Friday, 27 March 2015

Happiness, Happiness...

I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. It’s similar to one I wrote a few years ago, but thought the issues were worth giving another airing.

Last week saw the International Day of Happiness, launched by the United Nations in 2012 to give happiness, described as ‘a fundamental human goal’, a greater priority. And this week, the Office for National Statistics published a report, ‘Measuring National Well-being: Life in the UK, 2015’, providing a snapshot of life across 1o domains of national well-being.

All this is part of an ongoing attempt to measure not just GDP, but GWB (general well-being) or GNH (gross national happiness). To some extent, it takes its lead from economists, but it’s also part of a larger trend to broaden our understanding of well-being beyond economic growth to embrace several areas – health, family, work, community, environment – all supported by an ever-increasing output in ‘happiness studies’.

Inevitably, not everyone holds the various factors to be of equal value, and it’s still not entirely clear how one measures and compares largely subjective indicators of happiness. Even so, this feels like a significant path to pursue, not least because all indications are that healthy relationships are a vital factor in human flourishing.

And that will come as no surprise to Christians. After all, we worship the three-in-one Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we believe that humans were created for relationship with one another and their surrounding environment; we follow the one who summed up God’s design for life in terms of love of God and neighbour. And – lest that becomes a measurement of performance – we know the call to love comes only because God himself has restored the most fractured relationship of all, that between himself and humanity, with all the implications for renewed relationships with each other that come about as a result.

Happiness too, in the sense of wholeness and well-being, goes back to God’s original intention for creation – not, perhaps, as the end of a search but as the by-product of a yet higher end. From a Christian perspective, happiness ultimately comes down to what and who we love. Our problem is that left to ourselves we attach love to things in disordered ways, leaving God out of the reckoning. When God acts to save us, he reorders our loves and affections, such that true happiness – far from being a pursuit of self-fulfilment – is rooted in a restored relationship with God and others.

James K.A. Smith on an Evangelical Public Theology

There’s a nice piece here on Comment from Jamie Smith, effectively providing a look at his work in progress for the third volume of his ‘Cultural Liturgies’ project.

He begins:

A lot that traffics under the banner of “Christian” public theology has little to do with the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our imaginations have been sufficiently disciplined by the assumptions of liberalism to be uncomfortable and embarrassed by forthrightly Christian hopes for temporal government.’

He looks at Oliver O’Donovan and helpfully summarises some of his key contributions – the significance of Jesus’ resurrection as ‘the confirmation of the world-order which God has made’, and the importance for evangelical public theology to be ‘nourished by the specificity of God’s revelation in Christ, which is bound up in the canonical story unfolded in the Scriptures – the story of Israel’.

Some other excerpts:

‘Because creation is reaffirmed in Christ’s resurrection, and because “nature” is only known “in Christ,” then any Christian account of even “this-worldly” life has to be unapologetically evangelical, rooted in what we know in – and because of – the Gospel.’

‘[P]olitical theology is unashamedly rooted in the specificity and particularity of God’s self-revelation in Christ and the equally particular history of his covenant with his people Israel and the new covenant people that are the church. The body of Christ is that polis in which we participate in Christ, in which our perception is sanctified by the Spirit so that we might be able to discern the reign of God and thus be equipped for public proclamation of good but disconcerting news that submission to Yhwh’s reign is the way humanity is liberated.’

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Christian Reflection on Acts

The latest issue of Christian Reflection, published by the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, is available online, this one devoted to ‘The Book of Acts’. The whole issue is available as a pdf here, and an accompanying Study Guide is available here. The main articles, with their abstracts, are as follows:

Robert B. Kruschwitz
The Acts of the Apostles is a hidden treasure in the New Testament. John Chrysostom found it “replete... with Christian wisdom and sound doctrine” to guide believers. Our contributors explore the book of Acts as a theological treasure that can engage and shape our discipleship today.

Steve Walton
A Spirituality of Acts
The book of Acts is focused on God’s mission, as God draws people into his orbit and brings them into his community, and so its spirituality is missional. God takes the initiative using a variety of creative means, and people respond in community to the awesome God who makes himself known in Jesus and by the Spirit.

Mikeal C. Parsons
Reading Acts as a Sequel to the Fourfold Gospel
Acts was intended to be a sequel to a plurality of Gospels, which Luke refers to as “many.” Thus, to read Acts for all it’s worth, it is necessary to attend to the connections not only with Luke’s Gospel, but also with those other narratives that recount the story of Jesus echoed in Acts.

Timothy A. Brookins
Paul and the Philosophers
Paul’s speech to the Areopagus Council is a paradigm for “cross-worldview” evangelism. The Apostle restates the good news in terms that maintain common ground where a similarity of viewpoints is at hand, but retains the distinctiveness of his message on points that allow for no compromise.

