Monday, 23 January 2017

In Christ Alone

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
Romans 5:17-19

As he does elsewhere, Paul places the account of salvation on a big stage – nothing less than the story stretching from the first Adam to the second Adam.

He puts it even more succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15:22: ‘For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive.’ It’s by virtue of our union with Adam that we die, and by virtue of our union with Christ that we’re made alive. God fulfils not merely his promise of descendants for Abraham, but creates a new humanity in Christ.

And that little word ‘in’ is all-important.

What’s the central thought of Paul’s letters? Is it justification? Reconciliation? Adoption? Those are certainly important to Paul. But what’s most central is Jesus. The prior, primary, central, fundamental reality for Paul is our union with Christ, being in Christ. And all the benefits of salvation flow from that union – our justification, adoption, redemption, sanctification, preservation and glorification, and our being joined to each other in the church, the body of Christ.

Knowing who we are in Christ has all sorts of implications, as Paul will go on to explain: ‘count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (6:11); ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (8:1); ‘in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others’ (12:5).

All this could sound ever so abstract were it not for our all-consuming interest in identity. Who am I, really? We can spend a lot of time wondering. For some of us, the answer depends to a large extent on what others think and say about us – our parents, our peers, our colleagues. What conclusions about me are reflected back in the way they treat me? Who am I – the joker, the trouble-maker, the failure, the helper?

In Christ, we can know who we are. I may be a son, a husband, a father, a colleague – those things make me who I am. And they are not suppressed, but gloriously redefined in the light of my being in Christ, as I bring that identity into my everyday work, my relationship with my spouse, my conversations with my children, my handling of money, my use of time.

In our union with Christ – and Christ alone – our humanity is not obliterated but restored.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Bible Society You and Your Bible Survey

Bible Society have posted the results from their ‘You and Your Bible’ survey launched last autumn, in which they invited people to share their Bible reading habits.

They asked questions in the following few areas:

• Books of the Bible: What’s your favourite book of the Bible? And what’s your least favourite?
• The Bible: Select five words or phrases that best describe the Bible for you.
• Bible Reading: Outside of church services, how often do you read (or listen to) the Bible?
• Reading Methods: Which of these do you use most often to read the Bible? (options given)
• Reading locations: In the last month, where did you last read/listen to the Bible?

The results from over 3,700 people who took part are available to view here, and to download as a pdf here.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Lausanne Global Analysis 6, 1 (January 2017)

It’s a little while since I’ve linked to the Lausanne Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement. The latest issue has a lead article on ‘A Caribbean Perspective on the US Elections: Five Key Areas to Watch’.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor says:

‘In this issue we firstly focus on the impact of the US presidential election campaign and its outcome on Christian ministry in other parts of the world. In the light of the elections, we invited Lausanne leaders from several regions to comment from their perspective. We received some very helpful surveys as well as one more-than-full-length analytical article by Las Newman and Minke Newman. The arrival of the latter enables us to feature our first ever LGA article written from a Caribbean perspective. We have added to it ‘Voices from other regions’ as a postscript, with brief excerpts from three regional surveys. We also feature two articles on networks and partnerships, one focused on evaluation of their effectiveness, and the other on the growing Mahabba network. We conclude with a piece on artisanal and small-scale mining in the majority world and how Christians can make a difference.’

The executive summary is available here, and the full issue is available here.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

D.A. Carson on the Love of God

A new volume has been published in Crossway’s ‘Theology in Community’ series, this one on the love of God...

Christopher W. Morgan (ed.), The Love of God, Theology in Community (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016).

The table of contents, other front matter, and opening chapter by D.A. Carson on ‘Distorting the Love of God?’ is available as a pdf here.

