Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Homiletic 39, 1 (2014)

The most-recent issue of Homiletic, sponsored by the Academy of Homiletics, is available online here.

It contains the two main articles noted below, but (from my perspective) the most interesting feature of the journal is its review sections, which includes reviews of books I don’t see anywhere else.

Clint Heacock
Exploring the Use of Narratology for Narrative Preaching
Although narrative preaching as a movement may have gone out of fashion in North American homiletics more than two decades ago, there has since been a resurgence of interest in the rhetorical function of biblical narratives along with the continuing exploration of more democratic, dialogical and open-ended homiletical forms. This study, therefore, suggests that the discipline of narratology can potentially combine these two elements by replicating the dynamics of biblical narratives in a variety of narrative sermon formats. By providing an examination of the elements of narratology, this approach seeks to reunite the often-separated elements of textual and homiletical form and function. The use of these narratological exegetical tools can then allow biblical narratives to assert a greater influence upon the form of the sermon itself, create an experience of the text for the listeners, and enable them to enter into the “world of words” of biblical narratives.

Adam Hearlson
Are Congregations Texts?
It is a common sentiment among homileticians that preaching requires exegeting both the scriptural text and the congregational context. The relevancy of the preaching message, it is argued, depends in part upon a deep knowledge of the congregational culture. The preacher is therefore encouraged to “read” the culture of the congregation and discern how the symbols, practices, and actions of the congregation are used to make meaning so that the preacher might construct a fitting sermon. In this way, the congregation is likened to a text that awaits a reading by a literate observer. In this paper, I examine the limitations of such an analogy arguing that while a semiotic approach to congregations has merit it is often blind to the ways in which power and production influence the creation and reproduction of the congregational culture. Finally, the paper concludes with descriptions from recent homiletical works that offer productive alternatives to the semiotic approach to congregational study.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Ethics in Brief Volume 20, No. 1 (2014)

An issue from Volume 20 of Ethics in Brief, published by The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics, is now available online:

Pursuing justice after conflict poses particular problems. There is an urgent need to restore relationships in order that peace might be maintained, but often processes of justice compound existing divisions by causing further injustices (real or imagined) to those involved. This article draws on two theologians, Nicholas Wolterstorff and Miroslav Volf, to find theological resources in the Trinity and eschatology which might address this issue. These doctrines suggest particular characteristics of justice which might be brought to bear on existing post-conflict processes, in order to reshape them in ways which both offer a better outcome in practice and more closely pursue the justice of God.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Paul Bickley on Christianity and Sport

‘Have we unintentionally skewered our sports stars between the twin-horned dilemma of marketing and the media? In marketing we airbrush them to embody the brand ideals of our consumer culture but then in the media we peel back the layers to expose the blemishes the advertisers left out. And so the athletes pin-ball back and forth between our praises and our curses, from sporting idol to fallen idol.’

So says Christians in Sport, who recently, with Bible Society, commissioned a piece of research by Theos into the relationship between sport and Christianity, particularly around the ‘role model’ status of sportspeople. Combining theological reflection with empirical research – specifically interviews with elite players and sports chaplains – the report, written by Paul Bickley, has now been published.

Here are a few paragraphs from the Executive Summary:

‘This report addresses the connections between Christianity and sport, particularly in the light of what is perceived to be a growing ethical crisis in the world of sport. What is an authentic Christian response to the growing significance of sport?

‘The report reviews some of the growing body or literature which seeks to explore the connections between religion and sport, specifically that which offers a theological account of sport. It then explores the outline of a theological account in the context of semi-structured one-to-one interviews with Christian professional athletes, chaplains and others working in the field. These theological engagements with sport have identified it as offering a field of human freedom and joy and indeed of offering the possibility of transcendent, “godward”, experience.

‘The corresponding critique is that sport is increasingly subjected to a range of extrinsic concerns – for example, market or public policy demands. Sport’s transcendental and aesthetic possibilities, as well as its sheer popularity, also open it to the possibility of “idolatry” or – in other words – to accord it an ultimate significance. These factors combine to create an environment where athletes are under pressure to act as societal role models, but also to achieve sporting success, sometimes resulting in high profile accounts of poor behaviour on and off the field of play...

