Thursday, 28 May 2015

Centre for Public Christianity (May 2015)

Among other items, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted an audio download with Simon Smart and Justine Toh reflecting on how so many recent and current TV series (think Breaking Bad, House of Cards, True Detective, Game of Thrones) ‘hold up a truly bleak mirror to human nature’, and what this trend tells us about ‘our attitude to ourselves, the society we live in, and our hopes for the future’.

Also posted is a video interview with Geoff Broughton, talking about his work on the streets and in inner-city churches, and his new book, Restorative Christ, and a video interview with Brian Grim on the persecution of Christians around the world and why he’s optimistic about the future of religious freedom.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Eleutheria 4, 1 (2015)

The most-recent issue of Eleutheria (an open access, peer-reviewed journal led, edited, and reviewed by graduate students of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is online, containing the following main articles:

Letter from the Editor

Timothy B. Chrisman
Jesus and Tiberius: An Examination of Source Reliability
Since the introduction to the critical method of studying the Old and New Testament in the nineteenth century, doubt has been thrown on the historical reliability of the biblical narrative accounts, especially the four Gospels. Yet, far less scrutiny and denigration have been applied to historical sources written during the time of the Roman Empire. A comparison, then, is proposed. It would be beneficial to compare the sources that detailed the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and the four sources which chronicled the life of Tiberius, emperor of the Roman Empire during the Ministry of Jesus. How do the sources compare as to their composition in proximity to their subject? Do the sources agree with one another? Is there a level of objectivity in the sources that allowed them to present the correct details of their subject? These questions will determine the reliability of the documents in question and whether the four Gospels measure up to critical examination.

John A. Sypert
Redeeming Rhetoric: Augustine’s Use of Rhetoric in His Preaching Ministry
The art and practice of rhetoric occupied a fundamental place in the ancient Roman world. It is thus not surprising that Augustine (354-430 AD) was deeply committed to the art of speaking well. He spent his youth mastering the theory of rhetoric, putting into practice what he had learned during a preaching career of almost forty years. This essay examines elements of rhetoric in Augustine’s preaching, arguing that he purposely appropriated common rhetorical elements in his preaching for the purpose of making Scripture both plain and compelling to his audience. Augustine’s training in rhetoric is summarized, followed by an overview of the context, Scriptural basis, and style of his preaching. His thoughts on the use of rhetoric in preaching are discussed, primarily by summarizing his arguments from Book Four of his treatise On Christian Doctrine. The essay concludes by offering several examples of rhetorical devices used by Augustine in his preaching.

Tyler D. McNabb
Defeating Naturalism: Defending and Reformulating Plantinga’s EAAN
During the past two decades, Alvin Plantinga has formulated an argument against naturalism that focuses on naturalism’s acceptance of contemporary evolutionary theory. Plantinga argues that given naturalism and evolution, our cognitive faculties have been developed to produce beliefs that meet the Darwinian requirement of survival and reproduction. Plantinga argues that accepting this will lead a naturalist to have a defeater for all of their beliefs, including their belief in naturalism. In this paper, I survey and respond to two types of objections that have been given as a response to Plantinga’s argument. The first objection that I interact with is an objection given by Michael Bergmann. Bergmann argues that a naturalist can continue to hold on to both their naturalism and their belief that their faculties are reliable, even if the probability of their faculties being reliable is low. The second objection that I interact with is an objection that can be seen in the work of Jerry Fodor and Stephen Law. This objection argues that beliefs that enable survival and reproduction will likely be truth conducive and thus, the chance of having reliable faculties is high. I respond to this argument by first reiterating Plantinga’s traditional response to this objection. After I clarify and defend this traditional response, I then reformulate Plantinga’s argument to specifically address metaphysical beliefs. Not only does this give the non-naturalist two different responses to this objection, but I take it that the reformulation could be seen as even more persuasive than the traditional formulation.