Monday, 16 January 2017

3D Salvation

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly... God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Romans 5:6-11

The story is told of Brooke Foss Westcott, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and Church of England bishop, being approached by a zealous evangelist. (Accounts differ as to whether it was a member of the Salvation Army or an undergraduate student, but don’t let that get in the way of a good story.) ‘Are you saved?’, Westcott was asked. To which he apparently replied, ‘Ah, a very good question. But tell me: do you mean…?’ – and went on to cite three forms of the Greek verb ‘to save’, indicating that his answer would depend on which of the three was in mind. ‘I know I have been saved,’ he said, ‘I believe I am being saved, and I hope by the grace of God that I shall be saved.’

There’s a temporal span to our salvation, which embraces past, present, and future.

Having just written of God’s love being ‘poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 5:5), Paul reminds us where that love was so clearly demonstrated in the past – in Christ’s death on our behalf, when we were powerless to save ourselves. If God went to such cost to reconcile us to himself, even when we were his enemies, we can be confident he’ll finish what he has started. All this is grounds for assurance in the present, encouraging us to rejoice for what God has done in Christ.

Paul moves with ease from the past to the future to the present. And it’s helpful that he does. Some of us may be certain that God worked in us in the past, but find it difficult to see his hand on our lives right now. Or we might worry whether things we have done in the past disqualify us from his service in the present. Or our current struggles and suffering can make it hard to see the certainty of our future hope. But Jesus has the whole of our redemption wrapped up – then, now, and forever more.

And it’s all of grace. At every stage – past, present, and future – we come with empty hands, seeking mercy from our heavenly father, recognising as Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13 that we ‘work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling’, knowing that ‘it is God who works in [us] to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose’.

Monday, 9 January 2017

A Definite Maybe?

I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Romans 5:1-5

Samuel Goldwyn, the movie producer and co-founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was known for his malapropisms – amusing statements resulting from the use of incongruous or contradictory words. A story goes that when someone urged him to come to a decision about a project, Goldwyn replied: ‘True, I’ve been a long time making up my mind, but now I am giving you a definite answer. I won’t say yes and I won’t say no, but I am giving you a definite maybe.’

Whimsy aside, that’s perhaps the best that can be offered to us on a whole host of issues – a definite maybe.

In some cases, lack of certainty on our part can be bound up with personal insecurity or a self-worth that has been undermined in damaging ways. But these days, even assertive, self-confident people find it hard to be sure, or at least say they are. For that smacks of intolerance, doesn’t it? The entire drift of our culture makes it unacceptable to say ‘I am sure’, particularly when it comes to issues of faith.

Read again Paul’s words at the start of Romans 5.

Just what is it that flows from being justified? Not merely some vague, warm ‘spiritual’ experience, but peace with God, access to God. And how has this come about? Not through attainment to a higher level of consciousness or through anything we can bring to the table (as Paul has made clear in the previous chapters of Romans), but through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Since God has declared us ‘right’ in the present, that verdict will stand on the last day. Even in the face of suffering, then, we have hope. Here, as elsewhere in the Bible, hope is not some vague wish-fulfilment. Hope involves looking forward to the future with confidence, because it’s a future that Christ himself has secured for us.

At the bottom line of it all, and the ultimate basis of Paul’s confidence, is God’s love – not merely shown to us, but ‘poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’, a sign of his ongoing commitment to us. It’s a love, Paul will say later, from which nothing can separate us (Romans 8:37-39).

If any of this was down to us, we’d have room for doubt. As it is, our confidence lies elsewhere. Peace, hope, love. Not maybe, but definitely.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Carl Trueman and G.K. Beale on Issues in History and Exegesis

Westminster Theological Seminary have gathered together some essays in what they are billing as ‘The Best of Trueman and Beale from the WTJ’, containing the following pieces:

Carl Trueman
Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

Carl Trueman
Richard Baxter on Christian Unity

G.K. Beale
Can The Bible Be Completely Inspired By God and Yet Still Contain Errors?

G.K. Beale
The Cognitive Peripheral Vision of Biblical Authors

The collection is available as a pdf here.