Sunday 31 May 2009

Norm churns out new SN

Way back when I first began writing about the various COG splinters, Norm Edwards was considered a shining example of decency and balance. That was before the Port Austin fiasco. Norm remains on the scene these days, bloodied but unbowed. And to prove it here's a link to the latest incarnation of his magazine, Servants' News (US circulation 760).

Good news: according to one of Norm's mates a vegan diet counts as fasting, though Norm backpedals in an adjoining column. Global Warming? No worries, Norm has read a book - all 95 pages of it! - on the subject from someone at Answers in Genesis, so that's settled. Polygamy is bad - maybe Norm is fighting some weird Mormon teaching that's infiltrated his independently minded supporters. And there's lots of PR about COG7's Spring Vale Academy.

Not as flaky as Dankenbring, but still pretty "off the wall." For those who think that remaining COG and going independent is the answer, Servants' News proves just how wrong they can be.

Speaking of Dankenbring, his 400 page exposition on BI is available for free download (the paper version could set you back $35, though I doubt it's sold more than a handful of copies.) Willie's BIversion has flip-flopped the Ephraim identity to the US, making the Brits Manasseh. The story of how the flip-flop version originated is told in Greg Doudna's Showdown at Big Sandy,(along with the most devestating rebuttal of the whole BI fantasy available in print.) I'm also not sure Willie did his case (such as it is) any favors by swallowing whole the Los Lunas inscription hoax (the subject of his prologue), but regardless of questionable content it's classic Willie: hit 'em with a gee-whiz teaser then wow them with a string of supposed "facts." Great fun as long as you don't take it seriously.

Saturday 30 May 2009

Ah... ze Frunch

"France's 1996 list of dangerous cults, for example, contains 172 groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, the Worldwide Church of God, the Unification Church..."

It's not true what they say about the French you know. Obviously they're a heck of a lot more perceptive than your typical pseudo-Israelite Anglo.

Anyway, the quote comes from TIME magazine. No word whether there's a more recent edition of the cult list. AW's advice? Quick Joe, fly across the ditch (you've gotta have frequent flyer points to burn) for a breakfast croissant, with garlic basted escargot, and give the French department responsible for these things a copy of your book while you're there, that'll sort things out. Quick, not a moment to spare!

On another subject entirely, here's a blog post about the Wolverton Bible, including a few nice examples of Basil's work.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

Up the Amazon and Flying Free

At last. John Morgan's exceptional book - Flying Free: A Journey from Fundamentalism to Freedom- is now available on Amazon, and at a better price than elsewhere. This is a large quality paperback book, and I've raved about it before. A review of the first edition can be found here. A lot of rubbish has been published over the years by insiders and outsiders alike, much of it pushing the authors' personal agendas. Flying Free soars above the petty self-justifications and tithe-farming ploys to tell a genuine story of one man and his involvement in the WCG from childhood to freedom.

The nice people at Amazon even give you a chance to look inside and, dear lord, there's even a peek at the back cover endorsement by a certain Kiwi stirrer!

Saturday 23 May 2009

New Buzzy Book

Former Ambassador College teacher Sir Anthony Buzzard has moved on from his earlier treatment of the Trinity in a jointly authored volume with fellow Armstrong refugee Charles Hunting (currently unavailable on Amazon, but procurable from Atlanta Bible College), to a solo title of 400 pages called Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian.

The newer book appears to avoid some of the clangers that plagued the earlier tome. Buzzard is, of course, not arguing from a place of scholarly objectivity, but making a case for a biblical unitarianism. This is the perspective that is aired in the One God seminars organized by Ken Westby, and influential in unexpected corners of the WCG diaspora.

For a critical pro-trinitarian review of the book, click here. It appears however that the reviewer is every bit as one-eyed as the author he critiques. Provided you share the same assumptions Buzzard does - about the inspiration of the Bible and the factual status of the gospel accounts for example - he seems to make reasonable good sense.

Friday 22 May 2009


I had one of those "eureka!" moments this morning reading a comment on a very long thread that has the theists and atheists playing tag wrestling. I'm not sure I had thought of it quite this way before.

Armstrongism, in a sense, seems to me to be a step toward atheism. It did a very thorough job of debunking and discrediting the mainstream religions. Anyone who sincerely joined WCG, as I did, first became convince[d] that the mainstream churches did not have god's truth. To us, only WCG had god's truth.

Then, along came Joe Tkach, who brought the shortcomings of WCG to our attention. In this sense, Tkach did us a big favor. He broke the hold the cult had over us. But, for many of us, once the spell was broken, the genie could not be put back into the bottle. We had already proven the mainstream churches were false. Now we saw WCG was also false. What then was true?

Maybe that explains a lot.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Those wacky Anglicans

Okay, so I'm no longer going to be embarrassed about past association with the Worldwide Church of God. I admit it: I thought nobody could compete with the nutty proliferation of half-baked splinters that Armstrongism produced. The truth is, however, that there is one Christian group that can indeed give the WCG (or GCI) a run for their money.