Book Reviews

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Vern S. Poythress on Biblical Interpretation

Westminster Theological Seminary has gathered together five articles published by Vern S. Poythress between 1986 and 2014, and made them available (here) as a single pdf, under the title Issues in Hermeneutical Foundations: Selected Articles on Hermeneutics and Biblical interpretation.

As Poythress notes in the Introduction, the articles ‘address the nature of interpretation from a God-centered point of view’, from the assumption that he is present and is significant to how we read texts: ‘what kind of differences does our knowledge of God generate in our understanding of interpretation?’

Monday, 25 May 2015

Journal of Contemporary Ministry 1 (2015)

Thanks to Rob Bradshaw for the heads up on this one...

From Harvest Bible College in Australia comes the first volume of the Journal of Contemporary Ministry, which ‘will act as a place for reporting research and
discussing issues related to contemporary ministry, including related theological and
biblical questions’.

The table of contents is below, along with abstracts of the main articles.


About This Journal

Jon K. Newton

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Philip Hughes
The Multi-Dimensional Issue of Culture and Christian Ministry
The categories of the theology of culture developed by H. Richard Niebuhr in Christ and Culture can be applied to approaches to ministry. Empirical studies of the church in northern Thailand demonstrated that in terms of architecture, the forms of service and other observable forms, the churches were often ‘counter-cultural’. However, in other ways, such as in the themes of sermons and how they were developed, there was a strong Thai cultural flavour. Observations show that many mainstream Australian churches express themselves in ways which are counter to contemporary culture, for example in their architecture and forms of music, although their values and emphases often reflect contemporary culture. Charismatic churches more frequently use contemporary forms of architecture and music, but are counter-cultural, for example, in their teaching on many aspects of life, such as pre-marital sexuality. Heelas and Woodhead argue that charismatic churches are closer to contemporary culture in the ways they are open to the ‘subjectivity’ of formation of the self in contemporary Western societies, and suggest that may explain their greater appeal to many younger people than the appeal of the mainstream churches. There are several dimensions to ministry, including, for example, contextual, substantive and essential, which may all relate to culture in different ways. The challenge for theology is to work out in which dimensions ministry should be cultural, in which it should be ‘counter-cultural’, and in which it should be seeking to transform the culture.

Juhani Ensio Tuovinen
Cultural Differences between Australian Denominations on Coming to Faith
In 2001 and 2006 church attendees in many denominations across Australia were surveyed about various aspects of coming to faith. Many substantial similarities and differences were found, such as the importance of various factors in bringing them to faith and the ages at which they came to faith. The results indicate that there are important cultural differences in the way coming to faith is understood and acted on in the various denominations. In this paper the empirical evidence from two national surveys will be considered, highlighting what the various denominations can learn from each other.

Graeme Vincent Flett
Visual Technologies within a Consumerist Culture
The use of visual technology is now a familiar medium of communication in most churches across New Zealand and Australia. Its accessibility and effectiveness in branding has had wide appeal especially to those leading large churches, who are eager to promote their identity, enlarge the size of their existing congregation(s), and expand influence within a consumerist-culture of lifestyle choices. Large Pentecostal churches are some of the most adept at utilising and absorbing these visual technologies, and do so, to great effect. This creates a level of vulnerability within Pentecostalism which largely goes unnoticed – the hidden absorption of a consumptive way of being. The pragmatism of its leaders to be relevant within this culture creates its own blind-spot. This quest for relevance tends to negate the need for theological critique and a robust process by which to evaluate various visual technologies thus allowing elements of secularity the scope to shape and re-shape congregational identity.

In this paper I discuss to what extent these visual technologies (an aberration of contemporary culture) are shaping a Pentecostal ecclesia and the behavioural patterns of its participants. A brief explanation of how images work is offered. This is followed by a case study of East Auckland Elim Christian Centre (EE) and its use of visual technologies. (EE is one of the largest churches in Auckland). The paper argues that while EE is very effective in communicating its identity and vision, its absorption of visual advertising practices (and thus of popular culture) makes it susceptible to the secular forces that run counter to the gospel, and may even in time, undermine the integrity of its own vision.

