dialogue With Islam Seen as "Obligation"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 24, 2006 ( The conviction of the need for dialogue with Islam was one of the general impressions evident during Benedict XVI's meeting with cardinals.
"Dialogue with Islam is an obligation for the Church," said Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Sainthood Causes, when he came out of the Thursday meeting.

The topic was introduced at the meeting by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, to present "the position of the Catholic Church, and of the Holy See in particular, vis-à-vis Islam today," a Vatican communiqué revealed. Cardinals addressed the argument successively, offering their observations.

In statements to the press later that day, Cardinal-designate Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux and president of the French episcopal conference, said: "We spoke of human rights in Muslim countries, of the situation of Christians in those countries and of disturbing aspects of Islam."
The prelate, who received his red hat today, said that some cardinals are certain "that it is possible to be close to Muslims in the defense of human values."

As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope) expressed his wish to bishops to understand how the Church could engage in dialogue with Islam.
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Article: Roman Catholic Church and the Last Days

March 25, 2006 - Pope Benedict: Virgin Mary Saved Pope John Paul's Life In St. Peter's

(AGI) - Vatican, March 25 - During the whole 26 years that Pope John Paul II served as pontiff, "everyone was quite aware of the presence of the Virgin Mary as Mother and Queen of the Church during his spirituality and his untiring ministry".

But, said the new pontiff, "this presence was most obvious during the attack on his life in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981". This was a bold statement from Pope Benedict XVI this morning to the new cardinals and all Catholics on the role the Virgin played in deviating Ali Agca's bullet. He made it during the mass at the close of his first Consistory.

In fact, it is widely known that the Polish Pope maintained that the prophecy of the third secret of Fatima was consigned to him, the description of a bishop dressed in white lying in a pool of blood.

On that occasion, Joseph Ratzinger was the regional head (or prefect) of the Holy See and had to explain the Pope's thinking to the public and make it clear that this interpretation was not a dogma of the Catholic faith.

And today, looking at the window that is now his after the previous pope's papacy, Benedict XVI added, "in memory of that tragic event, Pope John Paul II wanted a mosaic of the Virgin to be placed high above the Apostolic Palace, overlooking St. Peter's Square. It would be there as a reminder of both the highlights and the more everyday moments of his long papacy, which entered its final phase precisely a year ago, a phase that was simultaneously painful and triumphant, in a way that is appropriate at Easter".

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Article: Biblical Archaeology

March 26, 2006 - Eilat Mazar: Uncovering King David's Palace

The pottery found under the building-that is, from before the building's construction-dated back to the 12th to 11th centuries B.C.E.-just before David conquered Jerusalem. But inside one of the rooms, Mazar's team found pottery from the 10th to 9th century B.C.E., indicating that the building was in use during the period of David's reign in Jerusalem. In addition, Mazar found a seal impression, called a bulla, of a late 7th-century royal official named Jehucal, son of Shelemiah, son of Shevi, who is mentioned twice in the Book of Jeremiah (37:3 and 38:1). "The bulla find-it's an amazing find," she says, adding that it proves "that the site was an important center in the ancient Israelite monarchy for four centuries."

Mazar's excavation, funded by the Shalem Center and its chairman, American financier Roger Hertog, has powerful political implications. When news of the find broke, Zionists, both Jewish and Christian, were ecstatic. If confirmed, the palace would counteract recent claims by the Palestinians, who dismiss King David's reign as useful political fiction.

"For years, there have been those who contended that there was no evidence of public construction in 10th century B.C.E. Jerusalem," Mazar, an ardent Zionist, says. "Based on this, they claim that David and Solomon were not important rulers as described in the Bible. Now there is evidence of such construction, and those who minimize the importance of David and Solomon have to deal with the facts. Because in an out-of-the-way and remote settlement you would not have a structure like this. To build such a major structure, you needed strong central rule in Jerusalem at that time. It's nothing like what is described by the minimalists."
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