Meet the Anglicans, and specifically the wacky Anglicans of the USA.

Yes, brethren, it seems we're far more mainstream than any of us ever guessed!

Actually, Joe Tkach might like to emulate this little Power Point presentation. It wouldn't take much to adapt for the holdouts in Glendora.

Monday 18 May 2009

Latest for Journal Junkies

A new edition of The Journal is out, dated April 30.

It's a real mixture. There's front page coverage of the transmogrification of WCG into GCI, a tale of suspected angelic visitation (!), Gerry's migratory swans, a Mocker essay (let he who readeth understand), a bit of unmerited PR for the Fred Coulter Bible, and the usual assortment of features. Dixon kindly offers all comers a free sneak preview - the first and last pages - in PDF format.

It was interesting to note that the Wynne statue (Gerry's swans) seems to be a knockoff of an original that the sculptor created for the city of Newcastle-on-Tyne. It seems those birds each represent a Scandanavian country, inspired by a poem called "The Swans from the North." Who'd have guessed Gerry was such a big fan of obscure Scandanavian poetry!

For the non-criminally insane, there's also a free download of the "Connections" ad section. Pour yourself a stiff drink before attempting this one!

Sunday 17 May 2009

Bill closes Ekklesia and Bob has a Hadron Collision

Bill, the creator of the once hugely influential Ekklesia site, has bowed out of the ex-COGosphere. Bill's was one of two sites that I found incredibly helpful in the year or two before catching the bug myself and launching what was then known as The Missing Dimension. Bill has been extremely gracious in mentioning AW in his closing commentary, but in truth the credit goes in the other direction. Thanks Bill, your work has been much appreciated! Do click across and check out what he has to say.

On a quite different note, Bob Thiel is yapping away on the End Time conspiracy stuff. That's nothing new, but how's this for speculation?

"[R]egular readers of the COGwriter page will recall that for a long time, I have warned that that the CERN project known as the Large Hadron Collider may generate some type of important military capability for the Europeans. And while that was not the direct subject of the Angels & Demons movie, this capability would likely be used by the Europeans to fulfill the following prophecy:" [Rev. 13:3-4]

Now Bob is a nice guy. He has a couple of doctorates, one of which actually means something. Yet he writes this kind of babbling idiocy. Is this the kind of bumf LCG pastors, credentialled with yellowing degrees from Ambassador College, actually rattle their tonsils about on Saturdays? Rabid, uninformed speculation mutates into wacky pseudo-doctrine before our eyes: "may generate" becomes "would likely be used." Presto: the rabbit (perhaps the Easter Bunny doing a little temping) emerges from the hat. It all seems harmless, but the danger is always that somebody actually takes it seriously.

Friday 15 May 2009

Paul - the blurred apostle

Last night I attended a lecture by Judith Lieu, a professor of "divinity" at Cambridge University. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the promotional blurb from Auckland University looked interesting.

In the century and a half after his death the apostle Paul was remembered in many different ways, as Apostle to the Gentiles, intrepid traveller, pastor, persecutor and preacher. Christians claimed his memory and his authority to address the questions that troubled them; the Paul of whom they wrote may be very different from the Paul of later Christian preaching and theology but he offers us a glimpse into a period when Christians were having to find their place in the world.

It turned out to be an engaging presentation. Lieu placed the apostle in a second century context - as he was remembered by a subsequent generation - and drew on a wide variety of both biblical and extra-biblical sources. With her impeccably English accent, Lieu demonstrated just how little we really know about this seminal figure in Christian history, and the contradictory information that survives. These contradictions exist even in the canonical documents, and raise questions many theologians prefer to sweep under the carpet. Why does Acts, for example, not refer to Paul's letters? Why were his writings ignored for decades before being rehabilitated?

A key figure in the story of Paul's rise to preeminence is the remarkable Marcion, a "heretic" who almost became Pope, and drew together the first canon of the New Testament. Marcion is one of the forgotten figures of Christian history, but it doesn't take a lot of imagination to see his fingerprints all over the "genuine" Pauline epistles. That's a view taken by outspoken skeptical scholar Robert Price, and while Judith Lieu was far more judicious in her choice of words, I could imagine Bob nodding enthusiastically and making approving grunts.

The second century casts a long retrospective shadow on the first. All may not be as it seems. To hear that from a scholar of the stature of Judith Lieu was riveting.