Andrew A. Groza
With the Curiosity of an Oddity from a Bygone Era: the Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN) conversation and its contribution to mission to the West
The Western church inhabits a post-Christian context, which is just as significant a mission field as any from a non-Western background. Not realising this fact will cause the church to perpetuate paradigms of self-understandings and models of mission that do not fit this new reality, thereby draining the church’s relevance for today. The Gospel and Our Culture Network (GOCN) have been addressing this issue for decades and the literature they have produced gives theological grounding for mission to the West. An exploration of their major tenets can help focus and reenergise the church’s self-understanding and motivation for mission. The effects of one such church that has sought to apply one of the central motifs spurred by the GOCN conversation reveals the benefit of this deep theological reflection.

Pastoral Reflections

Jeremy Weetman
In Praise of Pastors

Student Articles

Asanga De Costa
What is the preferred/dominant leadership/authority style that can be used as a tool that is both culturally appropriate and biblically justifiable, to identify and develop emerging leadership of Sri Lankan Pentecostal/modern church?

Theses Listing

Book Reviews

A New World Order?

I contributed this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. An earlier version of it first appeared in a book, Whole Life, Whole Bible: 50 Readings on Living in the Light of Scripture, written with LICC colleagues Margaret Killingray and Helen Parry (published by BRF).

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-4

Pentecost was a harvest festival, when thankful worshippers would offer to God the firstfruits of their crops. Celebrated fifty days after Passover, coinciding with the giving of the law, it also became associated with the covenant made between the Lord and his people. The nation that was first constituted at Sinai, gathering together in Jerusalem to renew their relationship with God, is now, so many years later, reborn – the firstfruits of a new harvest – as God pours out his Spirit to ratify the new covenant.

Certainly, Peter is aware that something momentous has happened. His subsequent explanation ties together the ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus with several passages from Scripture, notably God’s promise through Joel that ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people’ (Joel 2:28). Previously the Spirit was given only to special people, like kings and prophets, or only for specific tasks; now all of God’s people receive the Spirit – men and women, old and young – as part of God’s end-time renewal of all things. Pentecost marks the beginning of that era not in Moses giving the law, but in Jesus giving the Spirit – to ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Acts 2:21).

In fact, this is nothing less than the inauguration of a new world. It may remind us of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9), but it is not necessarily a reversal of Babel – where the scattering reaffirms God’s original purpose for men and women to fill the whole earth. The basis of the unity of humankind is not found in the recovery of a single language, but in a people indwelt by the Spirit of God. If there is a reversal, it is that at Babel people want to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:4) whereas at Pentecost they proclaim ‘the wonders of God’ (Acts 2:11). Many languages are spoken and all of them are fitting to praise God.

This fits with the international perspective of Acts. Jerusalem is full of Jews from all parts of the world, each with their own language and dialect. And they hear the great things of God spoken of in the vernacular tongues of their pagan neighbours – showing that what starts in Jerusalem will become a worldwide mission enabled by the Holy Spirit which will result in the worship of God to ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8).

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Robert Plummer on Philemon 10-11

In the ever-helpful weekend video from Daily Dose of Greek, Robert L. Plummer looks at Paul’s play on Greek words meaning ‘useful’ and ‘useless’ in verses 10-11 of Philemon.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The Bible Project on Leviticus, Romans, Holiness, and Covenants

The Bible Project is continuing to put together a series of helpful short videos, some of which introduce the structure and themes of biblical books, and others of which trace some major themes through the entire Bible.

I’ve just noticed the next Bible book videos have been made available, one on Leviticus, and two covering Romans.

In addition are two others that are new to me in the ‘Themes’ section, one on holiness and one on the covenants.

Check them out from here (click on ‘Videos’ or scroll down to the ‘Videos & Study Guides’ section).