Terry W. York and C. David Bolin
As Christ and Church and Congregation

Allison Buras
Worship Service

Heidi J. Hornik
Spreading the Gospel “To the Ends of the Earth”

Other Voices

Andrew E. Arterbury
Warning to the Wise: Learning From Eutychus’s Mistake
The downfall of Eutychus is certainly, to modern ears, a strange story, but it would have offered moral guidance to ancient readers. It exhorts them to learn from Eutychus’s youthful mistakes and to avoid spiritual laxity at all costs.

Joshua W. Jipp
Philanthropy, Hospitality, and Friendship
The narrative of Paul’s sea-voyage to Rome – with a violent storm, shipwreck, and adventures on Malta – provides not only a glimpse of Paul as one who was open to fresh encounters with all peoples but also, surprisingly, a lasting impression of Gentiles as receptive, friendly, and hospitable.

Timothy Churchill
Repetition for a Reason
In the book of Acts, Luke emphasizes Paul’s unexpected encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road by repeating the story three times. Jesus’ message to Paul in that story deserves our full attention, for it contains the entire gospel in kernel form.

Chad Hartsock
The Ever-Expanding Gospel
The book of Acts re-calls us to a radically selfless gospel whose mission is to reach the ends of the earth. It reminds us that the “ends of the earth” can be in a land far away, or among the socially marginalized neighbors who live in our shadows every moment.

Holly Beers
A Story that Teaches: The Theology of Acts
What is Luke’s agenda, theological and otherwise, in the book of Acts? How is he shaping that agenda through the story he tells? How is he teaching the Church, from Theophilus to today? In the books reviewed here, three leading Acts scholars attempt an answer to these questions.

Kathy Maxwell
Studying the Book of Acts
The four commentaries reviewed here are well- researched, clearly written treatments of the book of Acts for the educated lay person or pastor and for the seminarian. They share a common interest in theological application that is carefully informed by the historical and literary context of Acts.

Theos Report on Chaplaincy

The latest report from Theos has just been published:

Here’s the blurb:

‘Is chaplaincy the future of religion in the UK?

‘At a time when UK society seems increasingly dominated by secular habits and assumptions, and when religious attendance and affiliation seem to be in decline, there are more and more stories of chaplaincy spreading into new settings. No longer – if indeed it was ever the case – are chaplains limited to Anglican clergy in a few institutional settings. Today chaplains are everywhere and include figures of all faiths and none.

‘This report is the first to take an in-depth quantitative and qualitative look at chaplaincy in Britain, encompassing the full range of denominations, religions, and belief systems – including nonreligious beliefs – as well as an astonishingly wide range of contexts – from prisons and schools to canals and theatres. Based on over 100 interviews with chaplains, users, colleagues, employers and stakeholders, it analyses both where chaplains are and what they’re doing, and pays particular attention to the question of what difference they make. What should chaplains, the contexts in which they operate, and the organisations to which they belong do to make their role as effective as possible? Chaplaincy is a very modern ministry, one that seems especially suited to modern British society and that seems likely to become a dominant feature of the in ever-changing landscape of religion in Britain.’

A pdf of the full report is available here.

Friday, 20 March 2015

9Marks Journal (Winter 2015) on Complementarianism

The latest issue of the 9Marks Journal, available here as a pdf, is devoted to the topic of ‘Complementarianism and the Local Church’.

In the Editorial, Jonathan Leeman writes:

‘Complementarianism teaches that God created men and women equal in worth and dignity and yet he assigned them different roles in the church and home. Its counterpoint, egalitarianism, argues that you can only say men and women are equal in worth if you let both assume equal leadership in church or home...

Complementarians imagine a different kind of home and church than egalitarians. They are just as acquainted with authority fallen, but they can better imagine authority redeemed. They know that being in authority is no better than being under authority, because both are assignments given by God for the sake of serving him and his praise. They know that redeemed authority creates, enlivens, and empowers, and it’s a shade short of silly to argue over who gets to empower and who gets to be empowered in God’s kingdom. In fact, if there is an advantage to be had, it doesn’t belong to the person called to lay down his life, it belongs to the person who receives life because the first person lays his down.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

IVP Academic Alert 24, 1 (2015)

Among other items of interest in the current IVP Academic Alert (pdf here) is an interview with John Walton about his new book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate, a follow-up work to his earlier one, The Lost World of Genesis One.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Catalyst 9 (Spring 2015)

Catalyst is a twice-yearly magazine, published by CARE, which ‘highlights the work of UK charities and updates supporters on important public affairs developments relating to CARE’s work’.

The centre section of this issue is devoted to the General Election, ‘with prayer points, a brief guide to hustings and an overview of core issues for reflection, but also contains an article written for Catalyst by Lord Alton of Liverpool’.

The issue is available for browsing here, or downloadable as a pdf here.