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 relationship 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 apostolic ministry always formed an important part of the church's equipment for service - even to this day (Eph. 4:11). 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).