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Saturday, 7 April 2007

Jeffrey Archer's The Gospel According to Judas by Benjamin Iscariot is once again in the news. It's Easter, after all. To prove it, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was on commercial TV last night.

The Australian's religious affairs writer Jill Rowbotham repeats a lot of the buzz over Archer's new book, written with Australian biblical scholar Francis Moloney. Among the new detail the article contains is the news that Archer originally approached "an elderly cardinal" in the Vatican for help. The ecclesiastic "suggested Moloney help instead".

Rowbotham notes, once again, that attendance at church in Australia is poor, citing figures released by the National Church Life survey that "estimated average attendance was about 9 per cent of the population in any week". Moloney says it is "a Christian church which has lost touch with the power and message of Jesus Christ".

One notable figure who is taking a fresh approach to address this decline in interest in the church is Latrobe University sociology professor John Carroll (pictured). Carroll "denies he is an agnostic, but concedes he has never been a practising Christian". His The Existential Jesus is based on Mark's gospel.

Carroll says that The Passion of the Christ "was an attempt to revitalise the story". He also points to the success of the Pentecostal churches such as Sydney's Hillsong who "are more successful at this than most these days". But the mainstream churches have dropped the ball, he avers.

"[T]he church is paralysed with worry about the empty cathedrals. My message is simple: doctrine kills story, downplay the moral teaching and generate enchantment, and it will make people want to belong to the story. The Christians have the greatest of the Western stories in their hands and are doing little with it and it's a story that really speaks today."

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