‘In conclusion we argue that an authentic theological response to sport is to celebrate it, but also to circumscribe its importance. Practically, sport chaplains do this by focusing not on player performance but on athlete well-being – and indeed the well-being of others in sports clubs. We call for reflection on what other acts might simultaneously celebrate and limit the importance of sport.’

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Douglas Moo on Bible Translation and the NIV

2015 sees the 50th anniversary of the New International Version translation of the Bible – or, more exactly, the 50th anniversary of the commencement of the translation committee which would lead to the eventual publication of the New Testament in 1973, the full Bible in 1978, and updates in 1984 and 2011.

Douglas Moo, noted New Testament scholar and current chair of the NIV’s translation committee, delivered the above paper (available as a pdf here) at this year’s meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in San Diego.

He summarises the main concerns of the essay as follows:

‘Specifically, I highlight three basic and generally agreed-upon linguistic principles that have too often been ignored in modern Bible translation. First, linguistics is not a prescriptive but a descriptive enterprise; second, meaning resides not at the level of individual words but at the level of collocations of words in clauses, sentences, and ultimately discourses; and third, the meaning of individual words is expressed not in a single word gloss but in a semantic field.’ (3-4)

It’s a fairly short piece, reflecting on the NIV, the influence of James Barr’s seminal The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961), along with some nice moments of rumination on where Moo himself has fallen short in practice.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Theos Report on Christian Humanism

Angus Ritchie and Nick Spencer, The Case for Christian Humanism: Why Christians should believe in humanism, and humanists in Christianity (London: Theos, 2014).

In the latest report from Theos, Angus Ritchie and Nick Spencer argue that ‘rather than Christianity and humanism being somehow opposed to one another, the two are intimately linked. Indeed, humanism needs Christianity to sustain some of its most fundamental commitments. Contrary to popular opinion, it is atheism, and not “faith”, that saws through the branch on which humanism sits’.

More information is available here, and the full report is available for download here.

The report was profiled in a piece by Giles Fraser in The Guardian last Friday – ‘The whole point of Christianity is to create a deeper form of humanism’ – and has already drawn a response from atheist and Humanist (with a capital H, as he insists) Stephen Law.

Centre for Public Christianity (December 2014)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a video interview with John Swinton on the distinction between ‘inclusion’ and real welcome for people with disabilities.

Also posted is the third and final installment of a podcast with John Dickson, in part profiling his forthcoming book, A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible: Inside History’s Bestseller for Believers and Skeptics.

Part I looked at creation, the ‘fall’, and how they explain the world in which we find ourselves. Part II provided a quick tour of the whole of the Old Testament, offering a few key concepts for understanding it as a unified story. Part III looks at the New Testament, from the Christmas story to account in Revelation of where everything is headed, and how it relates to the overarching story of the Bible.

9Marks Journal (Fall 2014) on the Church and Opposition

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf, is devoted to the topic of ‘Vanishing Church? Seeking the Right Perspective as Opposition Grows’.

In the Editorial, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘The growing opposition to the Christian faith in Western culture is heart breaking and worth challenging. That said, God has good purposes for letting the nations – even a so-called Christian nation – oppose his people. And one of them is to sharpen the church’s distinctness. He is seeking a bride for his Son, and he means for her to radiate.

The nature of our relationships inside a church should be distinct. Our ways of serving our employers and employees should be distinct. Our treatment of spouses and children should be distinct. Our loves and our laughter should be distinct. Our sexuality and family budgets and vacation plans should be distinct. And the more our culture opposes God and his people, the more the distinctness of our churches should shine. Yes, there should be points of commonality. We never stop being human, and our lives and loves should be deeply humane. But we are the new humanity. Our neighbors should find us both familiar and exotic.

Notice, then, the further a nation moves away from Christian moral assumptions, the more its churches have occasion to radiate the life-changing power of God. Which means, cultural opposition shouldn't scare us. It sets a backdrop for the display for the glory of God in our lives.