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Latest Web Rankings

19 COG contenders currently make the top half million on the World Wide Web, as measured by Alexa. In reverse order...

19. Victor Kubik: - 491 628
18. Flurry's PCG: - 442 620
17. Martin/Sielaff: - 374 455
16. AW: that's right here! - 373 976
15. Albrecht's PTM: - 349 563
14. LCG's member site: - 345 496
13. Hulme's Vision: - 318 165
12. Ritenbaugh: - 303 100
11. LCG: - 167 600
10. Tkach's fiefdom (WCG/GCI): - 167 036
09. Pack's RCG: - 164 687
08. Thiel's COGwriter: - 158 588 (displaying a 404 error as this item was uploaded)
07. Ritenbaugh's Bible Tools: - 136 887
06. LCG's Tomorrow's World: - 125 033
05. Ronnie Weinland's Sticky End: - 115 678
04. UCG: - 106 603
03. Flurry's Trumpet: - 97 445
02. Ruth's Bible Study: - 97 014
01. UCG's The Good News: - 75 502

Saturday 9 May 2009

God Is Not a Supernatural Terrorist

How we think about God matters, and the kindergarten mindset of the "Big Dude In The Sky" with thunderbolts and a scowl just doesn't cut the mustard. Here's a short article by Michael Dowd that attacks the fallacy at the heart of the problem.

For what it's worth, I believe the question "do you believe in God" is meaningless unless the term "God" is clearly defined. The Sky Father is a projection, not a reality - a human idol and nothing else. It's no tragedy to see it disappear like the smile on the Cheshire Cat, passing the way of Zeus and Odin. Is that atheism? No, it's a commitment to end idolatry. Put another way, many of the folk who call themselves atheists have a much clearer vision of the pervasive idolatry that parades under the cloak of Christianity than the rest of us.

Have a look at the article, and see if you agree. There's a lot more available here.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

UCG - in transition?

A thoughtful commentary on the changed composition of the Council of Elders comes in private correspondence from someone who is closer to both the personalities and the issues than most of us. The points made:

(1) The new board members are fairly "free thinkers" in the UCG context.

(2) For the first time younger individuals are in the majority on the council. While this won't mean a change in doctrine, it could well mean changes in policies and administration.

(3) Many of these individuals lean towards greater accountability in United's operations.

(4) Many of these individuals want to see a change in the way the ministry treat the members (including supporting the right of members to express themselves freely.)

(5) Many of these individuals want to see the lack of unity that exists among the ministry addressed.

(6) Most of these observations can be documented from their bios which were issued prior to voting.

Putting aside cynicism, this sounds like a positive step as UCG appears to move closer to the principles which it started out with. The precedent here may be unparalleled in the Church of God tradition - excluding the exemplary record of the Church of God (Seventh Day) - and is a forceful reminder that the Tkach WCG/GCI continues to lag far behind its biggest splinter in establishing mechanisms for accountable governance. The real litmus test may be whether rapprochement will eventually be possible with some of the congregations (one thinks immediately of COG-Big Sandy) that left UCG under previous administrations.

Monday 4 May 2009

Meanwhile, at the fulcrum of God's Work

Forget the Packophiles, the Flurridians and Rodomites. The True Work of God is being carried out today by the (honey, would you please pass me the baloney?) United Church of God, an International Association. And wouldn't you know it, the lads are currently meeting in holy convocation. The Word of the Lord may not be going forth from Zion exactly, but it is being trumpeted abroad via Twitter. This update from David Myers:

UCG's new Council of Elders members are William Eddington (Int'l), Richard Thompson (returning), Scott Ashley, Melvin Rhodes.

Eddington hails from Oz (but, hey, noone's perfect!), Melvin writes the goofy right-wing-nut GN articles on world events and prophecy, while Scott paddles the flagship as editor of the GN.

So what does this mean? Can we read the future direction of UCG in these chicken entrails? Who is Richard Thompson? Is the Old Guard on the way out? Does anyone care?

Well, Russell apparently does, and so does Aggie. How about this comment:

The sermon yesterday was given by Bob Dick, a minister from Portland. I don’t know all of the details of what he said, but it’s my understanding that they said that the truth can be found anywhere, that HWA is no longer unique, and that they need to change how they relate to the people around them.

If that's the case, may I respond with a modest burst of politely subdued clapping from the cheap seats.

(Thanks to Aggie for the nod.)

Saturday 2 May 2009

Baptists take note of name change

The following appears on the Texas-based Baptist Standard website.

Worldwide Church of God changes name. The Worldwide Church of God, which re-examined and later rebuked the teachings of founder Herbert W. Armstrong after his death in 1986, has changed its name to Grace Communion International. It’s the second name change for the denomination that Armstrong founded as the Radio Church of God in 1934, and church leaders say it’s a better reflection of a move toward more mainstream evangelical theology. Armstrong denied the Christian belief in the Trinity and took Old Testament law to heart. He urged followers to abide by ancient dietary restrictions, to observe traditional Hebrew festivals, to mark the Sabbath on Saturday and to reject Christmas, Easter and birthdays as pagan holidays. The Glendora, Calif.-based denomination says it lost half its members, 95 percent of its 1,000-person staff, millions of magazine readers and its college in Pasadena, Calif., when it officially repudiated Armstrong’s teachings and “prophetic speculation” in the mid-1990s. Grace Communion International claims 42,000 members in 900 congregations worldwide.